Why the Grey Hair Trend Is Here to Stay, Plus Products to Take Care of Your Own Natural Look
Whether reclaiming grey hair or going silver for kicks, the trend accelerated by COVID-19 is the coolest icing on the cake. Above, Jane Fonda debuts her silver look at the 2020 Oscars. Photo: Craig Sjodin/Getty Images
When Andie MacDowell walked the red carpet at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival last summer, she let her hair do the talking. It was an audacious move for the professional beauty, famed for her voluminous, chocolatey mane, to showcase the pewter tresses she’d adopted during the pandemic, at one of the world’s most glamorous and photographed events.
MacDowell’s arrival at a glittering film première — with metallic eyeshadow echoing her silvery locks — signalled a new era, one in which women confidently embrace their natural grey. Or, as the 63-year-old supermodel/actress (and L’Oréal’s longest-serving beauty ambassador) summed it up in an October 2021 interview with InStyle magazine: “You can’t be young forever but you can always be considered beautiful, fashionable, and glamorous.”
We’ve had our glorious grey-haired pioneers: Anne Bancroft, Emmylou Harris, Jamie Lee Curtis, Helen Mirren and Sarah Harris, the silver-haired deputy editor of British Vogue. But they were few and far between before a surprise trend for modern-day grey was launched in 2011, when French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier sent a flock of steel-maned young models down the catwalk. By 2015, Chanel had joined in, along with a raft of celebrities and influencers like Lady Gaga, Pink, Kim Kardashian and Rihanna. A deluge of silver-topped Instagram feeds and pewter-haired superstars went wide, recalibrating what society thought of grey locks. Women in their 20s and 30s were sitting in salon chairs demanding what was then, unfortunately, known as the “granny hair” trend.
Even still, Leesa Butler demurred; granny chic wasn’t for everyone. A 49-year-old Toronto marketing executive who had been grey since her teens, she’d dyed her hair “for fun” throughout high school. Then, in her first year of university, a boy noticed her snowy hairline at a party “and made a big, embarrassing deal of it.” From then on, she’d hidden her grey, going ultra-blonde to conceal the roots.
In 2014, the peak of that vogue for silver hair, Butler felt too young to go with her natural grey. It would be another seven years before she began experimenting with her true colour. Taking baby steps, she opted for blonde highlights, instead of overall blonde, because the idea of a “public” grow-out phase seemed “really daunting.” But once COVID hit, it was perfect timing; Butler took advantage of the isolation and went for it.
She was thrilled with the results.
“It wasn’t grey, so much as silver — dare I say, platinum! Better than the highlights I used to pay for. Even my hairstylist was impressed,” she says. Enjoying her real hair for the first time since she was 14, Butler was equally delighted by the return of her natural curl: the lush, coiling waves that decades of blonde processing had flattened out. Having spent 35 years “hiding” her real hair, she now proudly showcases her fab silver mane on social media. Her Instagram posts (“Who else needed a global pandemic to embrace what they’re born with?!? Colour c/o DNA”) were trailed by a string of gleeful hashtags — #naturalhair #silverhairdontcare — that now flood the internet.
Long viewed as dowdy, grey hair has morphed into a sexy silver corona, and the Instagram fan accounts are too numerous to tally. #SilverHair is home to more than 2.5 million inspo posts. @Grombre boasts 237,000 followers devoted to the “radical celebration” of grey via an elegant ombré twist. The chic silver-haired models Linda Rodin, 73, (@lindaandwinks) and JoAni Johnson, 67, (@JoaniJohnson6000) have huge followings. Googling “going silver without bleaching” turns up 90,300,000 results, and the website Katiegoesplatinum.com is an online resource for everything related to the “transition.” Meanwhile, the intergenerational glamour-grey trend gallops on. It’s just another choice on the cool colour wheel, with everyone from Megan Fox, 35, to Miley Cyrus, 29, rocking striking sterling hair for fall 2021, while the 50-something Sex and the City cast started filming their new series, And Just Like That … with Carrie Bradshaw’s blonde hair showing some grey streaks and Miranda Hobbes debuting a silver pixie cut.
No surprise, then, that hair care brands are churning out new products for the optimal silver, pewter, platinum or steel hues. Offering endless gleaming variations on the spectrum once known as “grey,” the beauty industry now touts seasonal silver tones. An August 2021 Glamour story proclaimed “oyster grey” the “pearlescent summer hair colour trend.”
As recently as 2010, L’Oréal — the globe’s largest beauty company, which owns 41.1 per cent of the Canadian hair colour market — didn’t offer a single hair colour to enhance grey, just dye that disguised it.
A decade later, they offer nine that cater to both ends of the spectrum. Five, from L’Oreal’s Age Perfect Beautifying Colour collection, are devoted to enhancing naturally grey hair, and four more from their Feria, Preference and Colorista brands can transform blonde, brunette and black hair to a fashionable silver.
Perfecting the luxe locks of clients from Jane Fonda to MacDowell in his eponymous salon in Orange County, Calif., Jack Martin has become known as the “guru of grey.”
Since 2018, Martin has specialized in returning women to spectacular versions of their natural colour, with the jaw-dropping Before & Afters posted to his Instagram feed winning him more than 660,000 followers. Women around the world are keen to spend six to 14 hours in Martin’s chair, while he blanches their colour-treated strands, then coats them with a bespoke natural grey matched precisely to their untouched roots, deftly skirting the dreaded grow-out phase.
