The Feminine Touch of Gray

Men who go gray gain an air of experience and gravitas — but women who go gray are often seen as “letting themselves go.” Why can’t we go gray too (wonders the girl who first saw gray hairs at age 26)? Today’s guest post from anonymous blogger Siouxsie Law tackles the issue. – Kat

The recent lawsuit filed by a 52-year-old woman who says she was fired over her gray hair makes me wonder whether it is okay to go just a little gray in the corporate world.

There are, of course, some women in the corporate world who have a complete head of stunning silver hair.  This, though, is only occasional.  But what is rarer yet is a woman who is partially gray.

For men it is common.  There are even products designed to let them retain some of the gray to achieve that “distinguished look.”

But this touch-of-gray look doesn’t seem to be an option for women.  Most of us start with a few gray hairs in our 30s.  And many of us choose to cover the gray completely.  We fight the line of demarcation for years, and only dare transition to completely gray when we are much older.

When it comes to going gray for men and women, there is a double standard.  Just watch the commercial for product above.  The ad features a man interviewing for a job.  When he has a head full of gray hair, he thinks he looks too old for the job.  But without the gray, he worries he looks too young and inexperienced.  Meanwhile, a much younger woman (the sexy-librarian type) is the person interviewing him for the job.   The woman doesn’t have a single gray hair on her head.

This probably isn’t too surprising.  Men are encouraged to keep some gray because on them it symbolizes wisdom and experience.  It gives them an air of gravitas.  But on women, gray is often associated with old age, and of not keeping up one’s appearance (recently, Katie Holmes’ gray strands caused a brouhaha).

-------Sponsored Links--------

But graying hair on women can look great too.  And it should be socially acceptable.  Moreover, deciding to embrace some gray at a time (and at an age) when many choose not to do so is a statement of extreme confidence.  It can be a powerful look and if done right, can be completely professional, edgy and youthful.  Plus, if you are lucky enough to start with a few gray streaks, you get the added bonus of looking beautiful and kind of punk rock.

Here are some of my favorite partially gray-haired ladies:

From left to right, Dr. Julia Gerberding (former head of the CDC), Rogue (member of the X-Men), Stacy London (host of TLC’s What Not to Wear); Lily Munster (matriarch of the Munster household); and the late Susan Sontag (author and activist).

Readers, when did you first notice gray hairs — and what have you been doing about them?  Is anyone currently rocking a gray or silver streak (or a full head of gray or silver)?

(Note from Kat: I’d love to rock a silver streak some day or even a full head of silver, but at this point the lowest maintenance option is for me to pluck the grays. I’m always amused when I find a long strand that I somehow missed.)

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  1. By 19, I had a swatch of gray hair (similar to Stacy London’s in amount and position) that was noticeable enough to be remarked on. But I have naturally medium-blonde hair, so I don’t think it really stuck out that much. I get highlights pretty regularly now and my stylist blends in the gray. I don’t think I have too much gray in the rest of my hair, although I notice my hair starting to get “dull” when it’s time for new highlights. Not sure if that’s from gray or if my hair is just getting darker over time. I can’t actually dye the gray patch – have tried and it just doesn’t hold color. But getting highlights does help blend it.

    I don’t know if I’ll let myself go completely gray, it sort of depends on what color the gray is. My BF has very dark, very thick hair, that does have a fair amount of gray. And it’s a very silvery gray. I joke that if he goes completely gray, he’ll look like he’s wearing a space helmet, especially since his hair seems to be staying quite thick into his 40s.

    • Speaking of Stacy London’s hair – what do ‘rettes think? Is that natural? (The amount of grey and positioning.) Or is it salon created.

      • Anonymous :

        Was probably natural and cool once upon a yesterday. Now her thing and curated and maintained. A very cool thing, too.

        • I heard her talk about it in an interview once – it is absolutely natural, though I’d put money on the maintenance.

  2. Wow. I read this post with great interest, as I found my first grey hair at age 13. It really started picking up in college, but I was out in the sun enough for it most of the time to look like highlights (I have medium brown hair and when I was younger would get some nice golden highlights from the sun).

