When the salons shuttered at the start of the pandemic, I took it as a sign to smash the patriarchy. I launched a rallying cry to 50-year-old women everywhere: this was our chance to boldly go where few women had gone before…now was the time to let our grey hair grow. With no access to salons or root touch-up stylists, we would now make our move without social censure, without personal shame. If we were to be confined to our houses indefinitely, let that confinement be on our own terms. We were prisoners, but we would not be held prisoner to the impossible cultural ideal that men can age, but women cannot.
Things went swimmingly… until the first greys sprang free from their pigmented shackles. Each day I looked in the mirror, I increasingly didn’t recognize the older woman staring back at me. Wasn’t I in my prime? I was a young Mom. I couldn’t help but feel my growing grey skunk line was a relentless existential reminder that I was on the back nine of life—maybe not yet on the 18th hole, but arriving soon on a careening golf cart. I wanted to stay hermetically sealed here forever with my kids who would shortly leave my nest. I wanted to preserve it in amber—or better yet, Clairol #R4-131. I wasn’t ready to be old and die, I thought.
I did, however, want to die the next week when the cashier at Shoppers Drug Mart asked me about the seniors discount. “Excuse me?” I said, assuming her mask had muffled the question. “Do you want the seniors discount? You can save 20 percent.” My existential crisis and my vanity collided with such brute force that I hit the hair dye aisle faster than she could say, “Optimum points?”
Yet life marched on despite my best efforts to cling to it. The pandemic waned, my youngest left for university and the endless cycle of covering my greys every three to four weeks loomed large for the next few decades. I was faced with either the emptiness of the back nine again or the excitement of this game we call life. I chose the game, but on my terms.
There are few grey haired role models for middle-aged women, so I would have to navigate solo. “What about Helen Mirren?” my mom asked. I reminded her I wasn’t 76. “Andie McDowell?” she ventured. Stunning, yes, but again 63. My mother, who still colours her hair in her late 70s, had exhausted her potential role models. With her full head of dyed hair (“A woman never talks about how old she is, darling!”), she’s unwittingly part of the cultural machine that colludes to keep women ageless. It’s our biggest open secret: we want women to look young, but we don’t want them to look like they’re trying to look young. It has to be unnaturally natural looking. We tacitly applaud the static looks of Jennifer Aniston and JLo, but not Renée Zellweger. All of them have had work to keep them looking preternaturally young, but only two look like they haven’t while one has. Likewise, that skunk line on my head is a screaming beacon to all that I have dared to age. Get thee to a salon and hide that hideous reminder that a woman’s body will soon be barren.
“We’ve seen a lot more women deciding to embrace their natural grey hair since the start of the pandemic,” says Canadian celebrity hair stylist Cindy Duplantis. “A lot of clients have told me that embracing their natural grey colour has been freeing.” I booked in with my stylist with express instructions to avoid making me look like the Wicked Witch of the West—a tough call when you’re between 30 percent and 40 percent grey. I couldn’t help but wonder whether George Clooney ever worries about looking like a warlock. We opted for some intentional grey streaks on the side, platinum pieces at the front and then the rest a mix of light and dark. “It’s so dramatically different,” said my husband when I arrived home. “It’s almost as if you’re dressing up for Halloween and sprayed grey in your hair.” By next morning, he’d progressed to, “I think I actually love it.” My daughters—via Facetime—loved it too. “You do look a tiny bit older, but in a good way,” they both said. As it turns out, grey hair on women can be a good thing.
It’s true: one raven-haired woman in her mid-60s stopped me recently and begged for the name of my stylist. “I’ve always wanted to let my greys come in, but I’ve been too afraid of looking old!” Conversely, some found my new look jarring. One friend’s husband—with a full head of grey hair—laughed, “I know it’s bad to say this, but we don’t love it when our wives go grey!” His wife, with her full head of dyed hair at 60, stayed silent.
“Sometimes men like their wives to look younger because they’re going through their own issues with aging,” explains stylist Kyle Gould from Vancouver’s legendary Suki’s chain of hair salons. Which begs the question: why, then, are we validating ourselves through their eyes? Or through the cultural institution originally built by them? I muse about this as I sit at the salon sink; Kyle turns on the water. “Put your head in my hands and lean back,” he says. Suddenly, I feel nothing but support.
AG Sterling Silver Mask
Now Canada’s largest independent producer of high-end hair products, AG Hair, is sold in more than 10 countries around the world thanks to its ethical approach to crafting its premium line—no parabens, gluten, or testing on animals. The AG Sterling Silver Mask harnesses shea butter and Abyssinian oil to add shine and softness while antioxidants like sunflower seed extract, marigold and red clover fight free radicals and guard against UV rays. (148 ml, $28) Available at Chatters.ca
Kerastase Blond Absolu Huile Cicaextreme
This year French brand Kerastase introduces the Blond Absolu collection featuring Blond Absolu Huile Cicaextreme, a strengthening oil for damaged, over-processed hair. Formulated with Edelweiss and sunflower seed oil, the lightweight serum is designed to restore coloured hair fibre from the inside out from water, light and friction from over-styling. (100 ml, $62) Available at Sephora.ca.
Technology and ingredients form the backbone of luxury hair line Oribe, including the Silverati collection featuring 100% sulfate-free shampoo that not only banishes brass, but brightens grey, silver and white shades and softens too. With a mix of mix of watermelon, lychee and edelweiss flower extras, Oribe Signature Complex protects hair from oxidative stress and the breakdown of natural keratin. (250 ml, $57) Available at Holtrenfrew.com
Shu Uemura Yubi Blond Nourishing Shampoo
Japanese makeup artist Shu Uemura got his big break when he transformed actress Shirley MacLaine for the role of ‘My Geisha” in 1962. His eponymous cult-fave beauty products later expanded to haircare including the Shu Uemura Yubi Blonde Nourishing Shampoo, an intense deep purple gel cream that neutralizes unwanted yellow tones with Japanese white peony. (300 ml, $57) Available at Sephora.ca
Klorane’s Shampoo with Centaury
Every French woman’s long-held secret is their beloved pharmacy, the Holy Grail for all things beauty. Klorane’s Shampoo with Centaury for grey, white or platinum blond hair neutralizes yellow tones and revives shine by way of organic centaury, a plant-based pigment with bluish undertones, all with 100% traceability. (200 ml, $13) Available at Well.ca