Gutting it out to go gray: Hairdresser's advice

I have a new hairdresser with whom I am in the throes of first-visit love. He's articulate, talented, and best of all, took about 15 min. to gaze at my hair and me before proposing The Plan.

The Plan is not to go gray just yet, but I asked him how to do it.

He said:

1. Skip the colour for four months. (That gives typically several inches of undyed hair.)

2. Come in for a short, smashing cut.
You might get a few lowlights to blend in any harsh transitions.

That's it, a short, sharp hop to... whatever is under there. No 'pearling', which is essentially the application of heavy highlights that are intended to bridge between your colour and your gray. So if you're growing your hair or finally got it long, you must again endure the growing-out.

I chose this well-regarded salon to do a correction required after several over-processed colour jobs at the Aveda school. The student stylists were sweet and earnest, and many did a fine job, but the last two didn't, so the colour built to a harsh dark brown with purplish undertones. I turned to a pro to get my
coppery auburn back.

Filed the Gray Game Plan for future reference. As I was walking in, a woman strolled out with that luminous white cloud of hair we frequent dyers all wish for. It is waiting for me, beckoning, one day... though not today.

Photo from Marie Claire's "What I Love About Me" Beauty Road Show


mette said…
Wild ! Letting your hair turn gray after years ( ? ) of keeping the grays invisible, needs courage. I like gray hair if it has a cute cut and particularly much if it is thick. I have only just a few months ago allowed my hairdresser to put some color ( the one that washes off ) in my hair. For a long time I liked the idea of having my own `natural´highlights, but as they increased during the years, the fun ended. I have not made future plans for my hair. You have short hair with a cut, so I think that allowing yourself to ´turn gray´would work. But don´t do it just yet !
Susan B said…
If my grey were a gorgeous silvery grey like the woman you've pictured, I'd go there in a heartbeat. Alas, my hair is grey-mixed-with-wet-cardboard and will probably remain so if my mother's hair was any indication, so I may have to live out my life as a redhead.
ilona said…
four months, eh?
i've been debating this question for quite some time. my hair is turning out some white and silvery 'highlights' which i don't mind. the idea of being grey doesn't bother me and had always intended to just let it go. the problem for me isn't the grey but the accompanying darkening around it. so i've recently done lowlights to minimize the rooty look (haven't tried to color the grey.) hoping to transition to a point where i could cut my hair short enough to let it go. it's the idea of short hair, not the grey, that holds me back.
I tried to go to the story and twice, my server hijacked the url to (which are a chain of not-very-interesting women's wear boutiques, not the magazine). I was wondering what the grey-haired woman did for a living. Hard to tell from a head shot, but she doesn't look very slim, and I think grey hari only looks chic on women who are at best tall and slim (which I ain't) or at least very slim, small-busted and spare - gamine type. If not there is very much the risk of looking like someone's mum or nana in the kitchen baking cookies. Fatal in many work fields.

So no, no grey hair until I'm at least 65 or more probably 70, though as Duchesse says it is hard for women who originally had very dark hair to get the colour right and not too harsh - or conversely too red, or too mousey.

The hairdresser sounds great though.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: She was part of a Marie Claire cross country project- "What's Beautiful About Me" that photographed real women. I chose her because she is not a thin model, and looks "bien dans sa peau". No occupation listed.

When I asked my old hairdresser how I'd look with grey hair, he said "Practical". Aaargh!

Pseu: Not that you want it, but some of my GFs with that hair (I call it greying paper bag) have some stunning low-and-highlights- extremely chic play of many colours including some strands of grey.

downthegarden: He also adds lowlights if grey dispersal is not even. My hair is short now but I am growing it (to a longer short, not long) so if in a few years want to go grey, have to go back to short. So thinking why not now? But just not there.

metscan: You are lucky, you don't have to deal with roots with that level of colour.

