#13 Grey

In Down and Out, midlife on November 25, 2009 at 2:53 pm

When the whole recession thing started to trickle down to street level, I asked a stylist friend who cuts hair how she was faring. Was she losing clients? ‘Oh no! My ladies say that they’d rather go without food than not have their hair done.’

Personally I’d rather shave my head than forgo good food, and yet I find myself at a follicle crossroads. One word: grey. It is seeping in from the temples and springing from the parting and there is little I can do to stem the tide. The image in the mirror has become a spiteful reminder of my slide towards middle age and anonymity.

In the past, the occasional £75+ to obliterate it with warm chestnut or camouflage it with highlights kept me in blissful denial, but now I can’t imagine ever having that much spare cash again. And even if I did, I’d probably spend it on cheese.

It seems unfair that a man with grey hair is seen as distinguished, even desirable, yet for women it’s still something of a social taboo. (When is a woman ever referred to as a ‘silver fox’?) But then, men are also allowed to be old; women aren’t.

But if men like my husband can make male-pattern baldness cool by teaming a No1 cut with a Cos shirt and APC jeans, then perhaps women can make grey a fashion statement.

First we need role models, of which there turn out to be depressingly few. After wracking my brains, all I’ve managed to come up with is: Jamie Lee Curtis; Susan Sontag; Indira Gandhi; fashion designer Helen Storey (she was big in about 1990); Vanessa Redgrave; Rogue out of X-men; Alexandra Cabot from 1970s Hanna-Barbera animation series Josie and the Pussycats (see above); and Dame Judi Dench. A motley crew only able to carry it off either by having been already revered in their field when they lost their melanin, or being cartoon characters.

Far more numerous are the women who I refuse to believe aren’t grey: I give you Madonna, Arlene Phillips, Elizabeth Taylor, Dame Shirley Bassey…

Perhaps we can take heart instead from a New Scientist article which claims grey hair can protect against cancer.

Or this beautiful illustration published in Bronwen Meredith’s “Vogue Body and Beauty Book” 1977 entitled The Beauty of Grey Hair, 1920s. The caption reads:

C.R., The Beauty of Grey Hair, 1920s by Gatochy.
‘Thanks to her sophisticated charm, a carefully picked wardrobe and assiduous care the grey haired woman can be charming. Pity the poor deluded woman who weeps over her jet black hair, because she didn’t realize gray hair is much more distinguished. The pot of hair dye did its job — and deprived her of her greatest beauty.’

If only. Pixie Geldof may have flirted with grey at the Elle Style Awards, but until someone persuades Kate Moss to appear at Glastonbury with a prominent grey streak, or Madonna to go au naturel, women will continue to spend a fortune on (self) deception. Or, when they’re broke, simply avoid mirrors.

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