I used to be a brownette.
If you've never heard the term, you're not alone. Max Factor of makeup fame invented this word for a woman who is somewhere between a dark-haired brunette and a blonde. The term never really caught on and has fallen into disuse. But that's what I was, a brownette. Until I began to go gray.
Like many women, I first tried to cover up the offending strands. As I got grayer, I had to go darker and darker, which didn't really work since I am fair-skinned. So finally, I became a blonde.
That worked for me for quite a while. Colored, my gray strands gave me a natural, streaky blonde. Lots of my friends made the same decision. Soon it seemed as if every woman I knew over the age of 50 had “gone lighter.”
In my 60s, my blonde locks began to feel less-than-authentic. I toyed with the idea of going gray, but the proposition got mixed reviews. My husband said, “I don't think you'll like it,” which I interpreted to mean “I don't think I'll like it.” My hairdresser warned me, “Your hair is going to be very white.” So I waffled and kept on doing color.
Then my hairstylist got sick, and I missed a couple of coloring sessions. Surprisingly, my hair didn't look too bad. About that time one of my friends was considering the same step, and we decided to take the plunge together.
It turned out that we had picked the perfect time to go gray. Here's why.
Roots are no longer a big deal.
When I was younger, letting your roots show was taboo. Today, if you follow celebrities, you may have noticed that obvious growth from the root is considered not only acceptable but actually a "Look." Some people even go to the salon to get ombré hair — graduated tint that looks a lot like growing-out color.
Gray hair is hot.
People — even young people — are going to the salon for silver, white, and platinum shades. On a recent trip to Costa Rica, a hunky surf instructor rocking a man bun looked right past my beautiful granddaughters and told me, “I like your hair.” In fact, most of the compliments I get about my hair color are from young people who think it's cool.
Super short styles are in, too.
The easiest way to transition from colored to natural is to let your hair grow a bit and then cut it off in a very short style. This is also a very good look for some older women (think Judi Dench and Jamie Lee Curtis). Unfortunately, I don't have the ears for a pixie cut, so my growing-out took a little longer.
Why I'm Happier Gray
I'm a fan of natural things, and it makes me happy to know that my hair is just as nature made it. I don't miss the fuss and expense of coloring my hair. I also feel that I'm sending a good message to my grandchildren, which is that women don't have to hide their age. I want them to think of growing older as a privilege, not a tragedy.
How to Grow Out Gray Hair Gracefully
If you decide you want to disguise your gray indefinitely, I'm fine with that. If you decide that you'd like to go natural, these hints may help.
- Look at your hair in different lighting situations. If you want to know how your hair really looks, check it out in natural light and in a variety of lighting situations. I only looked at mine in my bathroom mirror, and the first time I saw myself in natural light, I almost fainted. My incandescent bulbs were making my hair look like the blonde shade I was used to, when my hair was actually gray-white.
- A glaze can help. A semi-permanent glaze will temporarily even out your color. Since glazes don't contain peroxide or ammonia, they don't penetrate the hair shaft, and they will wear off in a week or two. Still, they're great for special occasions when you don't want to be so obviously in a growing-out stage.
- Hats can be a help. If you like hats, you're in luck. Personally, I love hats in theory, but not in practice. My friend wore a lot of hats during her growing-out phase, and she looked fabulous.
- Do it with a friend. I loved having a pal going through the process with me. We complimented each other shamelessly, and my friend — a former hairdresser — gave me lots of good advice. And yes, she's happy with her locks, too.
I've never regretted going natural, and I can't see myself opting for hair color at any time in the future. My granddaughters want me to add a pink streak, but right now this former brownette is enjoying being a white-hot grandmama!
This post was written by Susan Adcox, a freelance writer specializing in family relationships, especially grandparenting, and in healthy aging.