‘Silver’ is sexy now that prominent women like Jamie Lee Curtis and Olivia Tracey are eschewing hair dye and embracing the natural look, but I’m still too vain to join them, says Annmarie O’Connor
In a society that lionises youth, grey hair is ballsy. It says: ‘I am prepared to define beauty on my own terms’
I WAS 16 when I found my first grey hair. Upon plucking it, I was unreliably informed that four more would grow in its place. By 19, I had euthanised a new crop of achromatic sprigs with Miss Clairol. As an agent of doom, she was helpful, until my 30s, when it got out of control. What had started as sporadic maintenance became a bi-monthly habit. Now, in my 40s, I have taken my colour down a few shades to disguise my grey hairs’ persistence, but the war continues. Go grey gracefully? Not a chance.
But why not wave the white flag? Why not just trust the designer that is Mother Nature? The benefits package isn’t so bad: more free time, less maintenance; and a retirement fund in hairdresser savings. Despite the obvious perks of embracing colour redundancy, vanity forbids it.
Pigment does more than transform our hair; it colours our identity.
In a society that lionises youth, grey hair is one ballsy statement. It says: ‘I am prepared to define beauty on my own terms. Who’s with me?’
One woman who has the chutzpah to match her sensational silver mane is Irish actress and model, Olivia Tracey (53). Having let her hair go grey ten years ago, for professional reasons, Tracey discovered she preferred her new platinum tresses. What’s more, it was good for business.
“It’s opened up a whole new market to me,” says Tracey, who lives between LA and Dublin. “It was definitely advantageous to my career, both in terms of modelling and acting,” Tracey says.
“I’d get roles like the well-preserved older woman — that kind of thing. Did I care? Absolutely not. As long as the jobs and cheques were coming along, I didn’t give two continentals. I’m quite delighted, actually. It was lovely to be rewarded for embracing who you really are.”
Fast forward to 2010, when Giles Deacon and Calvin Klein sent granite-haired models down the runway and model, Kristen McMenamy, graced the cover of cult fashion bible, Dazed & Confused, with long, ghostly locks. Since then, celebrities from Rita Ora to Nicole Richie and Rihanna have co-opted the look, acting as poster girls for the trend.
And therein lies the rub. Being rewarded for who you are is much easier when youth and a bottle of cleansing shampoo are by your side. It’s a different story when going grey is not a choice. That’s when self-assurance comes into play, especially when you’re a woman.
Angelina Jolie and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, are just two of many thirty-something female stars who’ve come under tabloid fire for allowing matters like child-rearing and highlighting the plight of refugees to take precedence over a melanin-challenged parting. As for men, the terms ‘salt and pepper’ and ‘silver fox’ seem to be used more liberally. Just ask ‘Gorgeous George’ Clooney or John Slattery, a.k.a. Mad Men’s libidinous Roger Sterling.
The paradigm, however, does seem to be shifting, as Tracey’s positive experience proves.
“I had gone to my agent and said to them ‘Look, I’m thinking of doing this,’ and they said, ‘Oh, please do!’ It was very welcome, as far as they were concerned. People were also coming up to me in the street saying ‘Oh my God, I love your hair! How did you get that colour?’ not realising that it was natural,” she says. “They thought I had my hair done in some hair salon.”
Ironically, it’s the early adapters, like Tracey, who’ve created the space for a younger demographic to explore the possibilities of greying and to re-appropriate the prescriptive notions of social and sexual currency.
No longer is grey the preserve of invisibility and marginalia; it is front and centre, attracting fans and flirtations in equal measure. When the term ‘well Dench’ entered the lexicon as an idiom for ‘cool’, nobody could argue that its eponymous progenitor, Dame Judi, was at the root of the compliment.
And who would ever argue with the marvel of Halle Berry, as sexy superhero ‘Storm’, in the X-Men franchise? If blondes have more fun, then silvers have more confidence — evolved and comfortable in their own skin.
So, is embracing grey a matter of mindset? Not quite. Unlike Tracey, whose former, beige-blonde hue aided the transition to platinum status, my own brown bob would require a halfway house of highlights, or Jamie Lee Curtis-style pixie chop, to create grey worth the display. My own mind is set on holding onto my genetic colour a wee while longer; that is, until I get the nerve to make like Diane Keaton or Caitlin Moran and throw caution to the winds of change.
It’s not that I won’t do it. In fact, I probably will. I just need to see more evidence of silver vixens demonstrating how effortlessly it can be done.
Until then, I’ll be lurking in the shadows with a loaded colour gun, ready to blast those follicular interlopers, wondering when the war will end.
Top international hair stylist and colourist John Geaney (www.johngeaney.ie) weighs in on grey matters.
Turning grey: People can grey at any stage from their 20s onwards, but generally it comes down to genetics and lifestyle. Greying is a natural process when the pigment producing cells in the hair follicle become less active and over time eventually die. Smoking, poor diet and stress can accelerate this process.
Introducing greys: To ease greys into your colouring process start with changing from permanent to oxidised semi-permanent colour. This will allow for more of a peek-a-boo greying effect.
Colour options: It’s important to consider the base tone of the colour. COLOR by Wella Professionals ‘Lumina’ range has a cool grey tone in its formulation and is very suited to working with grey hair.
Hair length: Personally I don’t think it matters, once the hair is in perfect condition. Grey hair, long in particular, needs to be in immaculate shape because it has few natural pigments left. This can allow lime type minerals to show up on the hair giving it a greenish hue.
Upkeep: Grey hair needs a weekly deep cleanse shampoo with a product like Shu Uemura Cleansing Oil Shampoo and a nourishing mask like Wella SP Silver Shampoo, to replenish moisture and add shine. Play with water-based toners: they give extra fun and sparkle to grey hair. For pale Celtic complexions think ice pink hues and for more sallow skin a little peach blush. Always consult a professional.
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