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  • Laurie Bergman

Embracing the Advancing Gray

Smiling woman with shoulder-length gray hair and her head turned slightly to the side and downwards. She has her right hand touching her hair and holds a paper coffee cup with lid in her left hand. She is outside with trees and grass behind her.

Hair and any shade of it I’ve ever worn has always been about FUN. When I was born, I sported a whisper-light brown dusting my mother fondly referred to as “peach fuzz.” But having the first girl born among her siblings, cousins and friends made it very important to my mother that people knew that the baby she proudly cradled was her daughter. In the early 1960s, that meant I modeled every manner of pink clothes, but it also meant colorful, fun hair bows adorned my downy head each day. My mother said she chose bows that were supposed to stick to my hair; she was quite frustrated when, for the most part, they did not.

My hair came in gradually as a medium brown shade, and as I got older and it grew longer, it took on brassy highlights from summer sun and pool chlorine. Through high school and college, my hair went from longish to Pat Benatar-short, remaining a medium dark brown. After college graduation and upon joining the professional world, I discovered the FUN provided by boxed hair color. Through my 20s and 30s, I enjoyed exploring the wonders of browns and auburns, venturing for a short time into burgundy territory in the early 1990s. Occasionally, I’d have my hair professionally colored or highlighted, but mostly I stayed within the range offered by Clairol Natural Instincts and Preference by L’Oreal. When silver threads started faintly sparkling here and there, I paid little attention and kept the boxed dye flowing regularly upon my scalp. But I knew in the back of my mind that a full head of gray would be in my future, and I was content to let that knowledge stay distant.

The Gray of my Mothers … and of a Dear Friend

I did not fear this future. My mother and grandmother both grayed in their 40s and embraced the evolution as a reality to be made the best of. My mother was a huge fan of Eva Gabor wigs in the ‘70s because they were a way to express some FUN while wearing her white dental hygienist’s clinician coat. My mother had several styles: a blond pixie, a red “fall” and a brunette bob, all neatly pinned to Styrofoam “heads” and all of which I was sometimes allowed to try on. (I was beginning to learn where I got my “Hair should be FUN!” attitude.)

As the ‘70s advanced, so did the gray shimmers throughout my mother’s hair. They were pretty to me and she accepted their appearance without bemoaning them, retiring the Eva Gabor wigs by the late ‘70s. However, a new wig made a later appearance: serviceable, matronly, iron gray with no silver sparkles. This wig showed up after chemotherapy for breast cancer left her bald in the early 1980s. She wore this wig to church but for daily wear preferred kerchiefs over the gray wisps that remained on her head, which she wore until her death in 1986. The heavy iron gray wig was on her head in the casket at the front of the church and from a distance I eyed it with enmity, glad to see it go.

As for the other women in my family, my maternal grandmother from my earliest memory regularly used a Roux FanciFull rinse to keep her medium gray hair Cool Whip white. My paternal side felt a little differently about gray hair. From what I knew about my paternal grandmother and great-grandmother, the hair colors they were born with were the shades they went to the grave with, thanks to weekly trips to their favored Bay Area beauty shop.

But the women in my family were not the only positive influence for me on the matter of gray. Another was my friend Jan, who, although just a year younger than I, began her journey to gray in her 20s. She wore her evolving color like a silvered crown, accompanying her varying styles with vervy European fashion and incredibly stylish glasses frames. I loved how she owned her natural color with confidence, and I resolved to get to a place where I could do so as well.

Keeping Things Colorful

Photo 1: The journey to gray has yet to begin; auburn reigns as of January of 2016. / Photo 2: The brownish blonde that felt "meh" at the time, but was a true stepping stone from colored hair to gray. / Photo 3: In February 2017, my true salt and pepper shade shone forth.

I kept up with different hair colors through my 20s, 30s and 40s. I entered my early 50s in the 2010s and suddenly found myself downsized from my employer of 23 years. As I looked for my next opportunity, I took stock of my appearance, particularly that of my hair. It was still auburnish, but maintaining that “ish” shade had begun to consume more and more of my time, which I in turn began to resent because I still maintained that hair color was supposed to be FUN and this more arduous maintenance definitely was not. Trenches of bright silver would surround my part within three weeks of a full-head coloring so I turned to root kits and spray-on root color to keep those twin silver beachheads covered with auburn.

I knew age discrimination was a foe I would face in my job search, but I felt like I had to approach that foe with practicality. I would accompany the qualifications and experience I had built with a look that said, “I keep learning and I keep up,” particularly since I would be highlighting my experience in social media, a field mostly populated by people younger than me. So I maintained my schedule of full-head coloring and root coverage, gritting my teeth each time I opened a new box or directed a spray can at my roots. My attitude shift was a signal that gray hair as a choice was drawing closer.

Notes From My Stylist

Close-up of two women in a hair salon. Both are wearing glasses and are posed with their heads close together. The hair stylist on the left is wearing a face mask over her nose and mouth, and the client is smiling and showing off her freshly cut and styled gray hair.
Fast forward to January 2023; Rommie Martinez, my longtime stylist, freshens me up for the new year.

I have gone to my stylist, Rommie Martinez, since 1994. She and I are close in age, and her close proximity to the music and film worlds means she is always “on point” when it comes to hair advice and direction. A 39-year hair veteran, she now owns Belleza al Natural by Rommie in St. Louis, a relaxing urban oasis that allows her to focus on natural haircare.

