Why Gray Is Indeed the New Blonde

The author embracing gray at 44.

By Jennifer Karchmer
April 26, 2015

Like many 30-something women alarmed at seeing a strand of gray shining out among my dark brown locks, I was dyeing my hair every six to eight weeks to hide from the inevitable. For about ten years, it was the cheap-o color in a box purchased at my local Rite Aid but occasionally I splurged at the hair salon with a professional color. My hair grows at the same pace either way and sure enough within 10 days, that gray stripe would emerge reminding me (nagging) to get to the drug store and pick up my “Nutmeg Shimmer” or “Mahogany Nights.”

Admittedly, the day after the dye, I loved my hair. It felt silky smooth and I received compliments on the color. Comments usually came from women, fellow 30-somethings all too familiar with the ritual of plastic gloves, plastic bottles, hair clips and of course, the face stain — the splash of color on your temple you missed as you sat with toxic chemicals on your head for 15 minutes.

For my 40th birthday, I let my hairdresser talk me into blond highlights — a huge step for this brunette who chose only natural dark brown to cover gray roots. I loved the color and enjoyed this next round of compliments, from women and men alike. It didn’t hurt that I also sent myself to Paris for a birthday milestone celebration.

Two weeks later, just like in my 30s, I was in the same boat. The gray stripe peeked out: “Hello Jennifer. I’m here — forever.” It was a new decade and so, I decided a new routine. I purchased my cheap-o brand one last time, as I grew tired of the monthly routine, staining my hands and sometimes the tub when it was time to wash it out.

Going natural was good for my pocketbook and my health, I figured. When I calculated the costs, during the past five years, I’ve saved close to $500-$800 and around 60–80 hours of time by eliminating hair coloring from my life. My mother died of cancer (lung and brain), so what was the point in soaking my head in chemicals? Mom had bleached her dark hair for years. In those days (1970s-80s), I think it was a mix of much harsher chemicals.

Going natural was good for my pocketbook and my health.

I had already shunned makeup years ago when I moved from New York to the Pacific Northwest where my lifestyle was more about being outdoors, rock climbing and hiking than sitting in a newsroom working on deadline as a TV journalist. So it wasn’t a huge step to stop the hair color. In fact, it made even more sense to me. I started looking more closely at everyone’s hair, on the bus, the train, walking down the street. I was on high alert for the gray stripe and saw it everywhere, the gray roots emerging from a dyed hair job. Is that what I looked like all those years when I got lazy and didn’t make it to the drug store soon enough to get my latest color in a box?

A new look in the mainstream often creates a shift in our cultural perceptions of what’s hip. It’s like the “Dorothy Hammill” wedge cut of the 1970s or Jennifer Aniston’s iconic coif on “Friends,” known as “The Rachel.” Images courtesy Google images.

Going through the grow-out was frustrating. I impatiently awaited my natural color to emerge. I continued to get hair trims every 8 weeks and because I like my hair long, it took close to a year to see the stripe that delineated my masked/colored self and my natural self disappear.

I’ve been waiting for a young actress to play a movie role (Scarlett Johansson or Jennifer Lawrence perhaps?) that calls for silver or gray hair and the public goes wild for the new do clamoring for the color. A new look in the mainstream often creates a shift in our cultural perceptions of what’s hip. It’s like the “Dorothy Hammill” wedge cut of the 1970s or Jennifer Aniston’s iconic coif on “Friends,” known as “The Rachel.”

At 45, I’m happy with my hair color and natural locks. I don’t need permission, compliments or affirmation to wear my hair this way. At times I’ve considered doing color again and then balk. It would be only two weeks of luscious dark hair and then the gray stripe battle again. The upkeep is not worth it. I don’t wear my natural hair as a statement. It’s just that — natural, and more fun.

Jennifer Karchmer is an American journalist and writer who lives in Montpellier, France.


Originally published at www.jenniferkarchmer.com.