Say what you will about the grey hair trend sweeping the heads of men and women who are too young to even consider Botox. Although I’m not about to chemically strip the pigments from my own hair, I love the premature grey hair craze for cultural reasons. Maybe the trendsetters and fashion victims aren’t overthinking the significance of their dye decisions, but that doesn’t mean the fad is somehow symbolic of every other hair colour trend finally being overdone and that grey is our last resort to do something new.
As someone born at a time when televisions were like the family member everyone loved best, I can’t remember ever being unaware of society’s glorification of youth. Before I was old enough to think critically about North America’s love affair with being young forever, it was engrained in my way of thinking. Barbie was my favourite toy, and she was as forever young and forever blonde – as were the starlets that cycled in and out of the prime-time schedule.
By the time I was in university, and had enough feminist theory and cultural studies courses under my belt to know better, it was too late to undo the damage consumer culture had done to both my ideas of beauty, and the peroxide I used to achieve them. I endured the judgement that any woman who dyes her hair blonde is familiar with – constant cut-eye when the topic of mass marketing’s perpetuation of the blonde ideal comes up in conversation.
That’s why the grey hair trend is fascinating, particularly to women who’ve intellectualized their own aesthetics when it comes to their mane. While it’s certainly had more media attention for its female enthusiasts, men are getting in on the silver dye trend too. “It goes well with my skin tone, for one,” said my friend Philip, when I asked him why he’d recently gone grey at age 24 (despite having naturally black hair). “Everything has been done on the colour spectrum, but grey still seems taboo. And, because it’s taboo, it’s much more playful and elite in the sense that not everybody is willing to go there. If you’re willing to do it, then you’re still a fashion maverick. Ain’t nobody got time to be a basic bitch.”
While the popularity of the cutting-edge hairstyles of yesteryear, such as the ones made commonplace by Twiggy and Marlene Deitrich for example, spoke to the social power shifts of the eras in which they were born, they spoke only to white females. The grey hair trend, on the other hand, has global significance fit for the digital age. Adaptable for people of any race, hair type, sex, or age, it’s everything CK One pretended to be for the grunge era. It’s arguably the most poignant hair trend since punk made pink mohawks a unisex symbol of rebellion. But while fluorescent-hued, gravity-defying spikes and shaved sides were designed to be startling, the grey hair trend shocks because it catches us off-guard.
Grey is not only natural, it’s inevitable for anyone who lives long enough to lose the pigment in his or her hair – making it the most universal hair tone on the planet. That said, people who prematurely adopt grey hair incite disapproval in onlookers who believe they will be riddled with regret for wasting the years they’re blessed with colour. It might be socially acceptable to fake a hue that nature didn’t give us, but we’re still uncomfortable with the idea that anyone would want to adopt a signifier of “past the prime.” Sure, some men like George Clooney still manage to be considered sexy while rocking salt and pepper hair, but we’ve always expected our silver foxes to have a full head of shiny, vibrant-looking cheveux to balance out the emblems of age with signifiers of youthful virility. Lacklustre grey, especially on thinning hair, has never been okay. If women have historically been judged for going grey, we’ve never let men go bald – both being signs of decay and mortality. Perhaps those of us who are edging up on our “middle age” years should be more thankful than judgemental of the grey hair trend of the moment — especially if it softens the blow of aging on our own self-image.
Just when we thought the next generation might not have anything to say with their style besides “I’m wearing this ironically,” it turns out that the grey hair trend might actually be saying something quite profound. Even if most grey hair adopters don’t wax philosophic about its meaning, the prominence of the trend across genders, races, and even body types and personal styles suggests that somewhere in our collective unconscious, many of us are over society’s obsession with selling youth. Well, my blonde hair certainly shows that I’m not, but I’m too old to be considered a significant player in “youth culture” anymore anyways. Besides, if I dyed my hair grey now, you wouldn’t think it was a statement; you’d just assume nature intended it to be that way.
What are your thoughts on the grey hair trend? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.