Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Going Gray: Seven steps to looking fabulous

This is Part 3 of Poppy's Excellent Hair Dye Adventure. You might want to catch up by reading Part 1: Poppy is a Salon Color Ho, and Part 2: Drugstore Color.

OK, it's time to talk about the ultimate solution to the problem of having gray hair.

Which is to have gray hair.

And of course, that's always an option. In fact, Anne Kreamer wrote an entire book about it.

And eventually, when there is a high enough degree of COGNITIVE DISSONANCE* between my face and my hair, I'll do this myself. Maybe.

But here's the deal. You'll look older with gray hair. It's guaranteed. After all, many characteristics combine to create the appearance of youth: smooth, glowing skin, upright carriage, a slim waistline, firm muscles, and thick, healthy, shining hair that's not gray.

Wearing gray hair successfully

Gray hair sends the world a very loud message: "I am neither young, nor hip." So if you want to keep your hair gray, yet appear youthful and hip, you need to drown out that message.

When you look at these pictures of women rocking their gray hair, you'll notice that many of the models are prematurely gray. Yes, they have striking gray hair. They also have lots of it. It's beautifully styled. They're slim and beautifully groomed, and their skin looks great.

If you want your gray hair to evoke some of the same spirit, you should do your best to emulate them. Remember, looking great at our age involves compromise. Staying in the game takes some give and take and a certain amount of effort. Here are the essentials:

1. Don't wear your hair the way you did in high school. Yes, long-straight-parted-in-the-middle was the cool 'do in 1972, but if you wear your hair like that now, you'll look like a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

2. Get a really fun cut. Go wild with your style. I'm not saying you need to go short. Just have some shape cut into your style. And why not? The rest of us are spending hours in the salon or our bathroom with gloves and little dye brushes touching up our roots, then pampering our dyed tresses like Golem with his Precious. You won't have to do any of that, so spend the money you've saved on a chic cut and the time you've saved with a blowdryer and flat iron. YOU OWE IT TO US.

3. Keep your makeup, clothes, glasses, bags, and shoes current. Remember, your hair is telling everyone you're over the hill. Let everything else you wear contradict your hair.

4. Be impeccably groomed. Think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Without the personality, of course. But preen like the gorgeous silver fox you are.

5. Rethink the color of your clothes, makeup, and jewelry. Gray hair is like a halo of cool light near your face. If you've been wearing warm tones, try switching to the cooler side of the spectrum: mint green rather than chartreuse; cherry red rather than geranium red; pinks, blues, lavender, black, and white. (Helen Mirren consistently gets this right.)

6. Make sure your teeth pass muster. Gray or white hair can make your teeth look dingy.

Snowy white hair spotlights the darkening that occurs as we age, simply by virtue of all that contrast. The whiter your hair is, the whiter you should try to get your teeth. This doesn't have to be a big deal--Crest Whitestrips do a great job--but it's something to keep in mind.

7. Stay in shape. Ay, there's the rub. My sister--my older sister--has never colored her hair in her life. She's also a life-long athlete who has always had an amazing figure.

When I was hugely pregnant at the age of 40 with my second child--probably weighing in at 190 pounds--she sent me a photograph from a cruise ship. She was wearing a bikini. And she looked good, gray hair and all. (Gee thanks, sis! Way to demoralize me. You've just won the gold medal for sibling rivalry.)

This is when I came up with this part of my theory. If you can rock a bikini, your hair can be as gray as you want. Remember that picture of Helen Mirren in a bikini that was all over the internet last summer?

But if you already look a little less than svelte ... if your youthful waistline is only a memory ... then you might want to rethink the wisdom of keeping your hair gray. Because gray hair plus dumpy body equals Aunt Bea.

(Now you know another reason why I dye my hair. It lets me dip into the cookie jar a bit more frequently!)

* From now on, when I use a word or phrase that really makes me sound smart, I'll use all caps. Otherwise you might miss it.


  1. sorry, there were so many mis-typings in the 1st posting. (getting to excited)

    I LOVE how you say "cognitive dissonance", my friend says it the same whay. When he uses this term, he kind of underlines, how smart it is to use this word - by makeing a dramtic pause and raising his eyebrows. but at the same time he makes fun of himself.
    You are so alike! :)

    now I need to get back to your posting to read the rest. :D

  2. Grey hair looks awesome when it's SILVER grey. You are so right.

    Mean, I'd look like the wicked witch of the midwest if I went grey. Cuz I'd be one of those "dirty" grey...way too much black, like forever...

    You're right..gotta be young and silky to rock that look.

    Love your blog, really truly.

