The question of hair colour...



 I have only just managed to slip in November's selection from the Year of Being Sixty Two before the end of the month.  Am I the only person who thinks a lot about her hair?



Hair colour defines us. Describe someone and it is one of the first things you will find yourself saying: the blonde woman, the dark haired man, the redhead.  Once you become grey haired you shift.   All the other hair colours say something about you, however stereotyped it may be.  Redheads are feisty and quick tempered.  Blondes are sexy and just possibly a bit dim.  Brunettes are sleek and glossy.  Grey haired people are just old.  So what do we do about the vexed question of hair?

Perhaps how you think about this is affected by whether you have been colouring your hair when you  were younger.  I have had a lifetime of colouring mine.  I lived in New Zealand when I was a teenager where the sun ensured that my light brown hair was always gently sun streaked.  By the end of a short New Zealand winter those streaks were further down my long hair but every summer they returned again.  I didn’t think about it.  I took it totally for granted.  When we came back to the UK when I was nearly eighteen it slowly dawned on me that this natural lightening just wasn’t happening any more.  I remember looking in the mirror at my eighteen year old self and deciding I wanted to be fairer again.  And so began a lifetime of hair colouring: out of a box in the many periods when I was short of money, at a salon when I had a bit more disposable income.  I have been very blonde indeed, which is a tyranny to maintain, through various shades of pale and mid blonde.  I have been all over blonde and streaky blonde.  I have been blonde with a pink streak.  And for the last twenty years or so I have been a colour which reminds me of my teenage self:  not so blonde as to be in your face but the colour I would go from a summer in the sun.  I like it.  It makes me feel like myself.

When I go to the hairdresser to have the regrowth coloured she inspects my hair and says “You have hardly any grey” and I feel as if I have been let off making a decision.  I also feel quite proud of myself.  This is a nonsense.  Where is the sense in being proud of retaining a colour I choose to change?  And what credit of any kind can I take for whether I am going grey or not?  It must be simply the luck of the genes.  My mother didn’t really go grey.  Her deep auburn hair faded over twenty years or so to a pale chestnut with just a couple of streaks of grey at the front.  And my most beautiful friend went grey in her thirties and has worn her hair stylishly cropped for years.  She looks stunning with her silver crop.  But I don’t think I would...

We don’t see much grey hair on women in the media.  Male newsreaders and actors can apparently age into grey without losing their credibility.  Nobody suggests that George Clooney should attempt to restore the glossy brown hair of his youth.  But women in the public eye don’t seem to be grey haired.   The supposed role models for older women of Helen Mirren and Judi Dench (both of whom I admire without expecting or wishing to look like them) offer us that very pale blonde which might be silver, might be blonde but is definitely not grey!   A quick look at two BBC newsreaders of a similar age, Huw Edwards and Fiona Bruce, seems to produce a classic example of the difference between men and women:  Edwards is fifty five, Bruce fifty two.  Edwards is grey haired.  Bruce has a light brown hair colour not unlike mine.  Now it may simply be that Bruce is not going grey.  Who knows?  Only she knows, and her hairdresser.  Her hair always looks great.  But she is at an age when many women would be starting to show grey.  The only grey haired woman I can think of on TV is the historian, Mary Beard, whose long grey hair is a distinctive sight on our screens.  She has been on the receiving end of much vitriol on social media for the way she looks and her hair is no doubt part of that.  She is very defiantly and visibly herself in a way which is counter to the norm and there is clearly a section of society which is not comfortable with that at all.  Women over a certain age should be invisible, sitting in a corner knitting.  I love knitting by the way but I don’t intend to be invisible ore relegated to the corner while I am doing it!

These two women, Fiona Bruce and Mary Beard, seem to me to represent two very different ways of growing older on screen.  I admire both of them.  I recognise that each is a successful professional woman in her own area and I want to see more women like both of them on our screens.  Bruce has said in the past that she would not consider plastic surgery so I do not have any sense at all that she represents women who are intent on holding back ageing at any price.  The Sky newsreader Kay Burley had £10,000 of plastic surgery on her fiftieth birthday.  Not Bruce’s style at all.  But I wonder whether she will go grey naturally on our screens in the way that Huw Edwards has?  I suspect not.

But why should I expect her to when I am busily colouring  my own hair?  It is a strange contradictory business, women and hair colour.  Many years ago I worked for a very senior man who dyed his hair.  Everybody knew and everybody thought it rather sad.  He was a pleasant man and a good boss.  On the whole his staff did not laugh at him but they did think it was a weakness, a failure of confidence somehow.  People would shake their heads, with a half smile, when it was mentioned after a drink or two in the pub.  When a man dyes his hair as he gets older we think of it as vanity.  When a woman does it we don’t think about it at all.  It is perfectly normal behaviour, not worth mentioning.  In fact it is when women go grey that it merits discussion.