    If grey hair came up in conversation, I’d mention I was going grey and everyone would say, “oh no you’re not!! we can’t even see them.” When people stopped responding that way in law school, I knew it was all over. Instead, when I mention it now, people look at me like they had wanted to say something and are relieved I brought it up, and say “Why don’t you color it??” I hate that! I’m 28 now, and probably 30% grey I’d say? but I’ve never colored my hair in my life and I refuse to start now. It’s FINALLY starting to coalesce into a streak right at my forehead, so I immediately switched my part to emphasize that bit.

    But I thought for SURE when I read all these comments there’d be another one out there like me – a natural grey! Ladies!!! it’s your attitude and energy that determine how old people think you are, not your grey hair. Rock it and be proud of it!! it’s gorgeous, just like you!

    • I’m with you; to each her own, but I hate the pressure to cover grays. Your streak sounds badass.


    • oops, skimmed these posts too quickly – I do see one or two natural grey commenters up above. sorry to overgeneralize! But I was surprised at the number of people here who seem to think it’s not fair, but then color their hair anyway.

      • I never thought I would cover the gray, until I did. I’m not sure I would have done the same if I’d stayed in my previous career (where my seniority in my career matched my chronological age, whereas it doesn’t now) – although I’d been coloring my hair for years already, just because I liked it. So it wasn’t a big deal to adjust the highlights/color to deal with the grays. I don’t know if I’d have bothered if I’d never ever colored my hair.

    • Anonabus (allergies) :

      that happens to me too. I will be complaining about my grays and someone will say, you do not have gray hair. Then I will show them the spot and every time the reaction is “I’ll be damned, she does have gray hair.” The previous posturing is ALWAYS abandoned. Oh well!

  3. I started noticing the gray in my mid-twenties. By the time I turned 30 I was plucking enough of them that I was starting to worry about bald patches, so I started coloring regularly. Gray is definitely better than bald!

    I’m now 36 and the gray is definitely noticeable when my roots start coming in. I really don’t think I will ever stop covering the gray, although I’m not a high-maintenance kind of girl and coloring is a real pain.

  4. Off topic threadjack:

    What do you think of someone in their mid twenties still rocking out a cartilage piercing? Is it time to retire it? I love the piercing but am afraid it’s too unprofessional and/or tacky for someone nearing 30. Note: I have my hair down all the time, so it’s covered at work.

    • Anonymous :

      I think it looks pretty. I love when women are dressed up in a suit with short sassy hair, and numerous earrings. It is just a little bit a sass peeking out!

    • I started getting greys when I was in my early 20s. When I tried to let them grow out (thinking they’d look like highlights) it made my complexion look pretty dull. I think the dull-coomplexion problem is why older ladies wear bright lipsticks, at least in my culture/ethnic group. I much prefer muted shades of lippies so I’ll just cover the greys and hope for the best.

    • On your own time, I think it is a matter of personal preference. Everyone will have a different opinion about whether X is appropriate at a certain age, so you may as well please yourself and at least that way you know one person is happy!

      As for work, if you are in a professional setting, then I think you are mostly limited to earlobe piercings (the exception I think is if you have your nose pierced for cultural reasons, which I think is fine). Also – unless you have M’Lynne’s brown football helmet from Steel Magnolias, my guess is that your hair moves around during the day and it is visible from time to time.

    • I used to have a couple of cartilage piercings (one high up my ear and one in the tragis – little area that juts out into your inner ear) and gave them up for a law firm job. Sometimes I miss them, and wonder whether I could get away with just a small, flat, silver stud in the tragis again. I probably will wait until I’m a bit more established, and then give it a try.

      It also depends on your office – my first law firm was very stodgy and the average age was early 50’s (I’m late 20’s). The age gap was a big enough problem without making myself look like my supervisors’ rebellious teenager. My second firm is younger (average age is probably late 30’s) and works with more start-up firms and individuals, so I think I could get away with it here.

      • How did you heal the piercings? My cartilage and tragus never fully healed in the whole 9 months I had them. :(

    • Anonymous :

      To be honest, I wouldn’t react well to it at work. Of course, that depends on your field and position (public, leadership, sales, hidden at a desk, etc.)