“When it comes to dyeing hair, my opinion is that most people should trust nature,” Rommie said. “A softer grayer look is more flattering against aging skin. However, if my clients do still want to color their hair, I try to direct them to a semi-permanent color that conceals the gray but allows it to fade to the line of demarcation. Getting highlights instead of full color can also create a broken line instead of a solid one as the gray grows in. If you're committed to being gray, temporary is the way to go, or go natural. Embrace it.”

Three Big Steps Towards Ditching the Box

What did it take to finally convince me that it was time to let the silver, which was determined to sprout out of my head, shine? There were three big steps that unfolded before me over the better part of a year. I did not choose a date in advance, though doing so might be the right option for some folks. A major life event provided the launching pad.

Feeling secure in a great new position. I started a new job with a great company at the very start of 2016. As I grew more comfortable in my position and with my colleagues, I also grew more comfortable with letting my roots make an appearance. I felt like I could be “the real me” in this position and part of that meant acknowledging my readiness to let go of dyed hair. Would I have snagged this job with gray hair? It’s possible. My company notably hires qualified older individuals for numerous positions. But I felt most comfortable in the interview with my reddish hair as part of my interview outfit. Now, just as I was learning that I didn’t have to wear a suit every day, I felt like I could now let the silver that insisted on springing out of my part actually take more than a beachhead.

Armoring myself with knowledge and patience. Once I made the decision to transition from colored back to “natural” (gray + whatever else) in March of 2016, I accepted that it would be a months-long process to complete. From reading, I knew there were ways I could make the process easier. Once the silver trenches resurfaced, I went from job-winning (or so I thought) and longtime favorite auburn to a forgettable dark blond that I did myself in April. It was a softer shade and I could see the silver sparkles up top, but they were sort of blended in with the rest of the color. I have to admit, the overall effect of this next step was “bleah” and, honestly, not very “me.” I was used to a vibrant color surrounding my head, and this new shade was closer to the “peach fuzz” that marked my entrance into this world. It was a color that took some getting used to, and I was glad to have my bright blue glasses frames and my favorite bright lipstick shades to at least give my face a dose of color.

Maintaining resolve through a tough growing-out stage. This brownish blondish color stayed with me over that summer, but to add some interest, I bought a light brown compact from Madison Reed to add some lowlights and help me make a true break from boxed haircolor. A few quick brushstrokes from this compact gave my color a little texture and looked like some of the color that was coming in around my head. Yes, as fall came around, I noticed that the color that was growing in was not only the shimmering silver near my part. There was some muted gray, but there was also a LOT of my once-natural medium brown. It had been decades since I’d seen that color! It looked like I was going to have a healthy dash of pepper swirled in with the salt, especially the layers underneath the topmost mostly silver layer.

This was a very positive development as far as I was concerned. However, the color as it was coming in was patchy. I had remains of the mousy shade, some Madison Reed streaks and new growth that was darker than I’d expected. One night as I was musing aloud what to do next, thinking, “Hmm, maybe I’ve got a sort of glamorous calico cat vibe going”, my older son, who had been watching the local news, said frankly, “No. Right now, your hair is the color of that burned-down house.” That got my attention. The next morning, I made an appointment for a haircut.

After the Letting Go

That first cut in November 2016 left all of the colors and all of the doubts of the past 8 months scattered on the floor. What remained visible around my face was a soft, fairly uniform gray blonde. I felt lighter, like I’d lost some weight. In more than one sense, I had! I lost the actual weight of damaged, multi-colored grown-out strands. I also lost the emotional weight of trying to keep up with a hair shade that really didn’t feel like mine anymore.

Over the last 5+ years, I have truly grown into my gray:

  • I looked at my clothes and makeup and focused on keeping the vivid shades that flatter my silver. (Back in the days when women “had their colors done,” I fell into the Winter category.)

  • I wear mostly silver jewelry, but I have a few gold pieces that are dear to me that I continue to wear, even though conventional wisdom for women with gray discourages gold.

  • I don hats on sunny days because I have inherited my maternal side’s tendency towards thinning hair (and I learned the hard way that a sunburned part is very painful).

  • I use products formulated for gray hair and alternate them with products for fuller hair. My current favorites are from Klorane: shampoo and conditioner for gray hair and for thinning hair. (This line is also available at Sephora and Ulta.) As far as styling products, I love trying different things for fine hair, and as such, don’t have a specific go-to.

So should you go gray? As with so many decisions in life, your mileage may vary. I have plenty of friends who enjoy going to the salon and who rock their original born-with-it shade. But if your gray intrigues you and you’re tired of maintaining colored hair, I encourage you to reveal your silver! I can definitely say: it’s FUN!

For More Information and Inspiration

Laurie Bergman, guest blogger

Laurie White Bergman is a recently retired public relations professional taking the first exhilarating steps into her “next act” armed with an extensive list of places to visit, activities to explore, and skills to learn or rediscover. She lives with her family in St. Louis County, Missouri. You can connect with her on Twitter: @LaurieBergman

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2 comentarios

24 jun 2023

Thanks for the great article and shout out! You have ALWAYS put the FUN in hair, fashion and everything else, dear Laur! <3 Love, J

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27 jun 2023
Contestando a

Thank you so much, J! <3 And many thanks to Jodi and Heather for inviting me to share my story here on Friendsville Square! LB

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