I am a serial hairstylist cheater. As such, I’ve had the opportunity to ask colorist after colorist if I should embrace gray hair.
Of course, asking a hairdresser if you should go gray instead of continuing to color your blondish/brown locks is like asking a barista if you should go cold turkey on the coffee. The answers are often indignant: “Why would you do that?” “Do you want to look old?” “Do you want to be invisible?” “Are you battling a terminal disease?” Or (voice lowers), “Are you having money problems?”
Usually, I just hang my head and mumble something about a story I’m working on.
And then I will spot a gorgeous, silver-haired woman and envy her confidence and style. I love how my gray-haired friends own their looks. They don’t apologize for it, explain it or try to push their choices on others. Group photos tell the story more completely; they look like sexy middle-age women, and I look like someone poured golden glitter over my locks.
Anne Kreamer, author of Going Gray, says it was a group photo that made her decide to let her natural gray hair grow in. There she was, posed with her brown helmet of hair next to her daughters and their natural, shiny locks. She says she felt mortified by how stark and fake her hair looked compared to theirs and went on to write an essay for More magazine about her decision to let her gray grow in. The article hit a cultural nerve.
She was 49 when she began the graying process that she chronicled into a book. As part of her research, she created dating profiles on Match.com and other sites, some with photos of her with dyed-brown hair and some with photos of her with silver hair. (Her husband and family were aware and onboard.) What happened was surprising to everyone: In every case, the profiles with silver hair received significantly more hits than the others.
Nearly 14 years later, Kreamer says she still hears from women asking her about the pros and cons of going gray, especially women in competitive work environments.
One of the more sobering surveys she did for her book was showing headhunters profiles of gray-haired women. The results of those surveys were less encouraging than the results of the online dating experiment. The headhunters said they were less likely to choose candidates with gray hair than more youthful-appearing ones.
Regardless, Kreamer tells women that going gray can be a positive thing. “I can walk in a room and my hair stands out. It differentiates me,” she says. She believes the confidence and freedom that comes from going natural attracts positive, admiring attention.
Going from dark dyed-brown hair to a natural gray was not an easy process for Kreamer. She kept her hair shoulder length, and her stylist added highlights until the gray and blond blended. “I had the skunk look for a while, but I wanted to keep the length,” she says. It took nearly a year to complete the look.
So what’s the best way to get through what can be a tough transition?
To find out, I called Daniel Levy, owner of Georgetown’s Hair Lounge Salon in Washington, D.C. He has 30 years of color experience and was reluctant to give advice about going gray, saying that his clients have to keep up with a very polished/professional image. “Both women and men in this town diligently cover their gray hair,” he told me. But he had a couple of tips since I insisted.
1. Keep it short. Some colorists try to ease the pain by using a semipermanent color to transition clients to gray, but Levy recommends getting a great short cut and focusing on keeping the hair healthy and shiny. “Once your gray covers about 50-percent of your hair, cut it short, funk it up, and let the silver come on in,” he says. “Or stay classic, stay simple, stay elegant.” When your entire head of hair is gray, you can go as long as you want if your hair is healthy.
2. Pay attention to your makeup. Levy recommends consulting with a makeup artist as your hair grows out to combat any drabness that may arise from the gray color.
Since I didn’t have a year to conduct a real-life experiment with going gray, I wore a silver wig around D.C. for a day. Though I didn’t notice any men falling at my feet, I did see a few heads turn in my direction. Several women gave me warm smiles as I strutted down the street. I probably walked a little taller and was brightened by a fresh new lipstick color, as instructed.
It was only a baby step, but it was a good reminder that, as Kreamer says, “Other humans care less about what you look like than you may think.”
I love how true that is. And I love Kreamer’s last bit of advice: “Having natural hair, without the time, expense, and artifice involved, is joy-giving and life-affirming. I highly recommend it.”
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