Glad to be grey? A case of do or dye for men and women
IT IS a follicular dilemma which provokes reactions as sharp as a pair of salon scissors. Far from fifty shades, opinions are black and white when it comes to the question of covering up grey hairs.
The age-old debate as to whether it is necessary to ward off time’s creeping advances by reaching for the bottle was sparked into life last week after Fiona Bruce, one of the country’s most prominent broadcasters, admitted she felt compelled to dye her hair.
“Age is definitely an issue for women in TV,” the 48-year-old presenter told Reader’s Digest. “So far, it hasn’t been for me, but I know I need to make the best of myself. I have a few grey hairs. I dye them. I don’t let my grey hair show when I’m reading the news.
“Of course, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if I was a 48-year-old man. I used to get cross about that, but what’s the point? I’m never going to change things on my own. If age does become an issue, I’ll deal with it.”
It is an issue which, in workplaces in particular, is considered one of the last taboos, and depressingly archaic though it may be to some, the unwritten rule that women must retain a youthful head of hair in order to get on remains in place. That, at least, is the view from those who make a living advising the denizens of blue-chip business and politics about their image.
“There’s no doubt that in the present climate, a lot of women feel they have to look younger in order to beat competition in their workplaces,” explained Angela Marshall, the founder of Appearance Management, who counts several MPs among her clientele. “A lot of problems for women come from when you first start going grey and they get a salt and pepper look. Their style is neither one thing nor another, and it can affect their confidence.”
That, in turn, some argue, leads to an even greater problem, as the quest to rid a head of all non-pigmented hairs becomes all-consuming, forcing women to adopt a cumbersome routine requiring deep strategic forethought.
Mary Beard, the classicist, commentator, and owner of a long, silvery coiffure, bemoaned Bruce’s comments this week, but made clear her objection was not over the use of hair dye itself, but the inexorable sense of duty it places on women.
“I’m perfectly okay with dyeing – the more shocking pink the better, I say – but not with feeling that you have to,” she said. “And it’s all so self-fulfilling. The more the grey is dyed out, the more women feel that they have to. I can’t help thinking that in a couple of hundred years’ time, people will be writing essays on why women in the 21st century had to disguise their hair colour – at considerable cost in time and expense – just as we now wonder about those Victorian women who wielded their crinolines.”
Taylor Ferguson, the proprietor of an award-winning salon in Glasgow city centre, revealed that the majority of his female clientele choose to have colouring simply because “they don’t want to look like their mother”.
He said: “The debate about grey hair is about ageing. Grey is colourless, which tends to drain away any colour from the face. Colouring is a way for someone who wants to look good and keep their youthfulness.”
Those in his trade lament the amount of time spent colour correcting the hair of clients who use off-the-shelf dyes, and point out that the process is an intricate one which demands care and attention. But the latest statistics relating to the sale of hair colouring products offer resounding evidence that more people than ever are willing to risk folly to prevent the grey hairs coming through. According to Mintel, the market swelled from £287 million in 2010 to an estimated £321m last year. While the fashion industry has been the focus of ire for those who accuse it of reinforcing a suffocating and unrealistic image of youth, there have been notable concessions of late. At Madrid Fashion Week earlier this year, Maria Barros employed models with sleek, silver wigs to parade her wares, following in the steps of Calvin Klein, who used a similar ploy, ostensibly to break the “last taboo” of women’s fashion.
In reality, it has appeared no more than a passing fad to chase the silver pound. “I think it’s all very well for the fashion industry to put grey wigs on models, but they still have young, slim bodies,” reasoned Marshall. “It’s a staged image.” Furthermore, while a handful of High Street names such as Marks and Spencer have employed models with natural greying hair, such moves only receive widespread attention thanks to their rarity.
“Staying grey is fine if you have a good enough quality of hair, it can look quite flattering,” Ferguson advised. “But only one in a hundred people are lucky enough for that. When hair turns grey, it usually becomes wiry, dry and unattractive.”
Marshall agreed: “If you are fortunate to have a natural silver colouring, it can look very attractive, but most will be tempted to colour duller grey hair.”
Even so, the raging debate about whether to go natural may soon be a thing of the past. Scientists from L’Oreal are working on a “wonder” treatment made from fruit extract which will consign the stigma of grey hairs to history, by replacing the enzyme TRP-2, a lack of which causes hair to age. But if its plans are foiled, those who loathe their ashen appearance may have to resort to PG Wodehouse’s advice. “There is only one cure for grey hair,” he wrote. “It was invented by a Frenchman. It is called the guillotine.”
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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