The Greyvolusion: How Silver Strands Became Badges Of Honour
For many women during lockdown, ‘going grey’ is more of an inevitability than a choice, but now it is being unashamedly embraced
You will have read about how the pandemic turned the UK into a nation of roots-loving, makeup-shunning individuals who favour loungewear over denim and Zoom in place of face-to-face. It’s true enough — only the acceptance of greys is much more than a matter of practicality. It has become so influential that hair-colour companies are channelling resources into working out how we can achieve truer, glossier grey hair.
A survey by L’Oreal Paris, conducted with Salon Tracker UK, revealed that 47 per cent of women are embracing their grey hair, while Wella found that one in three women with naturally grey hair has already done so, to “age fearlessly”. Google searches for “natural grey hair” are up 67 per cent year-on-year, while Pinterest saw a 50 per cent increase in searches for “grey highlights” during the summer months.
The pivot from dowdy grey to statement grey was made apparent when pictures first surfaced of SJP as Carrie Bradshaw and her BF Miranda Hobbes (aka Cynthia Nixon) on the set of the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That.
Seventeen years after the final season aired, the actor and original fashion influencer is reprising her role with a sprinkling of grey through her roots, while Miranda’s flame-red bob is now a chic hybrid of blond and dove-grey. Make no mistake, this was not about making a 50-something Carrie and crew relatable but a deliberate power move. Yes: grey hair is officially cool.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time (not so long ago), grey roots were deemed as unforgivable as dirty fingernails. But beauty has taken an unexpected turn and those embracing their grey hair are leading the age-positive charge.
When interviewed about her new salt-and-pepper curls earlier this year, actor Andie MacDowell, 63, said, “I’ve stopped colouring my hair. I don’t think of it as letting myself go. My kids think it looks badass.” In her polite Southern way she went on to point out that men have long been lauded for their sexy silver locks, while women have been expected to cover up their greys to appear youthful.
“That whole idea of grey hair being a sign of letting yourself go is quite a British thing,” muses colourist Josh Wood. “Think how long the Queen dyed her hair brown before she eventually began embracing her natural greys.” In fact, it was 1990 when Her Majesty, then 64, stopped colouring her hair, with her go-to shade of Chocolate Kiss.
All hail the hybrid
It’s true that lockdown left us no choice but to accept our greys, and once the floodgates were flung open there was no going back. “Silver strands are becoming a popular choice with clients in salons,” says Jenni Middleton, director of beauty at trend forecaster WGSN. “They’re looking to move away from a solid colour to a softer look that incorporates some of their grey hair and requires fewer salon visits and is therefore lower maintenance, with a less harsh regrowth line should there be future lockdowns.”
Colourist Cetera Lamb at John Frieda agrees. “Many of my clients had been colouring their roots since they were teenagers. But after such a long hiatus, some of my most high-maintenance blondes are now asking for subtle shimmers of colour placed throughout their greys.”
In reaction to the call for subtler techniques, Wood has developed a 50/50 look to help clients transition between their old salon colour and their natural greys. “I’ve been blending in greys with a reverse balayage technique: I take sections of hair and paint through some of the client’s natural colour, whether that’s Champagne blond, caramel or brown, in between their greys. It’s greyish,” he says.
Kate Winslet’s colourist Nicola Clarke has also seen the shift as women return to work: “Grey roots were always stigmatised; that’s not the case anymore. In fact, quite the opposite.” (See actor Tracee Ellis Ross’ face-framing roots for inspiration.) “There’s a sense of wanting to enhance the greys and combine them with micro highlights and lowlights — it’s very delicate work that takes a lot of finesse to get right, but for women who aren’t completely grey yet, it’s an extremely pretty way of blending the two worlds,” she adds.
Join the grey pride brigade
This has been gaining momentum for the past few years, spearheaded by fashionistas such as British Vogue’s Sarah Harris, whose long grey mane (which she’s had since she was 16) has been the source of much inspiration, including Dove’s Real Beauty campaign. Following in her footsteps, Instagram is awash with grey-haired influencers. However, the genesis of the grey pride movement came from an unlikely source.
“The acceptance of grey hair began with millennials and Gen Z embracing the grey palette, which felt fresh to them,” says Zoe Irwin, Wella Professionals’ UK colour trend expert. “It changed the dialogue around grey: suddenly it was cool. That gave older women who were naturally turning grey the confidence to embrace it unashamedly.”
Just last month, 56-year-old model Paulina Porizkova graced the cover of Los Angeles Magazine dressed in nothing but her waist-length grey-blond hair.
While the percentage of women who are fully grey is small in comparison to those adopting a hybrid approach, that is soon to change. Wella’s True Grey salon treatment was three years in the making. A wash-out treatment that lasts up to six weeks, it is designed to add gloss to greys that can fade and go brassy with time.
“True Grey works in two ways: you can apply it to pieces of hair to effectively contour around the face, adding multiple tones. Or apply it all over to bring out the silver and add a glossy finish, which brightens grey hair and makes eyes and skin pop. It’s a really exciting move forward,” says Irwin.
Just keep it sleek
While grey hair has traditionally been ignored on the haircare scene, in the near future you can expect an explosion of DIY products specifically formulated for grey hair. “The one downside to grey is that it has a wiry texture,” explains Josh Wood.
“It’s not the colour that has an ageing effect, it’s the lack of shine, so it’s important to focus on using products that deliver that reflection and nourishment to silver hair.” He suggests regular hair masks and in-salon glosses to boost greys and deliver that premium finish. One trick is to use a blue or violet shampoo and conditioner designed for blond hair, yet celebrity hairdresser Adam Reed advises using them sparingly.
“A violet-toned shampoo or mask will neutralise brassy tones but the blue will build up over time and eventually leave you with an old-fashioned mauve tone. The trick is to use those just once or twice a week. What you’re after is a ‘clean grey’ that sparkles,” he says.
Reed advises getting to grips with hair oils, specifically a dry oil, and brushing it through wet hair before styling. “Towel dry then put two pumps into your hands and work it through from root to tip evenly. This will give greys a glisteny shine.”
Moreover, grey hair is susceptible to build-up. “Silver hair is translucent and will pick up dirt, pollution and metal deposits from hard-water pipes more easily than other colours. That will cause dullness, so I recommend my clients use a metal-detox shampoo once every few weeks to lift that surface dullness.”
The structured bob
Hairstylist Zoe Irwin says, ‘If you are going full grey, your cut needs to be a part of the equation. People tend to go softer as they grow older but sharper lines actually work better. Go for something above the shoulder (as has Helen Mirren), and consider your eyewear too – bolder glasses, for example, add that element of contrast.’
Glossy and textured
‘Waves, coils and curls need nourishment from leave-in conditioning products. Use a diffuser and twist your curls with a styling cream before drying to make the silver strands pop,’ says Zoe. Take inspiration from Blythe Danner.
Zoe says, ‘Short hair looks stronger with silver hair. If your hair is already bob length, try going for a crop with longer layers that can be worn off your face and teamed with a brilliant bright red lip.’ Think Maye Musk.