I honestly can’t remember a time growing up when my mother didn’t dye her hair.
A woman of Swedish descent, and just a second-generation American, she was beautifully blonde by birth and determined to stay that way.
I once asked my mom if she was going to stop dyeing her hair. She said she would when it all comes in white.
Unfortunately, I was not graced with Mom’s lovable Nordic blonde hair.
Mine is an amalgam of dull shades she affectionately calls “dishwater,” and I have been masking it beneath warm blondes and vibrant auburn for three decades.
I don’t think I am ready to board the frost-mane train just yet, but at least I know when I do I will be traveling in good company.
Worldwide, women of all ages can be seen sporting various shades of white, silver and gray tresses, and the internet is rife with articles extolling the virtues of going gray gracefully, no matter the method or reasons.
There are sites and blogs and online communities galore showcasing people of various genders and ages with hair in numerous shades of gray.
Some have dyed it for costume or whimsy, some for difference or defiance, and some have grown out their natural gray in a journey of self-discovery, but all of them look to each other for support and encouragement along the way.
Whatever you may think of the sprouting of this “granny hair” trend, it has taken deep root (pun intended) and is blossoming everywhere.
In preparation for that eventuality, I decided to look into the recently fashionable gray hair trend and share what I learned.
Seeds and Roots: Who and What Started The Gray Hair Trend?
There are many opinions regarding the origins of the gray hair trend and its increase in popularity over recent years.
While French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Autumn/Winter 2011 collection, featuring gray beehives on all his runway models, and pop superstar Lady Gaga’s silver glam at the 2015 Grammys certainly contributed to the visibility of the newest hair power-color, its inception predates today’s celebrities and fashionistas.
We can go all the way back to the late 1500s when white powdered wigs – called perukes – were used to mask hair loss and open sores as a result of the syphilis epidemic.
The trend became fashionable when French king Louis XIV started losing his hair and took to using a white wig, which was then copied by Louis’s cousin, Charles II in England, for the same reason.
As with all fashion trends rooted in practicality, courtiers and other aristocrats immediately copied the two kings and the style trickled down to the upper-middle class.
Thus, Europe’s newest fad was born until dying out in the late 1700s.
In more modern times, it may surprise some to know that the first publicly recognized proponent of gray hair in youth before it was fashionable was pop art icon, Andy Warhol.
Warhol first donned his trademark gray-hair-don’t-care look in the form of a wig in his twenties – partly to hide early balding, but mostly because:
“When you’ve got grey hair, every move you make seems ‘young’ and ‘spry,’” as he stated in his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A To B And Back Again).
Far from being the “salt-and-pepper” or “silver fox” image of today’s sexy older male (think: George Clooney, Sean Connery, Anderson Cooper, Sam Elliot, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford), Warhol’s quirky command of the coif color nonetheless planted a seed that eventually helped to sprout the new gray hair trend for both men and women.
It has long been socially acceptable (and even revered) for men in America to gray naturally, while women have been held to strict age-defying beauty standards.
So it is the brave women, risking societal backlash for embracing their natural grays, silvers, and whites, who have really given root to the recent granny hair trend.
One factor for this might be that women are going gray at a much younger age these days.
While women once dreaded the appearance of gray hair in their forties, women now often see the melanin-free strands springing up in their teens and twenties.
This, coupled with the fact that social media – ignorant trolling aside – makes it easier to find positive support for making the choice to go gray, has given new life to this style seedling.
Stem: Supporting Arguments For Going Gray Gracefully
The reasons so many women are now choosing to go gray are as individual as the women themselves but stem broadly from two main categories: a statement of fashion, or a statement of identity.
Statement of Fashion
One goal is to stand out as different and unique in a society that, for all its boasting about individualism on the one hand, insists upon conformity on the other.
One thing is certain — it’s not about aging.
The growing trend of going fashionably gray is by and large a phenomenon of younger adults, both male and female.
Lana Soussan, master colorist at Boston’s James Joseph Salon, tells us:
“In our salon, the majority of people looking to go silver are 20-30 years old on average.”
This recent propensity for platinum locks may be prompted partly by a wave of white-haired wizards, heroes and other enticing characters portrayed in mainstream media.
From J. K. Rowling’s Malfoy boys, to George R. R. Martin’s Daenerys Targaryen, to the myriad of characters in comics, manga, and anime, white tresses often signify something or someone magical and otherworldly, which has vast appeal to many people.
Not surprisingly, the desire to mimic the manes of such popular fantasy figures, via cosplay and other platforms, is also a form of escape.
For many, fantasy cosplay has been credited with helping participants take a much-needed break from real-world stresses, negativity, fears, anxiety, and depression.
Statement of Identity
As an identity statement, going gray happens on a more personal, internal level. (Unless you are Andy Warhol, then it is primarily a brand generator.)
These women are constructing a new reality with a completely different outlook on social aging and what a woman’s gray hair signifies.
Going gray used to be widely viewed, both socially and professionally, as a tragedy for women. It visibly marked the end of youth, vitality, and viability.
Pervasive public perception of gray-haired women has been that they look old, infirm, unkempt, invisible, and unintelligent.
