Decades ago, when beauty experts believed teasing your hair and sculpting it high as a smokestack was the epitome of chic, somebody somewhere decreed that women over 40 should not have long hair.

Of course, that was before Botox and step aerobics and antioxidant face creams. It was before hair weaves and hair extensions and extra-hold mousse.

And it was definitely before country music queen Loretta Lynn sailed into her 70s with black hair falling decidedly below her strong shoulders, and author Toni Morrison accepted the 1993 Nobel Prize for literature (at age 62) with a wreath of silver dreadlocks gently gathered at the nape of her neck.

In other words, sometime between then and now, the long-hair rule was conclusively broken, and today women are boldly allowing their midlife manes to grow with the flow.

“I always thought I’d chop it off,” said Lisette Shirdan-Harris, past president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of 100 Black Women, whose hair skims her shoulder blades.

“But then I turned 40, and I wasn’t ready,” she chuckled. “And now, I’m turning 49 and I’m still not ready. To be honest, I don’t see myself cutting it anytime soon.”

In Hollywood, the scissor ban has set in strong among older actresses such as 42-year-old Demi Moore, 53-year-old Kirstie Alley, and spunky Sarah Jessica Parker, who turns 40 this year.

They aren’t the only ones. Today Show news anchor Ann Curry, 48, is wearing her hair long, as is pop singer Sheryl Crow, who turns 43 next month.

It’s no surprise, said Julio Zoeiro, co-owner of L’Etoile hair salon in Jenkintown, Pa., “since 40 isn’t old anymore.”

According to him and other beauty practitioners, age is no longer the determining factor. Lifestyle, looks and the overall condition of a woman’s hair is what really matters.

“It’s the way she dresses, the way she carries herself, and how the hair looks,” Zoeiro said. “It shouldn’t be dry, or thinning or fly-away. “

For Carolyn Short Torsella, a lawyer at Reed Smith in Center City Philadelphia, whose strawberry blond hair falls below her shoulders, the issue is convenience.

“It’s straight and long and I don’t do anything with it,” the 48-year-old said. “I think it’s harder to take care of short hair. I had it short for about 10 years. You always have to blow it dry and keep it trimmed. I had to go to the hairdresser every few weeks. Now, I go twice a year.”

While it’s true that the age taboo no longer exists, Francis Bellofatto, a stylist at Pileggi in Philadelphia, says there still are some secrets to making long hair look good in middle age.

Think collarbone.

“That’s a magic length for most mature women,” Bellofatto explained, adding that a style reaching the clavicle can be pulled back, pulled up, or styled for an evening out.

Zoeiro agreed, saying hair any longer than that just hangs there.

“If you’re 50 or 55 and you’ve got hair four inches past the collar… .” He winces.

Common Pleas Court Judge Teresa Sarmina, who is 52, said she decided to cut her long hair a year ago because it was too demanding.

“It was below my shoulders and it was very thick,” she said. “I wanted so badly to have beautiful long straight hair. But it’s not naturally straight. I had to go to the hairdresser twice a week to get it blown out. After a few years of going to him with wet hair at 8 in the morning, I was like, ‘Get real, girl!’ and I just decided to cut it.”

Now, it’s above her ears and Sarmina said she loves it.

At 55, Marty Moss-Coane, host of Radio Times on WHYY-FM (90.9), a Philadelphia public radio station, has held onto her wavy mane. She calls it “hippie hair” because it cascades down her back.

“As a kid, my mother always had me in short, short haircuts,” she said. “So, in high school I started growing it. One day, in my mid-30s, I cut it, and I regretted the moment I did it. I honestly had a mini identity crisis.”

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