      I would think it was cool at a weekend concert or party. Are they flexible in terms of wearing and removing and re-wearing, or is taking it out a commitment? I would take it out either way.

      I’m your age. I’d move on.

      Treat yourself to a new signature jewelry piece, something personal and beautiful but not so polarizing. Maybe a ring in the style of the piercing you had (Celtic, Mod, whatever it was that you loved about the piercing) and wear that everyday.

    • Research, not Law :

      It depends on the jewelry. I’m 30 and still have my nose piecing. I have a tiny gold ball. Simple, subtle. It’s only come up once, when I started a new job years ago and asked about their policy. I was asked to take it out, never did, and never had it mentioned again. I just learned to stop asking about dress codes! I’ve started twice and new companies, been promoted, etc, without any problem or comments.

      If you maintain a professional appearance and work ethic, I see nothing wrong with a cartilage piercing.

      As background, while I don’t work in a conservative environment, I don’t work in a hip, young scene either. I work mainly with mainstream folks in their 40’s and 50’s. I can’t think of anyone else at my company with a facial piercing. I do not have contact with clients.

    • Absolutely! Love it. Do continue.

    • I have a conch piercing with a 12 gauge steel hoop through it. I’ve had it since I was 18, I’m in my 30s now, and I’ve never gotten any flak for it. I don’t plan to ever take it out, although I hope to spring for a short 14k gold barbell someday – something a little more subtle and refined.

    • For what it’s worth, I’m your age and I think they’re tacky. I try to not let it affect my opinion of people, but I’m sure it inevitably does, even if it is subconscious. I feel this way about most visible tattoos as well.

  5. I got my first greys in junior high…13 or 14 years old. I never colored my hair until just before my wedding last year, at which point my mother informed me that I had enough grey that it needed to be addressed. I am glad I covered it for the wedding, and I experimented with highlights this summer, but I am not interested in the long-term upkeep and plan to go back to my natural salt and pepper.

    Perhaps I will feel differently later, but at 26 the brown still outnumbers the grey and I simply don’t have the time, the money, or the will to fight nature right now. I joke that my greys give me street cred, but I do think there is a little bit of truth to that. Although there is a general preference for a youthful appearance, I don’t think it hurts me as a young woman fresh out of law school to look a little more mature.

  6. Ugh, got my first gray when I was 21. Now at 31, I have graying around my temples, but not anywhere else. I have dark brown hair, and my “grays” are actually stark white. I dye it, but it’s hard to keep up with because it needs to be colored every 3-4 weeks to cover up the roots. A serious pain.

    Does anyone know why premature graying happens? Is it more likely because of stress, genetics…?

    • I’ve noticed my dad getting a white spot in his dark red-brown hair when he started dealing with vitiligo on his skin. In that case, I’m guessing the hair losing pigment is related to the skin losing pigment.

    • I’m pretty sure it’s genetics. My father is 62, and I don’t think he has a single gray hair. My mother has some gray at her temples. At 32, I think I’ve seen one gray hair.

  7. Marie-Christine :

    I started on the grey at 22, so I’ve had plenty of time to get used to it. I had an ankward phase, with a dark yamulka, which I handled by going bright orange. But now I’m all white in the front, salt and pepper in the back, and I think that’s fine. I really dislike the dead-dyed dark hair most of my contemporaries are sporting at my current job. Eeck. And roots are murder.
    Basically, if you don’t want people to think you’re letting yourself go, you need a very good haircut (thank you Anthony :-)) and better clothes than when you were younger. That’s all.

  8. I have dark brown hair that I’ve never dyed. I first started getting stark white hairs a few years ago, but about two years ago I stopped plucking them because I found that the short, wiry hairs sticking out were more noticeable than long ones. Now, depending on how I style my hair, I have two noticeable streaks (maybe 10-15 hairs on each side) at the front of my hair. I don’t mind it, but it does bother me when my bf asks if I am planning to dye it or (more bothersomely, for some reason) talks about how grey HE’S going and that he’s thinking he should start coloring his hair. Sigh.

