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Should I Break Up With My Hair Colorist to Go Gray?

Should I Break Up With My Hair Colorist to Go Gray? 1

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One evening last summer, I was seated at the Brooklyn hair salon where I spend so much of my waking life. As my scalp was being slathered in a color formula best described as deep espresso with tones of roasted hazelnut, I watched a local jewelry designer settle into the station across from mine. “The regular touch-up?” her colorist asked. “Actually,” she replied tentatively, “I’m ready to grow in my grays.” I cast my eyes away from the mirror, embarrassed to be privy to so intimate an exchange.

A few months later, I scrolled past an image of Jocelyne Beaudoin on designer Rachel Comey’s feed and started to rethink my every-five-weeks habit. The 60-year-old prop stylist and interior decorator, who had recently walked Comey’s spring show, brandished silver-wheat curls that looked radically fresh. I spotted another gorgeous riff on the mother-of-pearl shade on the baby-faced assistant at my dermatologist’s office. “I’ve already tried all the other colors out there,” she told me with a shrug when I paid her a compliment on her new smoky tone.

After years of being a telltale sign of getting old—a stigma so toxic for women in America “that almost no one, no matter her age, will admit she is old,” Mary Pipher recently wrote in her widely shared New York Times essay “The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70s”—it’s suddenly hip to be gray. You can see it on the pop charts, as musicians such as Cardi B, Ariana Grande, and seventeen-year-old pop phenom Billie Eilish have all had a go at lunar hues that channel cyberpunk princesses, and on the runways, where women of a certain vintage (Stella Tennant, Erin O’Connor, Pat Tracey) are embracing their salt-and-pepper strands to the clamor of casting directors. “Brands are asking for models with their natural hair colors and textures,” confirms Travis Weaver, who is in charge of the lineups at shows such as Comey’s. These frosty streaks “communicate authenticity,” suggests New York gallerist Bridget Donahue, 38, who frequently sweeps her own into an updo to display the flashes of white that run underneath. Look no further than the drugstore aisle for evidence: Earlier this year, L’Oréal named silver the hair color of the year.

Concealing grays has been a popular practice since the early twentieth century, following the advent of the first synthetic hair dye. And while wearing them with pride entertained a brief comeback in the 1970s, when feminists eschewed hair color in what Lois Banner, a professor of history and gender studies at the University of Southern California, calls “a backlash against the patriarchy,” that flirtation quickly fizzled. But today’s pale craze may have staying power. A natural outgrowth of the body-positivity movement, it goes hand in hand with a wide reconsideration of long-ingrained beauty norms. Now, says Banner, choosing to wear your hair gray is an opportunity to assert independence and style. “It’s my favorite thing about myself,” says Sophia Roe, a social-­media star, chef, and wellness advocate who was sixteen when she started seeing silver. Now 30, she is the proud owner of copious tinsel-like ringlets that punctuate her otherwise onyx curls. “It’s like I got bopped in the head with a magical stick.”

That’s not to say breaking with the bottle is easy. “It can be just as much work as maintaining your roots,” explains Christophe Robin, the cult French colorist who regularly mixes mahoganies and flaxens for Kylie Minogue and Tilda Swinton. There are a slew of wash-out color products, such as Bumble and Bumble’s velvety Bb.Color Sticks and R+Co’s Art School root touch-up gel, to help blend natural grays as they come in—a better bet than adding artificial silver additions, according to Robin, who prefers to skip anything requiring a preliminary bleaching process that can be damaging to the hair. Instead, he prescribes an acidic pH shampoo, such as his own wheat-germ formula, used in tandem with Santa Maria Novella’s violet vinegar rinse to lock in the cuticle and protect against environmental pollutants that can turn a perfect pewter into a dull yellow.

In my native habitat of brownstone Brooklyn, women of a creative ilk cultivate streaks of white and silver as part of a uniform that includes A Détacher knitwear and shearling-lined clogs. It’s a constant endorsement for revisiting my natural hair color, whatever it may be. Perhaps I’ll discover that it’s that of a Norse goddess, or the morning fog over Mexico City. But images of ashy pigeons and tarnished silverware inevitably swoop in, and I lose my courage. And maybe that’s fine, too. I recently ran into the jewelry designer whose color evolution I’d been following for the past year. Her brush with grayness had reached its conclusion, and she’d returned to a warm, rich chestnut. Going silver and back again: What’s more empowering than that?

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