Anne Kreamer, the author of “Going Gray: How to Embrace Your Authentic Self with Grace and Style,” dismisses such myths as “total hogwash” in a 2016 interview with the Guardian.
I totally agree, and increasingly more women are proving it daily.
Grombre was one of the first Instagram communities to support women choosing to make the transition to their natural gray hair.
It was founded in 2016 by 24-year-old Martha Truslow Smith because when she was looking online for advice and support on gray hair transitioning, she couldn’t find it.
Grombre now has hundreds of thousands of followers and is growing fast.
Blogs and other communities quickly followed and today millions of women worldwide are sharing their silver-hair stories online.
In a piece she wrote for nextavenue.org, author Anne Kreamer reminds us that:
“The color and style of one’s hair are powerful means a woman can use to create identity.”
It follows then, that the grace in going gray is not so much in the graying process itself, but in the mindful way in which we embrace the color change, whether bottled or biological.
Nurturing: Embracing Natural Gray and Bringing The Movement To Light
Like many moms newly embracing their gray, Leigh Ann’s decision was less about her and more about her son.
She says her “Aha!” moment involved her 18-year-old son, soon to graduate from high school.
“I wanted to show him an example of true self-acceptance and courage to go outside the norm or what’s comfortable as he prepares to embark on the next stage of his life.”
As she transitions down her gray hair path, Leigh Ann finds the idea of finally reaching a natural state to be very exciting and liberating.
Leigh Ann admits that the transition to natural gray after 20 years of coloring can be trying at times, but says the response from colleagues, family, and strangers is a positive one overall.
For Imogen Arate, host of the weekly poetry podcast, Poets and Muses, and advocate for gender equality and human rights, the decision to embrace her natural gray hair was more deeply personal.
Traumatic stress in recent years had led to more rapid graying and the time and energy needed to thwart it was simply better spent on more important things, such as healing and wellness, and writing/producing her podcasts.
Imogen opposes the societal double standard for women to feel pressured to maintain an appearance of youth, while men are encouraged to age naturally.
“Since aging is a natural process that none of us can escape, it seems woefully unfair for women to be especially burdened with the task of looking young (or at least younger than our chronological age).”
Further, she feels women should be able to free themselves from the time constraints imposed by achieving societal — as opposed to their own — beauty standards and put that time to better use.
Of course, better is a relative and subjective term, but Imogen offers suggestions such as sleeping, exercising, reading and writing, and pursuing other professional and personal, life-enhancing endeavors.
For Alex Tran, who began going gray at age 26, embracing the silver was a stance for freedom:
“One day I had an epiphany that I should become this person whom I was destined to grow into. Isn’t that novel? My white hairs were getting more aggressive and it was only time before they would win.
It was also around the time that platinum grey hair was becoming a trend. Everyone was doing it.
What an opportune time to grow into the real Alex. And the best part? My grey hair would be FREE!”
And to illustrate just how mainstream this movement has become, an inspiring documentary about the views and attitudes towards women with gray hair called “Gray Is The New Blonde”, ads color to the discussion:
Fertilizer: Because Ageism Is A Load Of Crap
According to Victoria Lipnic, the acting chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), until recently, the biggest open secret in the American workplace was sexual harassment.
Everyone knew it was happening, most were uncomfortable with it, but few said anything about it for fear of retaliation.
Now that sexual harassment is far more difficult for employers and colleagues to get away with, says Lipnic, the new biggest open secret is age discrimination.
In a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, results show “robust evidence” of age discrimination against visibly older female applicants.
The findings suggest that women are judged more on physical appearance, and that age detracts more from the physical appearance of women than men.
Katie Emery, owner of Katie Goes Platinum, shared with us that she began noticing gray hair at age 16 and was horrified.
By age 50, she was tired of dyeing her hair but met resistance from her hairdresser:
“I tried to get my hairdresser to help me come up with ways to stop dyeing, but she refused – she told me I would look old and she made me feel terrible for even suggesting the possibility of stopping the dye.”
It is unfortunate that, because ageism is incredibly subjective — varying widely from the standpoint of both the perceiver and the perceived — age discrimination is notoriously difficult to prove, making laws against it more difficult to enforce.
Despite the prevalence of societal ageism — or perhaps partly because of it — the current gray hair trend represents an active and growing rebellion against the predominantly Western social stigma around the visible aging of women.
As a young lawyer starting her own practice in her 20’s, Jan Meyer decided that her gray could only help her career:
“I told myself that as a young lawyer starting her own practice, the gray would give me more credibility; make me seem wiser, older.”
Gina Waterfield, a woman’s empowerment guide, coach and author, shared her experience of overcoming tremendous societal pressure when she first considered embracing her natural gray.
“Everyone, and I mean everyone, told me not to go gray. They said, ‘you’ll age yourself by 20 years!’ Some men even told me that I might lose my youthful vibrance and sexiness.
Women are often diminished by aging. But I decided I wanted to be who I really was. Why do we feel that others should get to decide that for us? We must remember that we teach people how to treat us.”
