My mom was brushing my hair in second grade, when she stopped and exclaimed, “You already have gray hair!", a swatch that streamed down the back of my head. That thin stripe thickened with each passing year.
By my fortieth birthday, I had a full mane of silver. At 64, I am still proudly — humble brag — rocking the gray. This is not a fashion statement of sustained hippie-chic, but a statement of ease.
And, well, I also love it, it is me. At 26, I had my chestnut-brown hair tinted at a salon with fire red streaks. My eyes stung and I squirmed during the arduous and pungent application of goops of color, dozens of tin foil wraps, then the dryer, then the wait. Two-and-a-half hours and $90 later, the big reveal was that of a stranger, too slick, too done. The stylist had even hot-combed out my curls.
Since that makeover, I have unleashed my hair into its true destiny. With each accumulated birthday, threads of pewter and ash tones sprouted everywhere, first in sections, then meshing together in one unruly and shimmery mass. When our four sons were in elementary school, I would occasionally be asked if I was their grandmother. To one of these queries from a mom with white roots and shoe-polish black hair, I responded that I was their great-grandmother.
Here's the deal: Once you start noticing those first gray hairs, it's like a carnival game of whack-a-mole, get rid of one and another few pop up. Despite the upkeep, the majority of my female peers opt to hide those telltale signs of aging like most of our mothers did. They were the cinched-waist moms in page boys and flips that followed the advice of those pert women who starred in Clairol commercials: “Does she, or doesn't she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure."
Despite this promise, everyone knows your secret to Farah Fawcett blond hues or coal-black Cher hair once you hit 50. The choice to dye or “go to my grave as a brunette,” as one of my neighbor's claims, is personal. I am not judging. I am simply a champion of the other side. I urged my own mother to join me, though she covered her gray until she passed away at the age of 86.
Increasingly, though, I am being told by friends they are “thinking about it.” I assure them it's a wise and emancipating choice. In many cases, gray hair can make us look more youthful, and not older. Eyes pop out, faces lighten. We have alluring role models in the ageless presence of naturally graying beauties like Judith Dench and Jamie Lee Curtis. I often hear from those confident women who are shucking the touchups and surrendering to silver locks: “I feel like a new person.” I tell this to friends on the fence, those clinging to the girlish images in old photographs — that we cannot turn back the clock, and this is good news. I can attest that 60 and beyond, bearing a crown of silver, are the best years yet. We are free to be who we were meant to be.
As colorists may be getting fewer older clients, they are hearing a clamor for shades of gray from growing numbers of our daughters and granddaughters. Dyed gray hair is an evolving movement among students at the university where I have been a professor for 30 years. Designer Jean Paul Gaultier helped spark the “Granny Hair” trend when he sent older models with gray Mohawks and retro bouffants down the runway during Paris Fashion Week in March 2014. “Gray Hair Is Now Glam” beamed reviews of his show.
"Glamorous” is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of my image in the mirror. That word would be “real.” There will be no surprises as I continue to age because I have known exactly how I actually looked during every phase. My advice to younger women embracing “Granny Hair” is do it while the look is hot because like many fashion trends, this one may be short-lived. Remember the masses of stark black Goth hair? Lots of those millennials are now tressed in snow white. My advice to older women, depleted by the stress, money and time it takes to defy aging locks, is to stand tall and go gray.
Feeling hopeful and alive at every age comes from the heart. Even your hairdresser knows this for sure.