Men become 'distinguished' as they grey around the temples. It lends them an air of maturity and gravitas. During the 2008 American presidential election campaign, Barack Obama was constantly up against accusations that he was too young and too inexperienced for the country's highest office. As the campaign trundled on, media commentators began to notice Obama's startling transformation from youthful senator to salt and pepper statesman. So much so that rumours surfaced he was dyeing his hair grey to appear more experienced. Obama himself is on record as saying his new look was an asset in wooing voters - “The grey is coming quick. By the time I'm sworn in, I will look the part”. Some men are even considered more attractive as they grey - that sexy salt and pepper look that makes George Clooney one of the most lusted after men on earth. Women however, do not get off so lightly. It is more or less taken for granted that a woman will dye her hair from the time her first grey appears. Even in the political arena, where maturity is considered a key attribute for the job, women are still dedicated to dyeing.
There has always been enormous pressure on women to be beautiful and attractive - pressure that is piled on long after the bloom of youth has faded. The media constantly churns out images of youthful perfection. There is a billion euro industry in "hope in a jar" skin creams, cosmetics, hair dye, hold-in knickers and hoist up bras. While women in their 50s and 60s may tire of the endless appointments and enormous expense of having their color done every six weeks, many see no alternative. There is precious little advice out there on how to wear silver in style and the topic gets scant coverage in mainstream fashion and beauty publications. As a result, the majority of women are continually camoflauging their grey hair. But going grey does not entail joining the ranks of the "blue rinse brigade", all austere crops and sensible flat shoes. There are plenty of options for those who want to go grey and look chic and sexy. For a woman who knows how to carry it off, grey hair can be a powerful symbol of confidence. More and more women are breaking away from beauty conventions, taking grey hair - the ultimate symbol of aging - and making it look very good indeed.
My own mother is toying with the idea of going au natural, inspired by two grey haired women who stopped her dead in her tracks. The first was a 70 something New Yorker - exquisitely dressed with beautifully cut silver hair caught in a chic ponytail at the nape of the neck. The second was, surprise surprise (!)...an Italian. Again, she had a razor sharp hair cut and had dyed blocks of different shades of silver into her sleek bob. Modern, chic, confident and a million miles from "old". Beautifully styled grey hair is not something you see every day so when it is done well, the effect can be startling. Hairstyle magazines do not tend to show women with grey, silver or charcoal hair, so silver enthusiasts will have to dig a little deeper for inspiration. Think grey hair can't look sexy and cutting edge? Visit the website www.goinggraylookinggreat.com and vaporize every stereotype you have held about grey hair. Diana Jewel, author of “Going Gray, Looking Great” started this website because there was no real resource for women who wanted to go grey. She says women who are going through the transition from colored to grey appreciate the support and encouragement of the “silver sisterhood” they find on the site. “There are helpful hints all the way through about transitioning, hairstyles, changing your makeup and wardrobe palette, proper care for gray hair, and more. But equally important is the support that women find on this site”.
The site has a members gallery where women update each other about their transition from colored to grey hair and post photographs of the process. The great thing about this gallery is you can see how grey hair looks in everyday situations on women who have not been styled for hours. Without exception, they look fantastic with silver hair. While celebrities are the last people you might expect to be grey hair role models, this site has a substantial gallery of actresses, singers and prominent business women who are letting their grey hair show through (check out the "Great Inspirations - gray haired celebrities, business leaders and role models" section of the site). Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who recently celebrated turning 50 by appearing grey haired and un-airbrushed on the front cover of AARP magazine is well known for challenging Hollywood's definition of beauty. She wears her salt and pepper hair in a choppy crop. Yasmina Rossi (pictured) is a stunning French grey haired model. She wears her long hair sleek and silver. She turned down the offer of a lucrative global cosmetics campaign when they asked her to dye her hair. Cindy Joseph (also pictured), another beautiful model with Ford Models was originally a make up artist whose silver hair has become her trademark. She believes getting the word out is what will change the next generations view point on aging and is regularly interviewed and writes articles on the topic. Singer Emmylou Harris has worn her hair grey since her 30s and styles it in a youthful, bouffant style. And of course, Helen Mirren. Endlessly trotted out as role model for fiftysomething women, her hair has been both entirely grey and warmed up with honey highlights. Mirren has come into her own with advancing years. When compared to other celebrities who are fighting the aging process, she simply blows them away. She regularly gives women decades younger a good run for their money on the red carpet. It is obvious that these women have enviable self confidence and feel great in their own skin. Although Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lopez are often criticised for over enthusiastic use of botox, it is interesting that both have recently been photographed at red carpet events proudly sporting salt and pepper roots. And it looks great, particularly against Nicole Kidman's strawberry blonde hair. Could there be a turning point on the horizon?
