Sunday, November 13, 2016

50 Shades of Grey Hair: Your Right to Look Vintage

For centuries, women have tried to hide all signs of aging. That includes those inconvenient and unwelcome grey hairs.  In the dawn of time, Egyptian ladies bleached their tresses with henna; Roman ladies of status wore wigs the moment they noticed they were going grey, and Native Americans used a sage and walnut shell preparation (rather effective, I’ve used it). So it´s understandable that modern culture encourages us to go for the Clairol bottle the moment our hair color changes. It’s part of our Culture of Youth. But is grey hair really ugly or repellent? Isn’t it time Vintage Greykittens reclaim their right to grow silvery manes?

I find it puzzling that the English language has no word to describe age-blanched hair. In Spanish we call them “canas”; a person whose hair has lost its youthful luster is “canoso” or “canosa”; going grey is described as “tener canas.” Such a word is necessary because those locks are not always grey. They could be white, sterling silver, or even yellow.

My first canas appeared in my early adolescence. I thought them interesting and felt they gave me glamour. Since I always looked younger than my real age, those yellowish streaks among my dark hair were often misconstrued as highlights, or signs that I was a closet blonde.

After my fortieth birthday, my canas became a different tale and I decided to do something about them. Being allergic to ammonia, for a long time I had to rely on a  L’Oreal  product called Casting Crème Gloss. It had no ammonia, granted a purplish hue to my ringlets, and hid my offensive canas. But a couple of years ago, I ceased all efforts to conceal those accusatory symbols of old age.  Hiding them was a grueling, boring, and expensive process. I was living in near poverty and had too much in my hands to worry about looks. I felt I had to live my age, because I felt old.

About a year ago, my man and I ran into a meter lady at city hall. Although she seemed agile and pert, her wrinkled face and canoso hair told us she was beyond her sixth decade. We commented on how sad it was that she still had to work, but how nice it was that she had found a dignified job. However, she didn’t act like a “poor old lady.” For starters, her body was young and slender, her dark pants and leather coat were anything but drab, and her hair, long and of a perfect silver shade, was gorgeous. She was a Third Age Beauty. “You know,” my boyfriend remarked, “grey-hair can be rather sexy.” Thank you, Kind Sir!

That incident taught me to enjoy my canas. Now I look forward to a total silver hair like Daenerys Targaryen’s. 

I have earned the right to have tresses any color I want, including a natural tint that tells I have lived a long and productive life. And I’m not alone. Let´s review some well-known personalities who are not afraid of the “going grey “ label.
Stacy London. Age 47 (Photo by Phil Plait)

Look how pretty Stacy London´s grey streaks look!  Being a fashion consultant she s knows canas are in.  She is not the only one that is wearing white or sliver streaks as highlights. Other examples include  First Lady of France, Carla Bruni and even thirtysomething Olivia Wilde.

Olivia Wilde. Age 32. (Photo by Nan Palmero. Flickr)

Carla Bruni Sarkozy. Age 48. (Photo by Remi Jouan)

On the other hand, legendary country singer Emmylou Harris looks even more beautiful with that shoulder length hairdo. It makes her snow-white hair look more striking.
EmmyLou Harris. Age 61 (in this picture) Photo by Eric Frommer. Flickr

Journalist Kathleen Sullivan opts for longer silver hair and wears it on a sort of ponytail that makes her look younger and quite attractive.
Kathleen Sullivan. Age 63 (Photo by Alan Light. Flickr)

Meryl Steeep, another quintessential Vintage Greykitten, showed us the glamour of white in “The Devil Wears Prada,” but in real life she doesn’t go for the short silver coiffure. 

She wears her hair in layers and lets it cascade down to her shoulders.  It makes her look young and trendy (and I love the eyeglasses).
Meryl Streep. Age 67. (Photo by Neon Tommy. Flickr)

Talking about long hair, who said that being old meant sporting a crew cut?  I constantly hear that after forty every woman should keep her hair chin-length.  Short hair is easy to maintain, but it is not the only option for a well-groomed Vintage Greykitten.

Women with short hair are only a century old image. From classic times onwards, matrons and grandmothers wore their hair long and up. There are several coiffures that are associated with older ladies. As a child I used to wrap my braids around my head in a crown shape. Mom always said “You look like a crone!”

BB doesn't look like a crone  France´s former sex symbol Brigitte Bardot has never cut her locks. Now in her 80s she keeps them up in a sexy chignon.
Brigitte Bardot . Age 82. (Photo by Cdrik bo6)

I’ve also noticed that ethnic women usually get away with longer hair. I can’t think of a prettier image than Ruby Dee’s  Rapunzel locks in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing. “ 
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Mexican actress Josefina Echanove´s long white braid was her lovely trademark.

Author Maxine Hong Kingston is a  fairytale creature with that flowing silvery hair.

( Photo by David Shankbone. Wikimedia Commons))
Now, if long hair requires too much effort, or if you find it doesn´t suit you, by all means keep it short. It´s the same with hair coloring.  I wrote this piece because rules bother me. Once you passed your youthful stage, there should be no rules concerning your hair length or its color. It should all be optional. To prove it I shall give you some examples of Greykittens who had no qualms to go both ways.

I have placed this blog under the protection of two saintly Vintage Greykittens:  Dame Liz Taylor and The Queen Mum.  The latter had gorgeous light brown hair, but when the time came, she went silver with royal grace and elegance. “I’m not an actress” she quipped when asked to use hair dye, “I’m a queen.”  

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was a different story. Born with an impressive mane of jet black hair, at an early age she began experimenting with commercial dyes.  

In 1949, to play Amy in “Little Women” she went blonde. From then on, she played with the available palette. In her golden years, she switched from brunette to auburn to dark brown and so on. But she was such a goddess she could be as chameleonic she wished and that meant that she could proudly parade  her canas ,  as this picture shows. 

And so can we!

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