The truth is, ageism is a load of crap — but that’s good because we all know fertilizer stimulates growth.
Blooms: The Beauty In The Mindful Authenticity Of Going Gray
It isn’t difficult to imagine the anti-stigma rebellion manifestation of the gray hair trend as a natural outcropping of the fashion expression, especially since it began to blossom in conjunction with the rise of other self-improvement movements including body positivity, mindfulness, and authenticity.
- The body positivity movement has been slowly gaining ground for more than twenty years.
At its core, it is a holistic kind of self-care that creates balance through self-love and a deeper understanding of our own body wisdom.
Cynthia White, a 57-year-old mom who began going gray in her early thirties shared with us that her kids often suggested that she dye her silver mane.
But Cynthia had a more body-positive perspective:
“I decided after dyeing it just that one time that I wasn’t going to dye it anymore. That was what was most in line with my general honest, down-to-earth demeanor and philosophy.
I also wanted my kids to like themselves and their bodies the way they were and not feel like they needed to do anything different to themselves to make themselves attractive.
I used to tell them, “this is the way it grows out of my head, and this is the way I’m wearing it.”
When we learn to accept and connect with our bodies intrinsically, we can let go of the burden of societal expectations about what beauty should look like, and just be mindful of who we are.
- Being mindful is more than just paying attention.
The art of mindfulness gives us a window of mental and spiritual clarity through which to view ourselves, others, our environment, and life.
Although often presented as something highly esoteric and metaphysical, mindfulness is not some new-age-y bag of tricks.
It is a sound psychological strategy for reducing stress, releasing negativity, improving productivity and creating authenticity.
“I decided to go for it. The transition was hard but once I got through it, I had SUCH a sense of empowerment. Being free to be who I am is incredibly liberating!” – Gina Waterfield
- Self-authenticity does not stem from societal mores or other people’s opinions or agendas.
When authenticity is found within, it is manifested without, in everything we feel, think, say and do.
Susan Stitt tells us:
“Once I went gray there was no looking back. I’m the mother of 3 daughters and they all appreciate it being gray and ‘authentic’ – their word, not mine.
Whenever I did suggest I might go back to coloring they had strong opinions that I should not…I love that it’s natural and I love the money and time I’ve saved by not coloring.”
Jaya Jaya Myra, a health and wellness author and speaker, sums up her gray hair journey perfectly:
“I’ve been getting gray hair since I was 16, I stopped coloring it before I turned 30 and have never looked back.
As an author and media personality, I’m in a very public-facing role, and I get compliments on my hair every single day, from both men and women. Literally, every single day!
People find it refreshing and empowering to see someone who rocks their natural (graying) color. It brings a level of authenticity and realness that can get overlooked with the cultural obsession and stereotypes of what it means to look young.”
Care and Cultivation: You’ve Chosen To Go Gray – Now What?
An entire industry was built around the success of age bias in shaming women into covering up their gray roots.
But the growth of the gray hair trend doesn’t mean the hair care industry will suffer.
On the contrary, says Florida-based celebrity hairstylist and Cricket Ambassador, Melissa Peverini:
“In terms of color trends, I’m seeing a lot of requests for silver. Even my gray and blonde clients are coming in and asking for an icier look right now. Even my beachy clients are looking for icier color because they know the tone will get warmer as the seasons change.”
Likewise, Lana Soussan with Boston’s James Joseph Salon has seen the silver hair trend spawn “a ton of new products in response to the damage that the hair undergoes” during the lightening and coloring process.
Additionally, she notes:
“There has also been an explosion of toners and direct dyes available in smoky shades from various brands making it easier for stylists to formulate the perfect tone.”
With the advances in lightening processes and an array of icy shades, going gray is easier than ever.
If you are a DIY person, at-home options abound on retail shelves.
If you choose to grow out your natural gray after coloring for any length of time, a good stylist can blend and soften the line of demarcation as the dye grows out.
Your natural hair color and texture will determine the lightest shade you can go.
Master colorist, Lana Soussan offers this advice:
“Believe your stylist is he/she tells you it isn’t possible to go as light as you want.”
Of all the reasons you might have for going gray, perhaps the most profound is discovering and embracing every aspect of your true self.
Regardless of whether you go gray, stay gray or never say gray, the important thing is doing what’s right — for you.
Making the choice to go gray, whether natural or not, can be uplifting and empowering, and it can be a serious social challenge.
There will be as much push-back as there is support — maybe more.
Someone will always be willing to throw shade on your gray.
Common sense and common courtesy, despite their first names, are not flowers that grow in everybody’s garden.
Whatever you do, if you have made the choice to embrace the gray (or not to), don’t let the emotional kudzu of naysayers choke out your beautiful bloom.
The granny hair trend might have started as a mushroom, relegated to the shadows of societal bias — perhaps now we can finally let that foul fruit start to wither on the vine — but it is no longer just about aging.
Going gray gracefully has blossomed into more than just a fashion flower destined to dazzle and then wilt.
Gray is evergreen, and it’s about time.
Has the gray hair trend started to grow on you? Or were you way ahead of today’s silver-seekers?
We want to hear from you!
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