    Something so totally different from the rest of my reading, in a good way.

  3. We were discussing these facts day before yesterday with a woman who went grey 2 years ago and is absolutely raving about it. She looks amazing. She is thin. She's got a great cut and nice teeth.
    Me? I'd look like my great grand mother age 97.
    So I torture myself every 21 days with hair dye.

  4. I am off to my appointment with my hair stylist who is highlighting and trimming my locks this morning...I go every 6 weeks! No gray yet for me....munch munch!

  5. Why is it that a lot of women (and some men) think that dyeing their hair will make them look younger? It’s like wearing black to make yourself look thinner. You’re not fooling anybody.

    Does dyeing your hair excuse the bad haircut, bad/yellow teeth, extra weight, etc.? To “stay in the game” you have to pay attention to these issues regardless of your hair color. The seven essentials you mention should be applied to those with dyed hair, too.

    Let's face it, if you are not hip to begin with, coloring your hair will not make you hip.

    Loved Anne Kreamer’s book. It got me off the bottle (dye bottle that is).

  6. Paula: OMG I'm having such COGNITIVE DISSONANCE™ right now.

    The Empress: My grandfather was completely white haired when he was 29 ... I'd be salt and pepper until I'm 70. It's not fair.

    Paola: That's my situation, too. I don't have the teeth for white hair.

    Hostess: You're reminding me, I need to make an appointment.

    Kathy: Well, of course, this is a debatable point. People look younger with dyed hair only insofar as young people don't have gray hair and old people do. For me it's a question of signs and what they signal. Erect posture, smooth skin, bright eyes, and brown hair "read" as young; stooping posture, wrinkles, trifocals, and gray hair "read" as old. If a young person is playing a grandparent in a play, they paint on wrinkles and wear a gray wig. It boils down to signs, (or, since I'm trying to use my $5 graduate student vocabulary, SEMIOTICS™.)

  7. Cognitive dissonance - I have that with my butt. If I can't see it, it ain't there.

  8. Yep.
    And check with the Husband - some of them don't like the idea of being married to someone who looks older.

    (Is it bad that I said that?)

  9. I inherited he premature silver - when it got to the point that there was so much of it that I had really obvious roots within days of coloring ( I always had very dark brown hair), it just made no sense to keep coloring. I finally stopped when I was 46.

    Now I feel like I have light colored hair - like a platnum blonde! I love the silver. It is shiny and healthy and even though my husband likes it when I wear it long, I do cut and style it.

    That people assume I am older at a glance doesn't bother me. When they "see" me, they realize it is premature. I get a LOT of compliments on my hair, from men, too. I am not slim, but I am well groomed and fairly fashionable.

  10. I might have missed this in the missive, but another must for gray hair is keeping the eyebrows looking fabulous. Look at Emmylou and Meryl in "Devil" and that gorgeous silver-haired model in the first picture -- they all have nice, full, dark brows. It's easy and inexpensive to have them professionally dyed if they're too light, and of course use a brow pencil to fill in.

    You posted about the importance of brow grooming a few weeks ago -- no matter what color your hair, brows matter. But there's something about dark brows in contrast with silver hair that's particularly striking.

    -- Madolyn

  11. Miss Madine, a/k/a CHOWDAH!!!

    You are absolutely right about the eyebrows. Case in point: there's a lovely woman here in Chicago--very grande dame--with a striking head of white hair. She dresses like a dream, she's slim and elegant and that white hair is amazing BUT it looks as if she has never used a pair of tweezers in her life. Her brows are still dark, and they're bushy. When I see her, my right hand gropes frantically for a pair of tweezers.

    (I'm diffident about mentioning this, so I'm burying it in a comment. I hope nobody I know in Chicago sees this and squeals on me!)

  12. Gosh, Poppy dearest, I was just about to write a post on grey hair and I thought I would just look through my blogroll (since I've been away for three days). This is the second time you have literally pipped me to the post or whatever that weird English expression is. This article is just FABULOUS as usual. I will hold off for a couple of months on mine even though our circles only slightly overlap as I don't want to look like a copykitty. I just scanned my pics as well. lol! What brought this on, was a lady sitting at the table next to us at the resort. She was gorgeous and about 60 but she would have looked so much better had she not had long, steely grey hair. It wasn't the pretty silver color, just a really drab grey. Actually, my post was more on the getting rid of grey side so maybe I'll do it next week and link to yours. Hah! Now that's a good idea. I DO believe grey hair makes you look older but on some women it looks exquisite as you have shown.

  13. You made the perfect point near the end - in order to rock the grey look, you've got to be otherwise gorgeous.

    Fat plus grey equals Aunt Bea, indeed!

