‘Going grey: Making the hair transition without looking old’

Nov 20, 2021
Jan, pictured, shared her tips for going grey without looking old. Source: Jan Wild

The transition from coloured hair to grey hair is one that has challenged our generation of women. I share my tips for going grey without looking old — that’s our greatest fear right?

When I recently asked my Facebook Group for topics to write about, there was a strong call for an article about going grey gracefully without feeling old. I did some investigating and found  many women fear embracing grey hair will have them looking older, and indeed looking like their mothers or grandmothers. Of course, this only adds to the pressure women feeling to stay young and some women simply do not want to acknowledge that they are ageing. I suppose that is the biggest issue of all; our unfounded and somewhat ridiculous notion of being forever young. The truth is we are getting older, so why not step into that and have some fun with it?

It’s natural that there is fear of how we will look during the transition and to that there is also a belief that the only way to transition to grey hair is to cut it short.

From my personal experience — and from my watching of many other women who have or are going grey — none of those beliefs (that’s what they are) really stack up. This might sound harsh, but let me explain. I should add that while I am an advocate for going grey, I don’t want you to feel bullied by me; you will find your own time and process. However, I do want to challenge some of the perceived limitations.

You are not your mother or your grandmother

Our generation is so different to previous generations of women. Many of us have had careers and been out in the world in ways past generations wouldn’t have dreamed of. We have travelled, we have worn jeans and mini skirts, we vote according to our own beliefs rather than those of our husbands; we are strong individuals who have carved our own way in the world.

You most likely wouldn’t choose to dress like your grandmother, so what makes you think that if you went grey you would suddenly be heading to the salon for a regular tight perm? Yet, when I asked my followers on social media to tell me why they would or wouldn’t choose to go grey, I was shocked at the responses. For those against making the transition, their reasons included:

  • “For me, I think going grey makes me look older than I feel”
  • “I was all for doing that until one of my friends let her hair go grey – she looked at least 10 years older”
  • “I like dying my hair as it keeps me looking younger I don’t like grey hair”
  • “It’s ugly.” (This response floored me because this woman follows me and my grey hair and I wondered if she finds me ugly?)

There are valid reasons for not going straight to grey, and I certainly transitioned using highlights. I totally empathise with the reasons that were given, which included:

  • “My grey is a really really dull grey-brown, yech!” (her words, not mine)
  • “My hair is only grey on top, and as my hair is past my shoulders it would look odd”
  • “Not enough greys and my hair is really dark”
  • “I have my dad’s genes and he never went fully grey, just had a bit here and there. I would prefer to go fully grey but not just sprinkles with my colouring.”

It’s time to change your preconceptions of what going grey looks like.

Good reasons to transition to grey hair

Note I said transition, because for most of us that is the reality. Sure, some women do go ‘cold turkey’ and I admire them, but this isn’t something I could have done.

My social media followers also gave their reasons for making that transition to grey hair.

  • “I think grey is softer for an older complexion – I have embraced my grey and no chemicals”
  • “Love it! Beautiful silver streaks! Why? Needed to colour every three weeks and that was ridiculous”
  • “I made the choice because I am 70 and my hot pink hair doesn’t cut it at my age. [It’s] taken me over a year to get used to it. I have a black streak to make it more interesting”
  • “I am 52 and went grey at 48. I made the choice because I was sick of dying it. Now it’s so easy”
  • “I just thought ‘why can’t women be themselves?'”
  • “So, so liberating. Nothing more beautiful than natural healthy hair”
  • “Love it… done with paying $$ to colour my hair”
  • “Liberating! I was tired of damaged hair from colouring. I am so glad I let that go”
  • “Too much maintenance. My hair grows quickly.”

