Throughout history, hair has had certain powers.
According to the Book of I Corinthians in the Bible, hair is a woman's glory, her natural cover under which to pray. In mythology, long locks are a sign of fertility.
Tammy Chase's hair had the power to bring tears to her father's eyes. When she was 17, a stylist cajoled the young woman into having her hair, which fell halfway down her back, cut to the length of her chin.
"I remember when I got it cut short," said Ms. Chase, who recently turned 30. "My father took me to the beauty salon that day, and he was waiting for me. That was the first time I'd ever seen my father's eyes filling up with tears.
"He never said anything to me. The look on his face, it just tugged on me."
Since then, Ms. Chase has slowly reclaimed her shorn tresses. She has been growing her hair in earnest since 1988, partly in tribute to her father, who died a few years ago. Her hair, a blend of sunfire red and cocoa brown, reaches just a few inches above her waist.
"I would like to get it to my waist, to the small part of my back," she said.
Though most American women limit hair to shoulder-length or shorter, others choose to grow their hair so long it can be measured in feet instead of inches.
And this year, fashion is favoring long natural styles, like those singer Cher used to wear in her I Got You Babe days.
"Long hair definitely is here," said Joanie Lamb of Joanie Lamb Hair Salon in downtown Augusta. "It's like a '60s revolution. It's really hair that moves. It's vibrant, shiny, healthy, flowing hair."
That's precisely the style that was in vogue when Marla Jones began growing her hair long in the 1970s.
Ms. Jones' co-workers at Fort Gordon are always surprised when she lets her hair down, she said.
During the day, Ms. Jones, deputy public affairs officer on the post, wears her hair up in a twist, with just a single persistent tendril falling loose. Once the workday has ended, though, she lets her hair down as she works out in the Signal Towers weight room.
Her light-brown hair, tipped with natural highlights, falls below her waist -- long enough that she has to swing it out of the way before she sits.
"The reason I started growing it is I don't like beauty salons," Ms. Jones said. "I hate sitting in the beauty salon. I hate having my hair rolled just so it can stay in a way for half an hour."
For Ms. Jones, long hair is low-maintenance. She washes it nightly, combs out the tangles and lets it dry naturally. In the morning, all she has to do is comb her hair and sweep it into a twist.
But she dreams of having it cut into a super-short, wash-and-wear hairdo.
"I just don't have the nerve to do it yet," she said.
Maybe someday, Ms. Jones said, she will find a hairstylist who can do a computer makeover to show her in advance how she will look with shorter hair.
"It intrigues me, the thought of having a real short hairstyle," she said.
But the decision would not be an easy one, she said. For almost three decades now, long hair has been an inextricable part of her identity.
"It is something you get attached to, so it's hard to make that step. I think once I did, I might be glad," she said. "I think I would get stressed out about cutting it. I would lose some sleep over it."
While Ms. Jones is ready for a shorter cut, many hairdressers pressure women to cut their long hair before they're ready, said Brent Jones, a stylist who specializes in hair longer than 6 inches.
"As a a cosmetology student, I noticed that everybody that came into cosmetology school with long hair, everybody was urging them to cut it off," he said. "A lot of times I see women who cut their hair short, they look just like everybody else. I don't think that everybody looks great with short hair."
At Farlow's Salon in Atlanta, Mr. Jones teaches clients to pamper their long hair, to nourish it so it can grow long yet remain healthy and beautiful.
Six inches is the maximum hair length the scalp can naturally maintain, said Mr. Jones, who was trained by stylist George Michael, a long-hair guru who developed a treatment system and product line for lengthy tresses.
"Once it gets past that length, you have to treat it like fine silk in order to keep it healthy and keep it beautiful," said Mr. Jones, who has a Web site devoted to care of long hair. "There's nothing that looks more horrendous than long hair that's not healthy."
Mr. Jones warns his clients about washing their hair daily, getting perms and using hand-held dryers and hot rollers -- styling implements that can destroy delicate ends. He recommends that women use a weekly deep conditioning treatment and sit under a hooded dryer to infuse the hair with moisture. He also tells clients to sleep on satin pillowcases and flip their hair over and brush it 50 strokes each morning with a natural boar bristle brush.
"It's their crowning glory," he said. "And you have to remember another thing about hair -- it's the one accessory you don't take off."
Ms. Chase, a former Augusta disc jockey who now does voice work for advertising, is a new client at Farlow's Salon. She said Mr. Jones' system for caring for long hair is less time consuming than her former styling routine, which included daily washing, blow drying and curling.
And her hair looks better than it ever has before, she said.
"I've started babying it more and just paying more attention to it. I want a gorgeous head of virgin hair," she said. "It has reassured me that a woman my age can wear long hair and still look professional."
Many short-haired people believe that long hair is hard to maintain, but for Becky Conner of Clearwater and Rosemary Berlin, another Fort Gordon civilian employee, there's no easier style.
"When it's shorter it's more trouble," said Mrs. Berlin who has had waist-length hair for 30 years. She considered cutting it a few years ago, when she turned 40, but eventually decided to keep the length.
"I just wash it, comb it and leave it," she said.
Mrs. Conner's wavy, brown hair is hip length -- about 3 feet long -- but in the past it has reached to her knees.
She has gone 16 years without a haircut. Yet any drying, dead hair "just sort of works itself off" in a natural molting process, she said.
When she is shopping or working, Mrs. Conner said she often gets comments from strangers about her hair, which normally hangs long and free.
Women invariably ask why she wears it so long or why she doesn't trim the split ends. Men, on the other hand, generally admire it.
Here are some tips from stylists and others with long hair for keeping lengthy locks healthy, shiny and beautiful.
Before washing long hair, coat the length with a conditioner while it's dry.
Never brush hair when it's wet, no matter the length. Use a wide-toothed comb to work out the tangles.
Certain vitamins, including A, B1, B6, B12 and C, help nourish the hair and keep it from becoming brittle.
When washing hair, use a few tablespoons of shampoo and gently massage the lather into the scalp. It's not necessary to work the lather through the length of the hair; the hair will be cleansed as the shampoo is rinsed out.
Make sure to lather with shampoo twice and end by rinsing the hair with cool water.
Long hair should be trimmed occasionally to remove dry, unhealthy split ends.
It's not necessary to wash hair every day. The natural oils are healthy and should be brushed through the hair, from the roots to the ends.
Wearing long hair up all the time can cause scalp muscles to weaken.
Avoid blow dryers, curling irons, hot rollers and other hot styling utensils.
Sources: Brent Jones of Farlow's Salon in Atlanta, Joanie Lamb of Joanie Lamb Hair Salon in Augusta and the Long Hair Site.
For more information about long hair, visit the following Web sites:
The Long Hair Site (www.tlhs.org)
The International Long Hair Club (pwp.starnetinc.com/dtiche/TILHC.HTM)
Brent Jones Silken Tresses at Farlow's Salon (www.longhaircare.net)
Amazing Hair Facts (www.dermweb.com/skincare/hair/hairfact.html)
Amy Joyner can be reached at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.