Gray is the new black. And the new blond. Oh, and the new brown. Gray as in hair. Bold, confident, and definitely not your mother’s gray hair.
Seems like all over Sonoma – the greater Bay Area actually – women are breaking the magnetic bond that hair color has over them and going au natural, gray as it were.
“It’s all about the cut,” says hair stylist Jane Keeffe. “Going gray doesn’t have to be matronly – it can be empowering, liberating, fun!”
With 25 years as a hairdresser under her belt, Keeffe had shepherded more than a few local women through the process of moving from their colored-for-years tresses to the beautiful gray hair that lurks beneath. Like any good hair stylist, Keeffe is equal parts colorist, counselor and confidant – to whom her clients confess their greatest fears about hair, life, looking too old, looking too young and more. Given that, Keeffe waits until both her clients and their hair are ready for the transition. Once the decision is made, she guides them as they grow out their colored hair, giving them interim haircuts along the way and then the piece de resistance – the final crowning glory – a sassy short style that compliments their new look and, their new attitude.
Three women – three different stories
With Gail Stroupe’s Japanese heritage came a beautiful mane of black hair. Her childhood in Hawaii gave it shimmering brown highlights. And her family’s gene pool brought premature gray– at the tender age of five.
“I started pulling it out and I did that for years – years! – until I finally decided to color it in my early 40’s,” said Stroupe. And color it she did for some 15 to 20 years until she finally found she was allergic to the permanent hair color she was using. She switched to an over the counter product without permanent dye but found that the color changed with regular shampooing, migrating from dark black to reddish brown between treatments. She bemoaned the situation to Keeffe who, two years ago, suggested that she stop coloring her hair altogether.
“She told me my hair beneath all that color would be white, not gray, and that it would be a beautiful color perfect for my skin tone. I took the plunge and haven’t regretted it for one minute. Not only do I love it, but people approach me all the time to compliment both the color and the cut.”
It took Stroupe three months to completely grow out her colored hair, just in time for her daughter’s wedding. She’s thrilled with her new look.
“So many people think you look old if you have gray hair but you’re not meant to be wearing jet black hair when you’re my age,” said 65-year-old Stroupe. “We can’t make ourselves look younger. It’s about aging as gracefully as possible, which is ironic because I now look about 20 years younger. And the best part, the hair dye doesn’t own me anymore.”
Suzanne Young was thrilled when her daughter announced her pregnancy last December. At last, the 65-year-old woman would have her first grandchild. The one complication – the hair that she’d been coloring for the past 30-plus years.
“I knew I didn’t want to be a grandmother with dyed hair. I didn’t want to pretend anymore so I talked to Jane. She said, ‘Good for you,’ so we got started on growing it out,” said Young.
It took about eight months for Young’s darkish brown hair to grow out, during which time, even with regular cuts, she admits she looked a bit odd, “like some kind of strange animal with half dark and half gray hair.” But she wasn’t deterred even when a few people – including her husband – questioned her reasoning. “All in all people were very supportive.”
Young unveiled her new look just in time for her grandson to be born. She’s now the first of her friends to make the leap from colored hair to gray and says that it has simplified her life immensely.
“Becoming a grandmother was the perfect opportunity to liberate myself from dying my hair,” she said. “Coloring is expensive and time consuming and so very hard on your hair. My hair is much healthier now. Jane keeps it in a short, fun haircut. I’ve never regretted it for even one minute. I love it and I’d never dye it again.”
Sally Hilliard first appeared in the pages of the Sun back in September 2010 in a feature article on one of her favorite pastimes, geocaching – locating hidden treasure of sorts using a handheld GPS device. In her precious spare time, she pursued the hobby, which took her near and far in search of the cache. She hasn’t slowed down a bit almost a year later and it’s no surprise that sitting in a salon chair to have her hair dyed wasn’t time she was willing to give up forever.
All her life, 71-year-old Hilliard had been – her words – a dishwater blond. She’d been lightening her hair to give it better color and some added body. She and Keeffe had talked about letting it go natural and Hilliard was counting on her hairdresser to give sound advice as to timing.
“Jane’s been doing my hair for years and she’s a really good colorist. But every time I went to have her dye my hair, I complained about the frustrating amount of time it took as well as the cost involved. I finally grew enough gray hair to make the transition possible,” said Hilliard.
With the decision made, Hilliard set about growing out her colored hair. The process took about six months.
“I love my new hair! Gray hair has more texture than my blond hair so I naturally have more body now. But I learned long ago that it is all about the cut and Jane does a wonderful job. She does a lot of texturizing which makes my style pop rather than lay flat to my head. I have it cut about every four weeks to keep the style looking good and easy to care for.
“And I just love the color. I get so many compliments. I consider myself very lucky,” said Hilliard.