So you might see why the fact that I am not yet going grey makes me feel let off the hook?  I don’t yet have to decide whether to let myself go grey.  For the moment I can just continue to do what I have been doing all my adult life, colouring my hair just as I did in my twenties and thirties.  Part of me believes that women should be allowed to age as men do and that we are oppressed by the tyranny of the whole anti ageing business of which colouring grey hair is a part.  A very large part of me likes and admires the look of those of my friends who have decided to be grey and proud.  And yet despite being a lifelong and noisy feminist I have always enjoyed colouring my hair and wearing make up when I choose and I don’t see any reason to stop that as I get older.  I came to that political consciousness in the seventies and received a fair amount of challenge from feminist friends for continuing to wear make up and heels when I wished and for not , as they saw it, joining them in rejecting the whole idea of what women were supposed to look like.  This was the era of abandoning the bra and having hairy legs.  I thought then and I think still that how I look is my affair and that it is perfectly possible to be interested in what you look like while describing yourself and living your life as a card carrying feminist.

So is this question of going grey simply a part of that conundrum where the answer is that each of us must do as we choose?  What do you do about your hair colour as you age?  Are you proudly grey or proudly the same colour you always were, natural or otherwise?  And does it matter at all or is it simply each to her (and rarely his) own?


Comments

  1. I used to do crazy stuff with my hair and then about 8 years ago I had a massively bad dye job by a total incompetent an resolved to go au naturale and my real hair was a complete shock. A lovely mix of every colour which people admire, but more importantly I like.
    I believe we all handle aging differently. When I conducted anti-aging workshops I was completely enlightened by my research and now eschew the dictates of the cosmetic industry among others.

    To each her own.

    XO
    WWW

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    1. I agree totally that we all handle ageing differently and I reject the whole anti ageing industry which is focused on making us feel that we are not good enough, not young enough, not slim enough. personally I'm having a great time, dyed hair and all!

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  2. I took the decision to stop dying mine earlier this year and it's like being unshackled from a tyrant! I can't claim to be used to my new look but it's so lovely not to worry about the colour anymore and the condition is better than it's ever been. I feel liberated but it's a very individual choice - my 82 year old Ma still dyes her hair red and looks terrific.

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    1. that's interesting Chris because I do remember your saying a couple of years ago that dyeing your hair made you feel like you, which is exactly how I feel at the moment. maybe my position will shift! indeed if be astonished if it didn't.

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  3. Elizabeth, I don't think that I will ever again color my hair. I'll just let nature handle that. Sometimes folks will ask me where I have my hair colored (probably noticing the streaks of white and grey) and I just say it's natural.

    Ages ago I would use henna for a slightly aubergine tint. And for one year when I had a very short Sassoon cut, I had red and gold dyed strands at the crown. Now It's just something that doesn't interest me. I think it's up to each of us to figure out what suits us.

    When I met Judi Dench, at my workplace, last year, her hair seemed grey to me, and she really did not seem to be wearing makeup. We had a grand time chatting and laughing...that's what I remember. xo

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    1. when you meet Judi dench, she says casually!! I'd love to meet Judi dench and I'm delighted to hear that she sounds as nice as you would expect. she can have any colour if hair she likes and I'd be a fan!

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    2. Elizabeth, Dame Judi was in NYC for the premier of the Second Hotel movie. I noticed that she was going to be a guest on Jimmy Fallon's late night talk show, and really wanted to stay up to watch. However, the following day was a work day, and I gave the tv show a miss, thinking to myself, that since I knew Dame Judi liked my employers clothes, there was a chance she might come shopping. And ... she did. I told her that little bedtime story, and that my dream had come true, and she immediately began laughing. Very easy to help, and a pleasure to tell her about having seen her first in a long ago series called Playing Shakespeare featuring lots of Royal Shakespeare Theatre stars when they were very young. That reminiscence definitely gave me cred. xo

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  4. I stopped having my hair dyed some years back mainly because as a dark brunette the colour solution to the incoming grey was to have more and more ash coloured highlights until the resulting shade was an un flattering nicotine shade especially after sun exposure. Also it was so expensive and I got very bored with the foil packetting procedure. I like the natural effect of dark hair grey and white and the much improved condition and still have a good cut from a Vidal Sassoon stylist. But. There is no doubt that I am now perceived as an older woman and the seat offer rate on trains has definitely increased! I'm getting used to it.

