This is the story of how one woman takes care of her long gray hair.
But first, some personal history for anyone new to this blog.
- I’m 59. And a half, as of March 2016.
- For cultural context, i.e. to explain in part why I’ve been comfortable going gray, I’ve lived most of my life in Northern California. We love our counter-culture and Mr. Natural. Whether you want to go gray or not depends in part on how it looks on you, but mostly on how it feels where you live.
- I was born quite blonde, my hair darkened in my 20s.
- In my early 40s, when I worked at a startup in San Francisco, I cut my hair short and and had it dyed all-over blonde. A “tint,” they called it.
- Let’s fast-forward through a transition to highlights, followed by a period of highlights and lowlights. Aargh. I began growing out the blonde out again when I turned 55.
Growing It In And Out
Here’s a photographic history of my hair color.
At 6. That’s me in the front, my sister in green, my brother to the right, tow-heads all. We could pause, and get nostalgic over milk in Dixie cups, but not today.
At 25, in India. This was 1982, when on the whole, young women didn’t color their hair so often as now.
I still have that bench, it’s gray now too.
I cut my hair and went blonde again at 44. I was working with young people at a dot-com, my hair was going to say either, “Old hippie,” or “age-undecipherable manager.” My choice was clear. Soon after the cut, they promoted me to vice-president. Coincidence?
At 45+. New company, still a vice-president. Badge to enter the New York Stock Exchange on the left, company marketing materials on the right.
I retired for a couple of years. My hair grew long. I kept coloring it, but the effort got more and more annoying. I went back to work. And finally, in this job, grew out the gray. At this stage of my career, it wasn’t going to be hair that broke me.
For light ash brown with highlights, the growing-out border looked odd but not bizarre. As long as I put my hair into a ponytail, the effect was perfectly acceptable. I kind of liked the stripe.
Granted, I was working for a San Francisco company full of young people with tattoos. In a more conservative environment I would probably have asked my hair person to cool and lighten the dyed ends to reduce the contrast. Would also have gotten more frequent cuts, and kept my hair a little shorter.
I should add, writing a style blog, posting all kinds of outfit pictures, made the transition easier. I realized that when commenters told me they didn’t much like the new hair, I didn’t mind. And far more people liked it than not, as has proven true in person. I receive more compliments on my hair now than when I was young, probably because it’s unusual, possibly because it strikes a chord of polite rebellion and people like to congratulate independence.
At 57, all gray, blown dry.
I remarried. I retired again. This time mostly for good. At 58, hair straightened for date night. Oh the summer light.
I’m quite happy with my hair now, and don’t miss the blonde at all. You will have noticed, however, that I’ve never been one for “done” hair, I’ve always been happiest with a natural effect. Gray, as a result, probably came more easily for me than for someone who embraced hair formality.
Caring For Long Straight Gray Hair
First of all, I wash my hair once a week, at best. I wear it in a braid most of the time, so I doubt anyone ever notices the cleanliness or lack thereof. This means I have very little hair damage for someone of my age. I leverage that for shine and bounce on demand.
- Lavender shampoo and avocado conditioner. I buy these at Whole Foods. The shampoo smells gorgeous, lathers just enough. The conditioner is thick but not greasy. I have no desire to try anything else.
- The “Wet Brush” (I bought it, so I have it, so I use, but I’m not sure I’d buy it again)
- Microfiber towel (this is very useful to stop the drips)
- Air dry (this has helped my hair stay shiny, and minimized breakage)
- Mason Pearson hairbrush
- Covered elastics (maybe I should up my game and get these.)
- Short braid in back
- L’Anza heat protector. I use this after a brief pat dry, seems to add body, and is said to protect from heat. Obviously.
- T3 hair dryer. I’ve had this dryer for quite a while. Expensive, but lightweight and effective. I hate holding dryers up, so am happy to minimize time required.
- Rounded boar bristle brush. Use this when blow drying. The boar bristles really do hold hair well.
- ghd Classic hair straightener. Easy. Hair looks wonderful afterwards, even if not quite as good as when excellent hair guy does it for me.
- Aveda “Brilliant” Shine spray to finish. This stuff is really amazing. Actual shine in a bottle. I use it only for dressing up, however, as it will weigh hair down eventually.
If anyone reading has tips for curly gray hair, or growing out darker hair colors, I’d love to hear your stories.
I’ve been happy with both the aesthetics and the politics of my decision. Sure, I look older, but I like that my hair is now consistent with my face. I like the color palette I can wear with gray. And I feel that my hair reflects the approach I want to take to life, at nigh-on 60, authentic but sufficiently dignified, low maintenance but pretty enough when I feel like making the effort.
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