Why silver is now the new black

As grey power takes hold, Rose Mary Roche wonders why so many women are happy to go silver and even more are seeing it as a fashion.

GOING grey is no longer a crime against fashion — once derided as a shameful sign of ageing, grey hair has now become increasingly chic.

Growing numbers of women are refusing to dye their hair and are proudly sporting silver locks in defiance of contemporary culture’s obsession with youth. For a long time, silver foxes such as George Clooney, Richard Gere and José Mourinho were thought distinguished, while their female counterparts were criticised for “letting themselves go”.

Now, soignée silver women are highly visible — Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep (in The Devil Wears Prada), Jamie Lee Curtis, Christine Lagarde, former model Kristen McMenamy, Caitlin Moran, Daphne Guinness and Carmen Dell’Orefice are just a small representation of what has been christened this “positively sublime” group of greying glamazons.

Closer to home, model Olivia Tracey has been a natural silver siren for years while Sinead O’Connor has a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper. Sinead Kennedy of Winning Streak has bleached her hair to a bright white. Grey, it seems, is the new black, figuratively speaking.

Hair goes grey due to a chemical chain reaction that causes hair to ‘bleach’ from the inside out with a dip in the enzyme catalase, leading to increased levels of hydrogen peroxide. Greyness is caused by lack of pigmentation and melanin in the hair shaft. Once the immediate reaction to the first whisper of grey was to reach for the dye, but now many women over 40 are no longer colouring their hair. They have opted to liberate themselves from the tyranny of re-growth and make a confident statement by refusing to cover up their grey.

So directional has the look become, that young women including Kelly Osborne, Lady Gaga and Pixie Geldof have all dyed their hair grey. At the Metropolitan Costume Gala in New York last June, Nicole Richie usurped the limelight with her ethereal powdered silver up-do, her warm olive skin tone and dramatic red lips helping to render her stunning rather than shocking. Also last year, Rihanna famously dyed her raven locks charcoal, proclaiming “grey is the new black” on Twitter.

For yummy mummies such as Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman and Kate Moss, sporting a few silver strands is now seen as evidence of gravitas rather than sloppy grooming.

Going grey is a statement of authenticity; it demonstrates that you have a point of view and expresses that you aren’t afraid to be yourself. A recent study into consumer behaviour found that women over 40 don’t respond to advertising aimed at younger women — what they do engage with, in the strongest terms, is imagery aimed specifically at them: ergo the recent campaigns by Marks & Spencer, Dolce & Gabbana and American Apparel that all featured mature sometimes even silver models such as the striking Yasmina Rossi. “My hair started turning grey when I was 12 and was salt-and-pepper by the time I hit 20,” says Rossi. “I never coloured it, because I knew it was my best asset.”

The fashion world’s revived interest in older female consumers isn’t driven by purely altruistic motives: five years into a severe recession, it’s clear that the 40-plus consumer is one of the few market segments that still has disposable income. Simultaneously, women over 40 are becoming more vocal in seeking respect for their growing purchasing power and in demanding fashion and imagery to reflect their specific lifestyle and sense of identity.

Going grey after years of dyeing isn’t always simple — it is best suited to pink, olive and dark complexions as sallow or very pale skin can simply look washed out. It’s best to wait until the roots are about 60% grey before abandoning the dye totally — this ensures that your hair looks natural and fairly symmetrical as you grow it out. When growing out to grey, cropping your hair above the collarbone is a good idea, as it minimises contrast.

Similarly, layers can camouflage the multiple hues in your hair and add texture and movement. Once you have reverted to your natural grey, it is vitally important to avoid matronly cuts or sets — keeping your style contemporary, soft and flattering is key. Tight curls or rigid blow-dries will age grey hair instantly.

Once grey, maintaining the colour is important. Choose silver-specific products as grey hair has a finer protective cuticle, causing hair to look coarse and prone to breakage. Use quality moisturising shampoos and conditioners, designed for grey hair, to suppress yellow tones and have your hairdresser apply a clear glaze or glossing treatment to promote shine. Eat for your hair’s health by taking B complex vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids.

What is most appealing about women choosing to grey naturally is that they aren’t slaves to narcissism — their grey hair suggests wisdom and strength of character. If grey hair is a reflection of grey matter and a sign that society is beginning to re-evaluate ideas about ageing, then the prominence of silver sirens is to be welcomed.

Beauty has many faces and our glamorous greying demographic is asserting that fact elegantly.

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