  9. Natural color :

    I hope no one reacts badly to this comment but I’m almost 55 and have no noticable gray. My hair may be weird because I have what looks like brown hair but the individual hairs are light brown, dark brown, blond and red and so an individual gray hair blends in, but also my few ‘gray’ hairs are more white or clear. My dad didn’t get gray until he was 75 so it runs in the family. It’s funny because I always promised myself highlights when I started to go gray and the joke’s on me because it’s still not time, although my hair is more dim than it used to be.

    • AnonInfinity :

      It’s okay — My husband’s parents are in their 60s and neither one has any gray at all. Mine started going at about age 25, so I’m totally jealous.

    • My mom is in her mid-60s and is just starting to get some gray hairs now. At 33, I hope that I have inherited her hair … no gray ones for me … yet.

    • Research, not Law :

      My mother in law is nearly 80 and has only a handful of grey in her nearly black hair. It also runs in her family. My husband (40) seems to be following, lucky guy.

      Funny story, her sister dyed her hair various colors since young adulthood. She decided it was time to stop in her 70’s and awaited the inevitable head of grey… only to find out she still had a fully head of brown!

    • My husband is 42 and has maybe 1 grey hair. If I were to stop coloring, I’m sure I’d have more. When he teases me about my gray hair, I just tell him that all of his that wanted to turn grey just left his head instead.

    • I have very similar hair to you – it looks light brown from a distance but actually it is lots of different colours which you can see in the light. I play it up by getting highlights and lowlights in those colours. My mom and both her parents kept their natural colour without going noticeably grey until well into their 60s (my mom helps hers along now, but my grandfather’s hair colour didn’t change until he was at least 70), so fingers crossed that I take after her side of the family as far as my hair goes!

      That said, I found my very first grey hair a few weeks ago, and I am 36. It looked very white, which I would definitely prefer to grey. I just noticed it out of the blue, got very curious and looked for more, shrugged my shoulders and decided to observe with interest. :-)

  10. Divaliscious11 :

    Hmmm first grays in high school and used to use a natural color rinse when my hair was relaxed. Now that I wear my hair natural, I do a slightly lighter permanent color, which makes my grays look more like highlights…. I’m 43, but probably will continue to color…..

  11. I also read this with great interest. I have very thick, black hair and found my first white hair when I was 18. Technically I didn’t find it – one of the other altos in my high school choir found it, much to my horror. Then that Christmas when I was home from school I went to get a haircut and my stylist said, “College must be stressing you out, you have 3 gray hairs back here!” Now I’m about to turn 29 and they’ve become too numerous to pluck, fortunately they’re highest in concentration at my temples (if I was a man with short hair I think this would look quite hot), so the hair from the top of my head covers them up for the most part when it’s down, but pulled back at the gym you can see it all. I haven’t started coloring them yet because I am not quite ready to admit to myself that this is it and now I’ll have to maintain this for the next 30 years. I hate the thought of coloring it but this is just so premature and it stands out so much against my dark hair that I really feel it ages me.

  12. Senior Attorney :

    I started going gray (and coloring) in my early 20s. Went gray in my 40s and went back to blond almost 5 years ago, at about 48, after sitting in the dentist’s waiting room reading an article in Newsweek about the power of gray, featuring a whole bunch of photos of prominent women Photoshopped to show how they’d look if they did or didn’t color their gray. Without exception, I thought they looked much better without the gray. I ran from the dentist’s office to the hairdresser and have never looked back. I don’t think there’s any question that I look better and younger with my hair colored. What do you think?

    • The gray washes you out. Good choice of blondes – it looks great.

    • Terrific choice to color. (Said from 40 yo who’s been going gray since her early 20s).

    • Anonabus (allergies) :

      I will go blonde once I am completely gray and I am looking forward to having more fun! I think it looks great!

    • Former 3L :

      Hi! I’m on YLF too! I like your hair better this way!