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    1. dark grey and white sounds quite dramatic! I think the important thing is that the colour feels like the color you want to be.

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  5. Loved your post, Elizabeth! I am grey going on white on my way to 70 (cannot believe that!). I don't remember my parents being anything but grey, so I come by it honestly. I colored my hair for a short while when working, but found it a pain to keep up: I would rather spend my time doing something different than sitting in a salon chair.

    That having been said, I so agree with you that grey on a man is fine but it makes a woman "old". I was offered a seat on public transportation in my 40's. Could not believe it was for me, but I graciously did accept (and started to color my hair). So, I keep my hair pixie short and don't look in the mirror too much. The way I look bugs me, but I guess not enough to do something about it. Too stubborn? Too "this is who I am, take it or leave it"? Yes, on both counts. I feel fortunate that I still feel as I did in my 40's with few physical problems and to me that's more important than the looks.

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    1. you make an interesting point that what you do is affected by the world you move in. I suppose it helped me when I was working that colouring my hair made it more striking. as a rare woman in a man's world, at least at one stage, it was useful and helped me not to be overlooked I think. I keep on doing it because it feels like me now!

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  6. I'm reading this only a couple of hours after my personal stylist (husband) has coloured my
    hair :) I'm also your contemporary having celebrated that 62nd birthday earlier this year. I've only been colouring my hair for the last eight years or so when the grey was becoming more noticeable to me. I'm not ready to stop just yet but not because I worry how it might change the way people perceive me. 'Black Cherry' just makes me feel better about myself when I look in the mirror.

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    1. well I think that feeling good about yourself if a worthy thing and things that facilitate that are worth having in my view!

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  7. It's not just me then!! It's very complex, isn't it. I've been colouring my hair for years too, initially just for fun, then gradually I started needing full colour not just highlights, and over the last few years it's become more and more of a chore. I've grown to hate doing it myself (I always seem to make a mess), but can't afford the salon prices. As a feminist I think we should all be free to wear makeup, colour or hair, whatever, if we want, but I have also been getting increasingly annoyed by the sense that I am apparently supposed to want to look younger. Why should I hide my age? Men don't tend to feel the need to. I am in my fifties. I want to celebrate that, not apologise for it. So I'm growing the colour out. I've no idea what it will look like, but the boys that aren't grey are darker than I remember, and the streaks of white and silver look rather fun at the moment. I'm not ruling out colouring it again, but I think it deserves a rest, and if I do start again it will be because I want to play, not because I've but sucked in to trying to pretend to be younger than I am. Good luck with your musings, and whatever you end up doing, I hope it makes you feel happy and confident.

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    1. I very much like the idea that if you do colour again it will be because you want to play! Hair is one of the things we can change and for me that's quite good fun!

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  8. I'm from a family that greys early, the first streaks appeared in my late 20s. I've been colouring my hair ever since, first just with tints and latterly with full colour and highlights. The roots, when they can be seen, tell me that what lies beneath is now almost entirely white: just like my mother and her mother before her I am white haired in my mid to late fifties. If my hair were a nice iron grey, even a true silver, I would probably abandon the applied colour (a bottled version of my once natural muddy blonde), but white is very ageing and even a tad ridiculous when you are quite pink cheeked. I don't dye my hair because I'm trying to appear younger than I am, I do dye it because I don't want to be thought far older than I am. I think the shade of grey we fade to and how it sits with our skin tone is all important in terms of the colouring decisions we make, something that's often overlooked.

    And as to is it somehow un-feminist to dye our hair, surely the point of emancipation is to be able to do as we please, and that has to include choosing which societal norms we reject and which we accept and even embrace.

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    1. I think that is an interesting distinction about looking one's real age rather than older. And I do very much agree that emancipation is about choice. For me the question is whether one chooses with conscious thought either to colour or to grey, and both options seem to be taken very deliberately by those commenting here.

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  9. Just recently I decided to just let my hair go gray with the help of my hairdresser. Covering my gray is costly and I don't do coloring myself. I'd probably end up really damaging my hair. I'm paying half the amount now for my haircuts and at this stage where we are cutting down that's important. There are a lot of things I'm trying to embrace with getting older...

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    1. The cost has to be a factor I suppose! I've been colouring my hair for so long I just take for granted the gist of my hairdresser, although I did spend quite a bit of time finding someone I really like and could afford when I stopped work and felt I couldn't justify the expensive salon any more! My current hairdresser is a quarter of the price and just as good!

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  10. I started slowly going grey in my thirties. Am happy with the pepper and salt effect, which fades a little more to silver as the years pass.
    But I am learning to balance the silver with more makeup. (When I am in a 'cos I'm worth it mood)

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    1. well it looks great in your profile pic! a good friend who has embraced her grey also find that she needs a bit more make up and a different colour palette.

