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Why are young women dyeing their hair grey?

By Brigit Katz on March 30, 2015

Last week, Buzzfeed ran a piece about what it has deemed the “hottest new hair trend on Instagram”: young women (and a few men) are dyeing their hair grey. Some looks are tinged with blonde, some with blue, some with a bit of purple  but catch a glimpse of them from behind and you might end up mistaking a 20-year-old woman for your grandmother. Accordingly, the Instagram embrace of grey locks has been slapped with the hashtag #grannyhair.

 This isn’t the first time silver hair has come into style. In the mid-17th century, France’s upper crust started wearing scented, powdered wigs to mask the smell of bloody scalp sores caused by a syphilis outbreak. More recently  and less disgustingly  trend pieces began cropping up in 2010 about fashionistas and models sporting streaks of grey hair.

 With #grannyhair, it seems, fully-fledged grey ‘dos have moved off the runways and into the lives of everyday young women. Assuming that an epidemic of venereal disease has nothing to do with Instagram’s latest fashion phenomenon, what is fueling the craze for grandma-style silver?

 For Ingvild Aslaksen, a 16-year-old high school student from Norway, going prematurely grey was simply an aesthetic choice that infused her look with a spark of individuality. “I decided to go grey when I saw some posts about it on Tumblr,” she told Women in the World in an email. “I was so sick of being so ‘normal’ and just felt like doing something crazy and impulsive.  I think that girls and [women] all over the world should stop worrying so much about what other people think about their choices. One day we’ll all go grey, why not try it early?”

 Jasmine Kokoszka, a stylist at the Garbo Salon and Spa in Austin, started noticing clients asking for tones of silver and grey about a year ago. “I think it was a natural next step in pushing the boundaries in how we use fashion or ‘unnatural’ colors in hair,” she told Women in the World. “The bright neons and deep jewel tones, while gorgeous, have gradually given way to include more subdued, smoky, pastel tones.”


But Kokoszka also noted that young women toying around with “unnatural” hair colors might very well encourage older women to embrace one of the most natural processes of aging. “There’s a played-out and problematic idea that men look distinguished with grey hair and women look ‘tired,’” she said. “While I don’t think silver hair as a fashion statement or #grannyhair is directly related to disputing that, it certainly doesn’t hurt! I’m hoping for a wicked Cruella DeVille style streak in the future, personally.”

 It is certainly true that the stigma around grey hair is as gendered as it is pervasive. When men go grey, the language we use to describe them is laced with a sultry sort of dignity: we call them “silver foxes,” and label their hair as delicious-sounding “salt-and-pepper.”  No such terms exist to describe a woman who is bearing the mark of her age on her scalp.

 Women have, in fact, been encouraged to hide their grey hair for as long as youth has been a prized cultural possession, which is basically to say since the dawn of civilization.  According to the Encyclopedia of Hair by Victoria Sherrow, women in ancient Egypt covered their greys with a dye made of oil and the blood of a black cat. Romans relied on a mixture of ashes, boiled walnut shells, and earthworms. People in the 1600s took the ill-advised approach of running lead combs through their hair to darken grey strands.

 The obsession with #grannyhair might indicate a creeping reversal of this disdain for visible aging. Annie Gaia, a 28-year-old New York-based footwear designer, decided to dye her black hair grey because “it feels very fresh and forward.” But Gaia also loves her new look because it’s attracted attention from women who have spent years trying to mask their grey hair.

 “People love to stop and ask me about the process of how long it takes [and] what the regimen is like,” she explained. “My favorite comments have been from women who have naturally grey or white hair. They are always curious why a young person would [go grey].  Some of these women have even said they are going to stop trying to hide their greys, and [stick] to own their color since it’s so trendy right now.”

Alia Soraya, the 35-year-old editor of a travel website called The Luxe Nomad, started going grey as a teenager. After years of bleaching and dyeing, she has decided to let natural grey strands fleck her short, dark hair, though she says she wasn’t inspired by the recent hoopla surrounding #grannyhair. “[H]onestly, it’s ironic that it’s the media and beauty experts who have deemed that grey hair is now an acceptable ‘trend,’” Soraya explained. “We’ve finally been given permission to be ourselves! Hallelujah!”

But Soraya was not immune to the mainstream acceptance of grey. After seeing a photo of a Valentino model with white hair, she began googling images of women who rocked silver locks: Yasmina RossiJamie Lee Curtis; Carmen Dell’Orefice. Their beauty and confidence, she said, inspired her to accept the natural state of her hair.

 “I found my first grey hair when I was 17 … and had been dyeing my hair—dark, red, fuschia, blue, green, purple, highlights, caramel, platinum blonde—ever since,” Soraya explained. “It became a part of my look, an extension of my personality. But on a deeper level, I was trying to deny my natural aging process. I just decided it was time to be my true self. ”