My top tips for how to go grey without looking old

I made a gradual transition to grey. I had some grey hairs from quite young and for years either had a full colour or highlights. When I chose to go grey I continued with the foils, but added more lowlights rather than highlights. I also played with other colours in my hair – think pink and blue – but they looked ridiculous on me. I finally settled on the way my hair is now: natural white with a black streak, which has become my signature look. I went through a long period where my hair was quite ‘salt and pepper’ and that’s where highlights then lowlights helped. It finally went white almost overnight after a particularly stressful period of my life — not the ideal way, but I am very happy with the result.

My black streak and a sassy cut have helped me overcome any concerns about ‘looking old’.

Here are my recommendations for making the transition for yourself.

Get your support team onside

If you raise your transition plans with a hairdresser and they try to talk you out of it, it might be time to find a new hairdresser. What could their motivation possibly be — are they concerned about loss of income? Similarly, bring your family onboard and don’t for a minute tolerate issues raised by a partner or a child, or indeed a friend. If they are male they have probably already gone grey – you know it’s distinguished in a male (insert eye roll). Another belief to be challenged – why are grey-haired men considered ‘distinguished’ and grey hair women ‘old’?

Get sassy

Spend some time researching the looks of women who have already transitioned to grey, or are transitioning. Look for inspiration on Instagram via the hashtags #silverhair and #silversisters (you will find loads of inspiration from women with beautiful hair long and short). Pinterest is another place where you’ll find inspiration. Search for ‘grey hair transformation’ for more illumination. Sassy can be a short style, but it can also be a long style. I definitely recommend that you take the opportunity to freshen up your style as part of your transition – that’s where having a great hairdresser comes in. Seriously, if you feel the only way to go grey gracefully is to cut your hair short, then why not do that – it will grow back!

Reconsider your make-up and wardrobe colours

I’ve found that I need to wear stronger colours, particularly on my lips as part of my transition to grey hair. This is partly because my skin tone has changed as I have aged, but also because paler hair needs more contrast. I have also found that doing my (almost non-existent) eyebrows makes a huge difference and lifts my entire face.

Similarly, you may find clothes that once worked well for you are not as great as you transition to grey – particularly colours that are close to your face. That doesn’t mean you need to head for a colour consultation, but just watch in the mirror as you hold a garment up to your face; if your face lights up it’s a good choice. This makes for a great opportunity for a wardrobe refresh.

Reconsider your glasses too

Going grey is a great opportunity to consider new colours and new frames for your spectacles – be bold! Another aspect of my personal style that has changed as I have aged and gone grey, is my choice of spectacle frames; like my lipstick, I find that bright colours and stronger frames suit me better and smaller paler frames make me look washed out.

Focus on staying young in other ways

There’s much more to staying young than the colour of your hair. Keep your attitudes fresh, spend time with young people, challenge your perceptions about ageing.

Look on the bright side

I would be the first to admit I am fortunate my hair is now a lovely silver-white – a colour a hairdresser once told me younger women want to have their hair dyed. How ironic is that? But don’t assume it was always like this. I, too, have gone through the transition.

I’m no expert on hair health, but I think most of us would agree pouring chemicals onto our heads probably isn’t the best idea. Consider the cost and possible health implications of dying your hair

Of course there are enormous cost and time savings associated with no longer turning up every four to six weeks for a complete hair colour. One motivation might be to put those financial savings into an account for travel, or your wardrobe – some way to reward yourself for your decision.

I’m also a big fan of body positivity and being a positive influence for future generations. Think about what you might be saying to your daughters and granddaughters if you are, even subtly, suggesting that natural is not okay?

Some final thoughts on going grey

This is food for thought and hopefully it has challenged some of your preconceptions about going grey. I follow a lot of women on social media, grey-haired and otherwise. Of those who have commenced or made the transition, I am only aware of one who has gone back to dyed hair. This isn’t about forcing you to change your hair ways, but it is designed to encourage you think about how you might happily go grey.

This article was originally published on Retiring not Shy! and has been republished with permission.

Have you made the transition to grey hair, or is there something holding you back? Tell us about it.

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