  13. don't need a boyfriend :

    Wll, my mom had a big elvira-streak in her black hair by 27. I was waiting for mine. Howeer, I am now 53 and have brown hair that is less vibrantly brown than before. My greys are delightfully silver, but wiry. So I am transitioning to having hair with some uncontrolled “body” after my lifetime of stick straight brown hair. The greys are sprinkled everywhere nice and evenly. Sometimes shop girls will complement me on my “Highlights.” I try not to laugh and just say “thank you.” I early on vowed not to dye my hair, watching my mother have oh so strange results with hers. With medical/hormonal changes making me lose alot of hair, I wont take the chance . (I know perming in the 1980s was rough enough on my hair). I am eagerly waiting and wishing to just “be grey” and be done with it.

    I look young. Graduating from college, people (Including my DH of now 27 years) thought I was graduating high school. So in professional careers, it was tough the first 5-10 years until my greys were more visible. With olive sking and few wrinkles, I hate to say it, but the grey was my friend in getting patients to trust me off the bat. Now, it doesn’t matter.

    Enjoy the changes no in our control is my motto … not that I can give up my Type A and controlling personality easily :) My body has other ideas apparently.

  14. I started coloring my hair before I got gray hairs so I’ve just continued with it. I got my first gray hairs about 15 years ago. I’m 41 now.

    My younger brother is fully gray now and has been since his late 20’s. And my grandmother on my mother’s side was fully gray by age 50. My mother’s hair, however, is going white, which I think is really pretty.

  15. Nice to see this post and to hear how others are dealing with their gray. I noticed a few gray hairs at 22 when I started grad school. I thought I was linked to stress and plucked them. Now at 25 the gray is popping up much more frequently in the bottom layers of hair.

    At the moment the highlights I get covers or blends most of these strands. It is difficult to say how, or if, I’ll cover the gray later until I see how it is growing. If it remains subtle and slowly grows in, I may let my low maintenance side show through and not color it. If I get the side patches like my mother, I will likely try to cover that.

    A woman I work with who is in her early 30s is completely gray. It is a very light gray and her hair looks absolutely gorgeous.

    • Lawyermom :

      I can’t believe no one mentioned the “bible” for all those who are thinking of going gray. The book and accompanying website is “Going gray, looking great. Author is Diana Jewell (I think). It has tips on how to do it and makeup etc. I was inspired, did it and have never looked back. Surprisingly, most comments are from younger men!!!

  16. You missed the most fabulous grey-haired woman of them all: Christine LaGarde! She’s IMF Chief, former Managing Partner of a White-shoe law firm and she’s French and fabulous.

  17. Six months ago, my hair stylist told me she had found a gray hair, but it turned out to be frosting from a cookie-baking adventure the night before!

    I was actually excited – my boss at the time was having a hard time seeing me as a colleague, and I thought a few grays might help establish me as a competent almost-30-year-old employee, rather than a 20-something daughter-figure.

    Now that I have a new job, I don’t know what I would do. I like to think that I wouldn’t color it and would work with my stylist to gray as gracefully as possible, but who knows? Maybe it will depend on timing – I think if I don’t have grays until mid-30’s, I will be able to hold off on coloring.

  18. I think it’s interesting that younger people, 20-40 color so that they won’t “look old”. Interesting because IMO no one under 40 looks old because of grey hair. I can understand a 50 or 60 year old dying her hair because she doesn’t want to look old but a 30 year old or a 27 year old??? Really? The skin is usually a dead give away that this is a young woman.

    It’s like when my older family members will comment that my watch is a “man’s watch” and surely I don’t want to look masculine or not want me to get a short hair cut for the same reason …….. my wrists are fragile looking, there’s literally nothing I could ever wear that would make me look like a man and no hair cut either – I’m pretty clearly feminine.

    I don’t have anything against someone starting to color since they started going grey at 15 – but there is no magic that will make a 15 year old.

  19. I started going gray in my late forties. My hair is/was ash blonde but was getting to be more and more ASH! I started adding highlights because I wasn’t ready to be all gray. This has helped maintain a natural look and as I mature I can see how I will just let it be what it will be. It is really all about changes that occur in life and how we choose to deal with them. Our hair color does not define who we are or what we can do but I do believe that there is a different standard for men and I’m not sure why.

  20. I’m 32 and have around 10 hairs. I think I’ll dye when they reach critical mass, but I’d actually love to have a few more for now. I look so young (even with professional clothes, make up etc.) that I still get carded and it would help to have a few more greys showing at work.