Photo by Sergio Kurhajec
For grey hair to work, it needs to look like you are grey on purpose. Make a feature of it - turn it into an asset. People who decide to cease coloring will sometimes just cut their hair extremely short and give up on ever having nice hair again. There is definitely a certain mindset in Ireland that women over "a certain age" should not have long hair, as if it needs to be butchered the day you turn fifty. Unless you have cracking bone structure like Jamie Lee Curtis, a short crop can look severe and aging. With grey hair, you want a flattering cut, and the secret is to keep it styled to ward off any association with aging. Embracing younger hairstyles that are unusual after 40 or 50 will ensure your look stays fresh.
So where to start in your quest for silver? First of all, decide what end result you would like - do you want to go totally grey or have just some strategic streaks showing through? Unless you are blonde, it will be difficult to simply let the color "grow out". Most people in their 40s and 50s will be around 50% grey, so the contrast between regrowth and the colored hair will be difficult to carry off. For most, a little tweaking from an expert colorist with make the experience less traumatic. It is easiest to go grey from blonde as the two colors are close in tone. If your current hair color is dark, highlights can be used over a number of visits to mimic the natural tones of the regrowth so that the two begin to blend. A good colorist will be able 'create' a salt and pepper look in your hair. Joy Hawkridge at Whetstone (Parliament Street, Dublin) frequently brings women through the process. She advises stripping the hair down to a lighter tone to mimic the regrowth, then gradually letting the grey come through. This way, you can evolve towards grey and reach a shade that suits you. Make your grey the best it can be - there are lots of ways to boost, brighten and highlight grey, especially if it is looking mousy or dull. You may be just a shade away from grey that adds oomph to your appearance. Joy has several clients who are completely silver and come in once or twice a year and get color put in to add depth and tone. Some grey haired models are actually dyeing their hair with silver toners to get that lovely silver color and fine texture. Grey is a beautiful color with lots of different variations - pewter, charcoal, platinum, silver and you can use highlights to make the most of it.
Anne Kreamer, author of Going Grey”has uncovered some interesting findings that may reassure any woman who feels apprehensive about the effects of going grey. According to Clairol research, 71% of women dye their hair in order to look and feel more attractive. No big shock there. Hearing this, Anne Kreamer decided to conduct an experiment which she hoped would shed a little light on how men view grey hair. She posted two profiles on dating website www.match.com - both reported her true age, but one profile photo showed her with grey hair, and another with brown hair. She assumed that the brown haired profile would be more popular. The results blew her away:
“I couldn't have been more wrong. Among Match.com-ers in New York City, Chicago and — most shocking of all — Los Angeles, three times as many men were interested in going out with me when my hair was gray as when it was dyed. This blew my mind. Maybe the men sensed that if I was being honest about the color of my hair, I'd be more accessible and easier to date. Or maybe the gray made me stand out from the overwhelming majority of Match.com women my age who color their hair”.
Diana Jewel had similar findings and dedicates a whole chapter of her book to the topic and finds that women are often surprised by the compliments silver hair attracts. “Men like confident women. Letting your hair be silver in a society that says "you shouldn't" expresses a certain confidence”.
So if you are sick of coloring your hair and would like to consider an alternative, log on to www.goinggraylookinggreat.com and let the silver foxes show you how it is done.