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  11. I started getting grey hairs in my early teens and now at 60 I am almost completely white headed. I colored my hair for many years but found that the whiter it got, the harder it was to get it to actually retain the color, not to mention the very silvery roots. I've been completely natural for about 15 years and I like it. It is very freeing not to constantly be doing something to it.

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    1. it's liking whatever you have which is the key. I think really white hair looks fab but as Annie says that must be affected by your skin tone.

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  12. My first white hairs appeared when I was 20.
    In my 20s I used to use henna to colour my very short hair.
    In my 40s I occasionally used semi-permanent colour brighten my mid-brown speckled with white hair.
    Then about 4 years ago I decided to have a hair detox and only used bicarb and vinegar instead of shampoo and conditioner and no colour for about 2 years.
    I've now returned to the occasional semi-permanent colour - but in paler shades, usually medium ash blond which results in 'highlights' that gradually fade away. Lots of grey still visible but it looks brighter. I've never had a salon colour I do to myself when I fancy a different look.
    Why did I return to less grey? - I was sick to the hind teeth of the assumption I was some technophobe numpty who wouldn't know a USB cable from an ethernet connection.
    xx

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    1. That's exactly the kind of thing that stops me letting the white come through, though why folk suppose that advancing age equals advancing stupidity has always puzzled me.

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    2. this assumption that being older equates with being a technophobe is extremely irritating. mind you I'm not sure that not having grey hair is the answer. mine is fair and I was condescended to only the other day by someone of around thirty. I'm afraid I gave into the urge to trump her with tech talk!

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  13. I'm one of the lucky ones, I guess, I've never dyed my hair because I have no grey hair. I'm 64 years old and was blessed with strawberry blonde hair. Think Nicole Kidman,hair colour only, lol. I have had many hairdressers ask me what colour I use on my hair. When I say none, this is virgin hair, they are always surprised. As I get older the colour just gets blonder, so now I'm reddish blonde. My only complaint is that the older I get, the finer my hair becomes. I always thought it was getting thinner but apparently not, according to the experts, it's just become very fine. I can't imagine having to dye my hair on a regular basis, I'm far too lazy, and I've probably saved a fortune!! My sister, on the other hand, had dark brown hair and started to go grey when she was 18! She has coloured it ever since and when she has regrowth it looks completely silver! So glad I don't have to do that on a regular basis. She got the skinny gene, I got the no grey gene!!!

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    1. it does very much seem to be the luck of the draw! I've got the no grey gene so far. my mum's hair just faded in colour. ib suppose I would have to stop colouring mine to see!

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  14. Being a feminist and choosing to be feminine shouldn't be mutually exclusive, I think. Surely the point is to make your own decisions and not be stereotyped, so well done for doing your own thing. As for hair colour, I never have and I never will. The only time it's an issue is in our children's wedding photos when every other woman looks super smart and chic and I have defiant grey streaks in my dark hair...

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    1. I completely agree about making choices and respecting each other's choices! I'm very glad to live in a time that offers women more choice!

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  15. I am a natural redhead and have never had the urge to change that.... even thoughI have been called all sorts of names at times.... and now I have reached the ancient age of three score and ten, and my hair is still red! Just a little faded, but still red!

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    1. ah well that was my mother too
      she was a redhead. maybe the fading rather than the greying is a redhead thing?

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  16. My hair is getting darker and darker although apparently it still registers on the "blonde" colour samples. I have it highlighted. I keep saying I'll let my natural colour come in, but then it's so flat and boring, I can't stand it. I think I'd rather it was gray but my family doesn't seem to have a good gray so it still doesn't look that good! Sigh.

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    1. that's very much how I feel about it! my natural colour is only a couple of shades darker than the highlights I have but the highlights really cheer it, and me, up!

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  17. I'm with you on hair colour Elizabeth. The grey hairs started appearing in my late 40's and since then I have had my hair coloured. I've stayed close to my natural brown. Hair is a defining feature - mine is curly, or frizzy at the first whiff of damp - which living in the West country is most of the time. I always longed for straight hair - so having curls was bad enough without going grey as well! I have no qualms about colouring and will continue for a while yet - not quite ready to face grey frizzy curls!

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    1. do what makes you feel good is my theory!

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  18. I can't say I love my gray hairs that stand out against my black hair, but I've never used dye and am accepting these as natural silver highlights. I dislike the double standard that makes women feel the need to hide their age with dye, makeup etc while men are respected for aging. Then again, if it makes a woman feel better to dye, she should be able to do so without criticism. In Japan, where I'm staying for 2 months to research a novel, men as well as women dye their hair. it's a huge industry for black dye.