No I'm not doing it yet. Friend who just came back from Argentina said he did not see one woman, anywhere, with grey hair.
Frugal Scholar said…
Based on my "research," I'd say the people who look good with this are few and far between. I have a cousin who is around 70. She has a very young face and a young body--thanks to ballet. She has said that the gray makes her look younger--and she is right.

It's totally unfair and all, but gray on middle age and up tends to look grandma and aging. The gray haird models you see in JJill etc all have young faces--whether by nature or surgery,I'm not sure.
materfamilias said…
I echo the other commenters -- IF I knew my hair would be that gorgeous kind of grey and IF it were thick enough and IF a short cut suited my face . . . I might be that brave. When I decide to go grey, I don't think I'll do it so drastically, and I think there will still be considerable maintenance -- I'll probably do more and more blonde with silvery highlights as a prelim stage.
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: The 'silvery highlights' would be your own colour, I guess?

I have a friend who went from dark burnette to gray and decided it was too drab so became a very pale blonde- looks fabulous and she says she will keep it forever. YOu might think it would not work with her colouring but it did.

Frugal: Despite exceptional examples I too find grey ages. So do too harsh colours- so I am continually trying to get the salon colour right.
when i was in my youth, and suffering through the home dye jobs of my mother and aunts, i made a vow *never* to dye my hair. of course, at that age, i thought through sheer force of will i'd never go gray, get lines or wrinkles or acquire a few extra pounds. none of that has worked out. however, i did adhere to the vow never to dye my hair. i was very fortunate that when it decided to go gray, it went very fast and i wound up with (originally) a fairly pretty pewter colour, moved on to brushed aluminum and am now in the sterling silver stage... hopefully, the cloud of white will be the next stage. i changed hairdressers for many years, especially whenever they started to bug me to dye my hair. my current hairdresser exclaims over my hair every time and says how gorgeous, thick and shiny it is and how i should never, ever dye it. she charges a fortune, but i imagine i'll keep going as long as she keeps dishing out the "good advice".
greying pixie said…
Bon soir Duchesse! This seems like an appropriate subject with which to re-enter your blog (I've been completely inundated with the completion of the old PhD - not quite finished). I have to admit that going grey is not easy. From time to time I weaken and almost break open the packet of dye I keep in the cupboard. But, at the last moment I just can't bring myself to adopt that saturated colour which is no less ageing than grey, in my opinion and opens up a whole can of worms with regard to the six weekly retouching of roots.

I really feel we should be reclaiming the right to be grey and beautiful instead of conforming to some strange standard that has emerged over the past few years.

I guess every woman has their way of convincing themselves that they are holding back the years - mine is by taking care of my neck and stomach. The only bottle I want to be a slave to in my old age is Veuve Cliquot!
Susan B said…
The only bottle I want to be a slave to in my old age is Veuve Cliquot!

Hear, hear!! Love this. (BTW, we're going on a tour of the VC winery/caves next month.)
Duchesse said…
GP: Unbelievable. Not ten minutes ago while crossing a street, I thought of you, and wondered how you are. Welcome back!

Yes it is a way of holding back the years: grey hair is my memory of my grandmother and mother, who hated turning grey young. Hair colour has come so far since their time, discreet and beautiful shades- but they do take an investment of time and money.

bonnie-ann: Sounds like you are one of the beautiful grays, I'd keep it too.
Susan B said…
Having met Bonnie-Ann, I can indeed vouch for her gorgeous grey hair!
crunchycon said…
DH is one of those glorious prematurely-gray Celtic types, and, at 54, has a fabulous head of silver hair. If my parents are any indication, I won't gray early or even late. My parents are in their eighties and are what you might call salt-and-pepper. I have their dark hair with a few strands of silver here and there, but we'll see how I feel when the silver overtakes the dark. One of the things I like about DH is the more silvery his hair is, the darker mine looks in comparison:).
Maggie said…
I agree with comments about the thickness of the hair. Really good hair...good body, thickness and movement looks good in any color. And not all color jobs are created equal. If yours leaves the hair soft, silky and shiny than you have a good one, so stick with it. You have to remember though that the whole face fades with time, according to Bobbi Brown, so the fading hair blends right in. I do suppose though that it would take a bit of "courage" to go natural after years of coloring. My advice-go for it!
Duchesse said…
crunchycon: The allowing one's hair to gradually grey is a relatively painless way to side into greydom. Those of us with permanent haircolour have a much more dramatic (and traumatic) change. re your DH- funny how many really young men- barely 30 I'm guessing- I see getting their hair coloured when I am at salon!

