Staying grey, is it really an option?

Finally, the days of DIY hair dos, kitchen sink colour and Claudia Winkleman fringes are numbered.  Soon scissors will snip, colour will be restored, and gossip traded.  So what if stylists and clients wear PPE!  So what if we leave with wet hair to escape the new perils of a blow dry!  Our former glory is in sight.  Well … for some it is.

With no colour touch-up sticks or salon-time in lockdown I have gone feral.  First thing each morning I check my sunflower seedlings, tomato plants and my head.  My long forgotten natural colour is now being grate-crashed by endless shades of grey.  I like it.  But should a singleton, extra mature student with a workforce and love life to re-enter keep it?

‘Pitied!  (because your hair is gray) – Clairol banishes every trace of gray or graying, swiftly, surely, beautifully.’

At least I’m not alone.  There’s a global wave of greying pandemic women who are braving lockdown, resourcefully hiding their roots with up dos, hats and jauntily positioned shades.  But three months is a long time in the life of a hair follicle.  And those who always wondered what they would look like with grey hair are finding out.  As am I.

It is strange to think that if I choose to keep my greys I may be ‘in fashion’; it’s been a while.  Seemingly grey has morphed into silver, steel and platinum and has fast become the colour choice of the uber cool, particularly the under 40s influencers.  Lady Gaga, 34, nailed silver grey in 2018 and has moved on to platinum.  In the same year Ariana Grande, 27, went blue grey; her celebrity stylist Chris Appleton declaring her an ‘ice queen’ on Instagram.

Lilly Allen Instagram.
Photo credit: Instagram

And Lily Allen, 35, has just unveiled her lockdown roots on Instagram – with a self-deprecating ‘granny’ emoji – to delighted compliments from fans.  Of course, stars like Helen Mirren, Judy Dench, and Glen Close have been ‘growing their own’ for a while now.  But these silver sirens are a minority.  So older pandemic women with a couple of inches of home-grown and perhaps a ‘skunk line’ are bereft of role models.

Unsurprisingly, social media is stepping into the support void.  Pandemic women are sharing grey stories, sharing products, sharing humour and sharing outrage when a member has been grey-shamed.  Instagram account @grombre was started in 2016 by 28-year-old Martha Truslow Smith, who found her first grey at 14.  With over 204,000 followers she supports women going back to their roots.

Becky Capps
Becky Capps, founder of Growing Gray Gracefully. (Photo credit: Becky Capps)

Facebook users are on board too.  ‘Going Gray Gracefully’ whose mantra is ‘We’re women supporting one another as we grow gray gracefully in a myriad of unique ways’ doubled its membership during April and May – the COVID effect.  Becky Capps, 68, its founder said “I started the page exactly three years ago because I started my own journey of ditching the dye.  I invited a few friends… now we have over 22,000 followers from around the world.”  So, whilst shutdown has detached everyone from normal life, right now, as we figure out the new normal the internet is swaddling grey novices.

Yet colouring hair is nothing new.  The Egyptians, Romans, Gauls, and Phoenicians – who used gold dust in their mix – were all at it.  It was nothing for Romans to throw together some ashes, walnut shells, and earthworms then crush, mix, and apply to zap greys.   But the first commercial dye came in the 20th century, in 1909, and by the fifties home colour products were on sale.  Early 20th century women, however, were conflicted. They feared the health consequences of these dyes, but they also feared for their reputations.  Nice women did not dye their hair – except those who clandestinely used a salon’s back entrance – women of ill repute, starlets and chorus girls did!  But Clairol changed all that, their 40s and 50s advertising campaigns struck a nerve.  Grey hair signified ageing.  Ageing was not attractive.  Clairol pulled no punches with editorial copy like ‘Pitied!  (because your hair is gray) – Clairol banishes every trace of gray or graying, swiftly, surely, beautifully.’  The company inferred that a woman’s sex appeal dived with the onset of greys which could be ‘the ruination of romance’ and leave a woman ‘buried beneath…dull drab color’.

Some London salons are reporting waiting lists in their thousands.

The prejudice die is loaded against women.  Men have long been silver foxes.  In a body beautiful society, fanned by social media, looks count; they shape opinions and set expectations.  Seemingly grey has never been the colour choice of the masses. But maybe grey just hasn’t had its day?

Bizarrely it has taken a global pandemic to see grey in a new light.  Our hair choices have caveats. We are restricted – no access to hair salons and only DIY hair dye.  Little wonder pandemic women are chancing the real thing.  A glance in a mirror reflects change but a long lockdown breeds familiarity.  It’s quite exciting.  A bit edgy.  Definitely liberating.  Should we have done it long ago?  Somewhere in the security of the cocoons we now inhabit it’s becoming OK to go grey.  Except when it isn’t.

Big respect for resourceful women who have eked out their root touch-up sticks and become unexpected home-colour experts.  For them, Super Saturday, July 4, can’t come quickly enough.  Across the country stylists are responding to their clients’ clamour for appointments.  Some London salons are reporting waiting lists in their thousands.  A lot of pandemic women are relaxing – deliverance is in sight.

Another lot are feeling the heat.  Denied social lives and face to face time with co-workers, coddled by family members, supported by social media and endorsed by influencers it is easy to see why grey really does feel like the new black, brown, red and even blond.  But in the new normal, will any of us really walk into a restaurant, dressed to impress, with a half head of grey hair?  Old prejudices die hard. How many of us will cave if our peers do … craving that restorative salon fix?  And, really, should a singleton, extra mature student with a work force and love-life to re-enter dare to keep it?  me

Hell yes.

If grey can grow up, so can I.

As published on Going Gray Gracefully Our Own Way,  July 14 2020:

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