Despite Harvey Nichols having decreed 2015 to be ‘the year of the grey’, women who don’t dye have come in for criticism recently from hairdresser Nicky Clarke and colourist Jo Hansford. Articles in The Daily Mail and The Guardian have quoted them both as believing that grey hair is ageing, unattractive and unflattering.
That may have been the belief once. As screenwriter Nora Ephron wryly observed: “There’s a reason why 40, 50 and 60 don’t look the way they used to, and it’s not because of feminism, or better living through exercise. It’s because of hair dye. In the 1950s only seven per cent of American women dyed their hair; today there are parts of Manhattan and LA where there are no grey-haired women at all.”
From prehistoric to age-perfect
But things are changing, and not just among the young women who have been dying their hair ‘faux grey’ over the past few years (and posting their pictures under #grannyhair on Instagram).
“Over the past decades brand marketing and magazine features have at best ridiculed the over 40s, and at worst ignored them in favour of youth and perceived perfection,” says Rebecca Valentine, founder of the Grey Model Agency.
“Those magazines and personalities who are still guilty of the negative finger-pointing are simply showing themselves as somewhat prehistoric.”
She is seeing what she describes as “a massive shift in how the market is influencing – indeed demanding – a change in perception of age in the media”. Her new agency is dedicated to 35-plus models, many of whom are proudly displaying their natural grey.
“One need only look at Alex, Meg, Nicky or Beverly here at Grey to see that silver, grey or cobalt hair is glamorous and, far from ageing, is more age-perfect.”
Not to mention milliner Thelma Spiers of Bernstock & Spiers, New York stylist Linda Rodin, the IMF’s Christine Lagarde, model Kristen McMenamy, Annie Lennox, Tilda Swinton and model Yasmina Rossi, who is 59 and being booked to appear in fashion campaigns.
Fashion editor Alyson Walsh, author of Style Forever, wrote last week in The Guardian about her decision to let her gray hair show, saying: “With age, I have found, also comes the confidence to stand your ground. To choose wrinkles over Botox and fillers, style over fashion and natural grey hair over a dye job.”
Compliments on going grey
Jayne Mayled grew out her grey four years ago when she found it increasingly difficult to achieve a good colour. Having initially been resistant to the idea, she prefers grey, and believes it suits her better and looks fresher. “I had never had a compliment on my hair in my life until I went grey,” she says, “and since then I’ve had complete strangers come up and tell me how good it looks.”
Not finding any products which were both enjoyable to use and enhanced grey hair, which is porous and can pick up a yellow tone from exposure to sun and pollution, she set up her own range, White Hot Hair.
Her shampoos, conditioners and styling products are made in the UK and sold all over the world through her website. She describes her company as a “David among the Goliaths of the haircare industry” and says it takes a while to convince store buyers, but her products are now stocked in 130 Boots branches.
Silver foxes and silver ladies
“Up to now it’s been perceived that there are two extremes,” says Jayne. “Either that women are desperately clinging on to youth or they have given up.
“Men can be silver foxes but women are letting themselves go. I believe in the middle way. I’m 58 and not trying to look younger, I just want the best life I can have.”
Both Rebecca and Jayne believe we are on the verge of a major change in the way grey hair on women is perceived. Rebecca says: “Progress is slow but unlike mainstream consumer advertising the beauty and fashion industries are at least showing the ‘beauty’ of age by using the beautifully-ageing model be it silver fox or silver lady, whereas elsewhere the 40-plus are depicted as mothers or grandmothers, businessmen or women, caricatures.”
Grey is just another hair colour
Jayne says that the best part of setting up White Hot Hair has been reading the perceptions of beauty and ageing shared by women across the globe on her Facebook page. “In those conversations women are challenging lots of norms and encouraging each other to show their grey if it works for them.
“Grey is just another hair colour choice,” she says. “Don’t put all the baggage, the huge political and social agenda, around that choice. I’m not the hair colour police; I don’t believe all women should go grey. I think they should be able to choose what they prefer and what makes them feel most confident.”
How confident do you feel about going grey? Confident enough to be at the forefront of the grey revolution?
The Grey Model Agency is looking for suitable sponsors and media partners before it launches a nationwide hunt for “the next silverati”. Keep an eye on Grey for details and you could be the next silver-haired catwalk model or trendsetter.