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    1. I didn't know that about Japan! how interesting that there should not be the same reservation about men dyeing their hair.

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  19. I wish I had hair to colour, although as my great aunt use to say you can't grow hair and brains. I think she was just massaging my ego!!!

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  20. Brilliant post again. I am mouse with some grey hairs and have been waiting to go grey all over for years as I have several friends who look great with grey hair but it just isn't happening for me! I had purple, pink and turquoise streaks put in the front of my hair a couple of years back when I was 70 - I think I was making a statement and probably that statement was "this is me - r am on bonus time now and I am loving it"! It was certainly a good conversation starter and many people stopped me to say they loved it! I haven't kept it up though as having said my piece I am happy to be me as I am naturally and those friends who colour their hair are envious that I don't feel the need to conform and colour my hair. Having spent this year having eye operations which have meant I cannot wear eye make-up - I miss the use of a little mascara - I realise just how precious a gift I have received now that I can see clearly again and none of the rest is really important any more. I think my priorities have changed as I got older so that although I like to look good I don't go to the lengths I used to to do so.

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    1. interesting perspective that health problems bring marigold! I do think that what suits you shifts as your life changes. I had dinner pink streaks in my hair a couple of years ago. it was quite fun but I have no immediate desire to do it again!

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  21. A fascinating post. I have been following your blog for a while, being of a similar age. I have always been intrigued why certain hair colours seem to grey before others. Blonds and brunettes often seem to be delayed. I have mid brown hair and gradually the odd bit of grey is appearing. If I want to feel more youthful I look in certain mirrors. I hate my car mirror with the sun roof above; that is very ageing. I'm too penny pinching to dye my hair, but would I if I was properly grey? Probably. I'll just stick with the flattering mirrors and hope for the best. Barbara

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    1. flattering mirrors are important Barbara! so much of how you feel is a confidence thing and an unflattering mirror adds decades! I have one I use for the plain unvarnished truth and one for a lift on the way out!

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  22. When I was 19 my natural, dark auburn hair suddenly turned quite black for no apparent reason (meds, pregnancy, nothing) and shortly thereafter I started turning gray. I tried coloring it a few times on my own (ashy shades turn a lovely avocado green on me) and finally decided to let nature take its course. For a long, long time my hair around my face was very white and very dark in the back. After a stint of chemo it was curly and darker but an odd dark, now it is back to normal. What is "normal"? I refer to my haircolor as "mouse". I was very fair to begin with thanks to all that Welsh,English, and Irish ancestry so my complexion has just faired out more and to color it would probably be very harsh. Just two days ago I discussed coloring it with my stylist and she said no, I would hate every aspect of it and I had to agree so I will soldier on, through my 60's, with my own unique shade of "mouse" and proud of it.

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    1. I'm rather struck by the idea of avocado green as a hair colour!

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    2. yeah, it wasn't so grand but in today's fashion world I might have been able to pull it off!

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  23. Interesting! I've enjoyed reading all the varied responses and seeing how people feel on this very individual topic. I'm immovably in the 'no' to dye camp. My auburn hair went grey very quickly in my late 40s. After one attempt at colouring it (salon) I gratefully embraced my all-over grey. It suits me like no artificial colour could, and I hated, hated HATED the experience of having chemicals applied to my hair. Plus, as a Scot, the expense. Mon Dieu, the money it costs! I would feel older if I started colouring my hair, whereas I feel absolutely me and young for 57 with my grey hair (getting more active all the time, with personal trainer sessions, a late convert to the gym, planning a long distance walk). Perhaps because my degrees were in French I have a model of 'chic, elegant Frenchwoman with sharply cut grey hair' as my goal. Apart from the fact that I would need a complete wardrobe transplant to achieve chic and elegant. My grey hair enables me to wear colours that really suit my hair and skin tone as it is now - navy, citrine, lavender, red, cobalt, indigo. And lipstick, the only makeup I wear apart from an occasional coverage of Bobby Brown tinted moisturising balm, is also easier and more fun matching colours to grey. If I could bear nail varnish I daresay that would be fun with colour too, but nail varnish, mascara and eye shadow make feel as if I'm suffocating.
    But absolutely up to each individual what makes them happy. The only thing I do tend to be a bit judgmental about in my 'sisters' who colour their hair is if it's so very obviously coloured, where the colour is wrong for their skin tone and it all shrieks 'dyed hair'.

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    1. I'm interested in what you say about the colours that go with grey! My chic friends with grey hair certainly use that colour palette.

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