maggie: My last two words of the post, not yet, will stand for awhile- as I have only average hair thickness which is helped by colour.
Northmoon said…
I guess I'm lucky that I have thick hair - I let mine go grey several years ago. It's salt and pepper now, I've had people ask me where I get my highlights done, but it's all natural!

Sometimes it bothers me that it ages me, but the bother of grey roots and chemical dyes is worse for me.

I think it's kind of a shame that women (including myself!) are conditioned to think grey is unacceptable/unattractive.
The only bottle I want to be a slave to in my old age is Veuve Cliquot!

THIS is my new motto. and thanks Deja Pseu for the testimony to my hair... i've always said, no matter what colour it is, it is my crowning glory. i don't have much else to recommend me looks-wise, but i do have nice hair!
Those students weren't taught about colour- those violet tones are cool and you wanted warmer copper tones - it saddens me when I hear this - no wonder so many new hairdressers go into the world not understanding enough about colour to choose flattering ones for people.

Don't remind me - my roots are shocking at the moment!
And another point - as we lose pigments from our hair - we also lose them from our skin and eyes - so your ex-brunette friend probably wouldn't suit the brunette she had when she was 20 as she no longer has the clarity of skin tone to set it off.
Rebecca said…
Since I have good hair and am mostly lazy, I figure gray hair looks better on me than roots would. Every now and again I am tempted to color it, because I really don't want to look older than I am, but my hairstylist and/or my family always talks me out of it. I have wondered a bit about the weight thing though, whether a few pounds more or less would add or subtract years.
Tiffany said…
I wish I enough grey - of the right type, of course - to do this. Last time I tried this trick (travelling for three months without hair dye or makeup, then cutting it really short) I had colleagues talk to me about retirement. Given that I hadn't yet hit 40, I found that a bit crushing. I usually wear my hair very short, and I am 'petite' (how I hate that word) so I wouldn't mind the gamine look. But for now I think I'll have to keep colouring ..l.
M said…
Check out this website It's all about this very subject and I think you might enjoy it while you decide on what you want to do.
For rather complex reasons, I let my roots grow out to the point where I can see the real colour - it is a silver grey with dark lowlights like the woman in the photo has (fortunately I don't have such a ghastly double chin). I have very young skin - practically no wrinkles mid-50s - but what gives me pause is the horror of SHORT hair when I finally found a hairdresser who cuts my hair properly, in a kind of angled from below - but not shagged - midlength bob.

Biddies with short hair are rather frightening. That screams organised bus trips. But at the same time, I'm getting sick of pouring chemicals - even supposedly innocuous ones - on my scalp.

My grey hair is genetic - my mum was silver at 40.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: So, what are your going to do?
I really don't know. For the moment I'll just ask the hairdresser to cut off a couple of inches - but insist that the form of the bob be kept although that will leave me with some dark hair - because if not I'll never be able to get a hairdresser not to give me a mumsy cut or an outdated shag.

I don't have a lot of "public" work in the summertime - conferences, etc - so I can give my scalp a bit of a rest at least. I'm also utterly terrified about how people will react. The undyed roots have a lovely texture though, although I've had my hair done in salons using mild products and practically no peroxyde for years.