Martin spent seven hours converting Fonda’s famously blonde hair to the sophisticated silver she debuted at the 2020 Oscars. “I tell you, I’m so happy I let it go grey,” the actress told Ellen DeGeneres a year later. “Enough already! So much time wasted, so much money spent, so many chemicals – I’m through with that.”
Martin, whose business tripled during the pandemic, is booked months in advance for his “back to grey” makeovers, which cost US$3000 and up.
Then again, the hallmark of his success is that, once he’s done, clients no longer need monthly colour sessions. It’s quite a bargain when you consider the cost of decades of future appointments.
A clear benefit of the pandemic trend for going grey is not only that so many women did it, since no one would observe the “awkward” stage, but also that such a deluge, so widely documented, opened up a whole new perspective on going grey in the first place.
“Since hair colour was invented, women have been convinced to cover the grey to look younger,” says hair stylist Sandy Ciuro of Toronto’s Angst Hair, a fashion industry favourite on the city’s east side. “But with the advent of social media, it’s become much more acceptable, more fashionable, to just embrace it.”
“I had several clients go grey over COVID,” continues Ciuro, who prefers the term “silver.” “There was some trepidation at first, but with nowhere to go or really be seen, most women welcomed it. [After] a lifetime of colouring their hair, they found it liberating to be free of the constant upkeep. I just encouraged them to have regular cuts that can carry the roots for a while, and each visit gets better as more of the coloured ends hit the floor.”
We’ll give the last word to MacDowell, newly crowned patron saint of glamorous grey.
“When I debuted my silver hair, it was really important to me because my transformation helped me accept my authentic, true self,” she explained in that InStyle interview. “It’s badass to embrace where you are and be fearless. That’s exactly what I’m doing. Stepping right into where I am with no shame. And it feels good.”
The Grey Glow-Up!
Grey hair is a blank canvas, so everything shows. Pollution, hard water, the sun, smoke and certain styling products can lead to unsightly yellowing. It’s also drier, especially if it’s curly, and requires more hydration. Treat it with these TLC tips and products.
Use a purple shampoo daily to guard against yellowing, and add a clarifying shampoo weekly to remove pollutants, hard water oxidation and product buildup.
Fanola No Yellow Shampoo; $38; Walmart (or less on Amazon) This potent, high-performance classic instantly neutralizes
Klorane Detox Shampoo with Aquatic Mint, $14; Shoppers Drug Mart This biodegradable wash offers intense cleansing with a cooling minty sensation, while eliminating dulling contaminants.
Oil glands produce less sebum as we age so hair is coarser and drier, especially if it’s curly. You want an ultra-hydrating conditioner that combats yellow tones. Scan the ingredients for shea butter, aloe vera, coconut oil, argan oil, jojoba oil and honey. Skip any with mineral oil, which coats hair in a way that makes it hard for moisture to penetrate.
Clairol Professional Shimmer Lights Conditioner, $17; tradesecrets.ca
This rich, hydrating conditioner brightens grey while softening coarse hair, without residue. Leave in for two to five minutes after shampooing.
Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Leave-In Conditioning Milk, $40; sephora.com
A detangler and humidity barrier, this luxe leave-in conditioner formulated for drier, aging hair adds shine, tames frizz and leaves hair soft and silky.
Kevin Murphy Cool Angel, $40; cosmeticworld.ca
Loved by in-the-know salons, this conditioner with olive leaf extract imparts a lustrous shine while neutralizing warm tones with cool ash shades.
Hair thins as we age. Have your stylist cut it in layers, especially around the crown, for added lift. At home, spritz on a volumizer, followed by a quick, upside-down blow dry on low heat.
Living Proof Full Dry Volume Blast, $21; sephora.com
This award-winning volumizer, formerly endorsed by Jennifer Aniston before
she launched her own line, takes lank locks from flat to wow.
Pantene Pro-V Volume Body Boosting Mousse, $7; Shoppers Drug Mart
Often dismissed as a ’90s throwback, mousse coats the hair shaft and adds volume. Skip the conditioner and comb mousse through towel-dried hair.
The rougher texture of grey hair reflects less light. Boost softness and shine with a supple serum.
Number 4 Lumiere d’hiver Fluoro5 Elixer Restore Repair Oil, $32; number4hair.com
Applied to wet or dry hair, this lightweight, shine-enhancing serum is 100 per cent vegan, non-greasy and offers protection from UV rays and humidity.
Pantene Hydrating Glow with Baobab Essence Thirsty Ends Milk to Water Hair Serum, $10; Shoppers Drug Mart
This baobab-infused serum has vitamins and botanicals, but no parabens, sulfates or mineral oil, so it smooths and adds gloss without weighing down tresses.
Silver Lining Purple Butter Masque, US$35; better-notyounger.com
Packed with vitamins, folic acid, mango, macadamia and avocado, this mask softens and conditions while eliminating yellow tones.
Klorane Mango Butter Mask, $13; Shoppers Drug Mart
Excellent for sensitive scalps, this intense treatment detangles, smooths and nourishes dry hair without residue. The longer you leave it in, the better.
A version of this article first appeared in the Dec/Jan 2021/2022 issue with the headline, “Grey Pride,” p. 66.