  14. Wow, Meryl just looks stunning with the silver gray. I'm not so sure about letting mine go gray, though -- I fear that with my olive-undertoned pale skin, I would look terribly washed out. Plus I figure I've been dyeing my hair since I was 15, so there's no reason to stop now!

  15. Yes, grey hair looks good in your pictures. My hair is mostly dark grey and it makes me look really old! (Plus, my face does not come CLOSE to the woman in the picture!!!)
    Like my mom, I'll be dying my hair until I die. (Kind of how you feel about lipstick!!)
    Lindsey Petersen

  16. Ha...I cant leave mine grey looks very bad on me..dark brown is my youthful approach...Bwhahahah..!I think Meryl looks good in it though..and many I see around town...I wish I could go grey so much easier..!EnJoY YoUr DaY..!

  17. My grandmother had a head of gorgeous silvery white hair. I hope to rock it one day myself. But that day will be far in the future since I'm only thirty-seven. I plan to indulge in Clairol Loving Care on a regular basis.

    I think another way women go wrong when they decide to keep their gray is not properly condition. The texture seems to change when hair goes gray and I think it needs more conditioning/moisture. Frizzy gray hair is very aging.

  18. Every time my kids see a pic of someone with grey hair they always say "grandma hair" and how old the person is, so I'll continue to dye my hair for years to come!

  19. Sucks. I just lost what I was typing. I concur that grey hair makes you look way older. I have a friend who went grey in her late 20s and is now in her 30s. Despite having beautiful skin, she looks about 45 just because of the grey. I keep telling her to color it but it's really not my business.

  20. Everytime I read a post like this from you I feel like I've been given a fabulous older sister that I can ask about anything.

    I'd kill for that silver hair. I don't have much gray yet, but what I do have makes my hair look mousey brown. I love my colorist.

  21. I just realized that I'd been coloring my hair since about 26... I'm 54 now...time to stop the madness! Literally about a week later, I get a white "halo". I'm enjoying my last year of coloring though, went red for the first time, loving it! But now that it's almost all white, I'm ready to be free. It's long now, but letting it grow out for a few months then get it all chopped off! Three things that push me when I get a freaked feeling, a) it's getting incredibly expensive to keep it up b) it's such a bother-I can't even remember what it's like to just have to get your hair cut??? c) if I was a man, I'd let it go grey! (most likely) so if they have the confidence to go grey, I sure should too!

    But I sure wouldn't while it was just yucky dull brown, just partially gray for years. Now that it's about 75% or so gray, it's TIME! And as Patty LaBelle says, "I have a new attitude!"

  22. My hair started going silver tinsel gray well before I was 30. I tried wearing it natural a few years ago and had people asking me if I'm my kids' grandma. No. Just no. I am old enough to be a grandma, but I'm not old enough to be the grandma of kids the age of my kids.

    Eventually I'll embrace my tinsel head. Maybe when my kids move out.

  23. I am 51 and am letting my hair go gray. So tired of coloring.. it grows at least an inch a month. It is entirely silver / white.
    I still have a fairly young, wrinkle free face, but I am not svelte.. or stylish. Never had on a full face of makeup. Minimal makeup only for special event.
    I am surprised that so many women.. and the author.. buy into the western idea of beauty. At 51 years old, I compare that to girls who think they need to be a size zero to be attractive.
    I plan on making some minor changes as in color of clothing and a great cut... but true beauty comes from the inside. If people judge me for my Aunt Bee hair, they are very superficial indeed. Some of us live paycheck to paycheck as it is... and I am not,and cannot be, a high maintenance person. But I will go gray, be myself.. and feel empowered by doing so.

  24. I just went gray. I lost 40 pounds (took two years) and started eating really healthy to boost my skin and decided to stop wrecking my nice hair. EVERYBODY, including those who were totally against it, say I look younger! I also splurged on the haircut. My hair feels amazingly soft and looks better than ever.

  25. Fabulous post. I admire your wit. I've gone through the "OMG, I'm going gray!", the "What color shall I dye it?", the painful process of growing the dye out, the "Meh, who cares?" stage, and am just now reaching the point where I embrace and yes, actually LOVE, the silver. It's opened up a whole new world of colors that I can wear. Additionally, my eyes have lightened from brown to green with dark amber - a surprising twist I never expected! My advice (at 58): experiment every five years or so - you may find, as did I, that you can really rock colors you "would never wear".


Gentle Readers:

For the time being, I have turned off comment moderation. Please don't spam; it's not nice.

xxx, Poppy.