The silver lining of quarantine may be the silver lining itself. The silver strands (and hues of gray and white) have been growing, literally, as we continue to socially distance and adapt our hair and beauty routines accordingly. As some women weren’t able to make their regular coloring appointments, they accepted their hair’s natural state and joined a growing, unofficial sorority — that of the silver-haired sisters.
In an age of living masked up and dressed down, many women of all ages are embracing their gray hair. Though some may have started the trend unwillingly at first — as professional coloring wasn’t an option during the early days of the pandemic — they’ve continued to grow out their grays as a form of self-acceptance and bucking beauty industry standards. Thus, “grombre” — blending gray into your dyed hue — was born.
Nashville artist and graphic designer Becca Wildsmith (38) is a loud and proud silver sister. She noticed her first gray hair at age 14 and started dyeing her hair soon after. “I thought something was wrong with me,” says Becca. “I was way too young to be gray!” But after 20-plus years of dyeing, and with the help from Tennessee’s “Safer at Home” order, she realized it was the perfect time to do her own personal experiment and forgo the hair color. Becca started posting her hair transformation on her Instagram account, @shegotawildhair, with the hashtag #ditchthedye.
“I didn’t want to spend another minute, or dollar, on trying to cover up something that was normal and 100 percent me!” Becca says. “I feel more like myself than I ever have before and getting to document the journey [with @shegotawildhair] and build community with women from all over the world, who have made a similar decision, has made me feel less alone in my decision.”
Social media offers silver sisters a centralized, virtual meeting place to celebrate their dye-free existence, offer tips about healthy hair maintenance, share their before-and-after photos and serve as a support network when someone wants to hit the (color) bottle. Many of these women started individual social media accounts at the start of quarantine with the sole purpose of chronicling their journey to self-acceptance and growing out their gray. As these accounts continue to grow, gray-hair aggregators, like @grombre, with its almost quarter-million followers, have come along to collect these stories in one centralized place as “a radical celebration of the natural phenomenon of gray hair.”
Becca says she continues to post about her hair journey, as she herself was inspired by the “strong, silver-haired beauties” who came before her. “My hope is to pay it forward and be a source of encouragement for others and to help normalize gray hair,” she says. “I’m hopeful that one day, gray hair will be so ‘normal,’ it becomes just another hair color.”
Kelly O’Doherty, a nurse who lives outside Raleigh, North Carolina, is another grombre gal who has gained an impressive amount of followers on her Instagram account, @kelly.o.doherty, for her honest, regular postings about her hair journey. She has chronicled her bye to dye since she began in February 2019, not only as a way to see how far she’s come but to inspire others, including her own inner circle. “My husband has been 100 percent supportive since the beginning,” says Kelly. “Other friends and coworkers have actually stopped coloring themselves. I find that I get the most support from total strangers — I get a lot of ‘Oh, I love your hair!’ and ‘I’d love to stop dyeing, but my hair would never look as good.’ Those are the same things that I used to say to strangers!”Whether you call it grombre, salt and pepper hair or snowy manes, these light locks require care and maintenance, just like any other hue. Though some stylists may try to persuade silver sisters to return to their colored roots, the helpful ones will also listen to their clients’ wants and guide them in the right direction when tending to new needs and issues that affect gray hair, including complementary makeup and clothing hues.
Gray, silver and white are all different colors, and stylists focus on weaving the variety together in a cohesive, stylized look. Since gray hair can sometimes look dull and unruly, hair experts can help add a glossy, flatter finish as a way to camouflage varying hues during the grow-out period.
Debbie Head, a stylist of over 30 years, works at Inch by Inch Salon in Louisville, Kentucky, and says clients see themselves differently than before the pandemic — where it’s okay to “just be you.” Some may not be able (or want) to color every four weeks or prefer a regular manicure over acrylic nails because it requires less maintenance. But women still want to look and feel their best.
“Everyone thinks gray is gray, but then they realize when their roots grow out that there are many different shades,” says Debbie. She says silver sisters should use a blue (for brunettes) or violet (for blondes) shampoo and/or a brightening conditioner, which prevents locks from turning a brassy, yellow hue and enhances sheen. Hot tools can also yellow, break, dry out and even singe white hair (actually, any color hair), so she recommends heat-protective products like Aveda’s Damage Remedy Daily Hair Repair. Since gray hair may look dry, Debbie also recommends using curly hair products made with high-end moisturizing ingredients.
Another woman in the process of growing out her gray is 58-year-old Kim Klumok of Atlanta. After going gray in her 30s, she had been coloring her hair for years, though secretly seeking the courage to ditch the dye — then COVID struck. She says the pandemic may not have entirely shifted our beauty standards but has “loosened them dramatically, as it’s impossible to keep up with the maintenance.” The only word Kim uses to describe her decision to accept her natural color is “freedom.”
And if taking the advice of thousands of silver sisters isn’t enough, there are also books about how to follow the gray brick road, like Silver Hair: A Handbook. The inspiring guide, written by hair expert Lorraine Massey, a silver sister herself, walks newbies through the process, like avoiding the dreaded skunk line and tapping into inner authenticity.
Whether grombre becomes an actual beauty movement or just a movement in self-acceptance, there’s no wrong way to be happy with the person looking back at you in the mirror. “Hair has been referred to as a woman’s ‘crowning glory,’” says Becca. “Without anyone ever telling us, we inherently view hair as a symbol of health, vitality and desirability … I think the ‘ditch the dye’ movement, which has grown exponentially since the start of the pandemic, has really begun to open our eyes to the standards and expectations that have been created for us and given us a real, tangible opportunity to challenge those standards by showing another way.”
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