I have a colleague who has her hair very short and grey, but her life outlook - that our intimate lives are as good as over by middle age and living vicariously through her daughter and grandchildren - was a factor in spurring me to keep on dyeing. Rather than dying!
Duchesse said…
lagatta: I am certan (since you live in Mtl) there are options other than shag or mumsy, but of course you have to find someone with the eye. A totally new cut with the grey will result in a different esprit than your bob gone grey.

You might find your makeup and even clothing colours change too, if you keep growing into grey.

(Perhaps you could start a blog and take us through the transition :))

And I'm well aware that cutting your curly, voluminous hair takes talent.

Your friend may be a dear friend but is not a role model for mid and later-mid life!

Wonder how long I can keep my very intense red before looking odd (75? ) but then maybe I will just look odd!
Well, I've probably posted about my Parisienne friend V, of Italian Jewish origin, who had to wear the yellow star as a girl before her family found refuge in officially fascist Italy, and who has had a rollicking life since then, including teaching Italian to prison inmates in France - who were probably glad to see a woman teaching them anything. Given that the war ended 65 years ago, she must be about 75, and still has flaming red hair, but she is one of those consummate Parisiennes who gets away with such boldness without looking pathetic.

There is a reason I spoke of a "colleague" rather than a friend: I certainly don't dislike her at all but find her attitude defeatist to say the least.

V, on the other hand is definitely a friend.

I wear very little makeup, a bit of eye makeup, some Roc hypoallergenic lipstick or a lip balm in a berry colour (but that does not add a lot of colour). My lips are naturally quite red.

I like a very minimalist colour palette, with a bit more colour in the summertime but would never start wearing pastels. The main problem is that this might move me to "colder". Other problem is possible need for hats in the summertime, and in general I hate wearing hats.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Funny you write about V (an introduction as I do not recall these details.) I have more intensely red hair these days and Le Duc calls it "Parisienne lefty red". Just that type. I might even risk looking pathetic in a dozen years, who knows?

Hope you keep all of us updated on your sense of how you like the incoming grey. If I had to assign a percentage I would say I like 25% of the grey I see on downtown streets. When it is well cut, it is beautiful but as you say, too much of that sheared retiree cut.
Susan said…
I am 58--and my hair is slowly turning white. It was a light brown before. I've highlighted it with blond for years. My current haircolor is getting compliments from strangers--and I find myself describing to them what is going on. I'm now leaving the white alone, but having my hairdresser lighten (foil highlights) the rest of my hair to blend with it. I think this is called pearling? Did I read that in the post?

In some photos of me, my hair looks very white, in others, very blond.

I have to say that the dyed look on brunettes is almost always ghastly. They think they look younger, when the opposite is the case. I think going lighter works best for almost everyone.
Duchesse said…
Susan: In my experience, that is called pearling, and I really admire that 'mix of no colours' effect.
There is a certain point, no matter what your colour, that it is indisputably colour, and unnatural. Who at 65 or 70 has chestnut brown hair? In my case, I've decided to colour my hair a slightly eccentric red (not quite Vivienne Westwood but that's the idea). I figure, why not be frankly and flagrantly fake? Or go natural, or nearly so as you have. The safe in between does not interest me much.
Marguerite said…
How timely reading these posts. I have decided to let my very light brown/dark blonde(?) highlighted hair grow out naturally. After finding the website Going Gray Looking Great I found my courage. It's a wonderful site full of support and ideas. Wish me bonne chance as I make the transition. Hope to also drop a few pounds along the way. Fat is as aging as anything! LOL
Duchesse said…
Marguerite: Good for you!

As far as losing weight goes, I refuse to bite on the "aging" hook. We age, and many women tend to gain some weight along the journey. Any woman who is morbidly obese should address it; despite the fat acceptance people's wishes, there is evidence of health risk. But slightly overweight is less of a risk than previously thought.

Being thin does not make anyone look young. I think it's more about teeth, posture and a good current hair style.

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