Old Gray Hair Ain’t What it Used to Be

Russell Frank
By Russell Frank June 15, 2016 19:45

Russell Frank

A friend of mine thinks I should dye my hair. She dyes hers. It would make me look younger, she says.

I have two responses:

1) Why is looking younger a good thing? What’s wrong with looking your age? Don’t tell my friend I said this, but I don’t think her dye job makes her look younger; it just makes her look like an older woman who dyes her hair.

2) I don’t care what color my hair is as long as I still have some.

The second response somewhat contradicts the first. Why do I care whether I’m going bald unless I’m bothered by the thought that losing my hair makes me look old?

I now have a third response, thanks to the Style section of The New York Times: Like the fog that funnels into San Francisco Bay via the Golden Gate, gray is cool.

As proof, The Times introduced me to some guys I’d never heard of, though apparently I should have. One of them, singer Zayn Malik, has 6.5 million Instagram followers and “a silver mane.”

I uploaded the Instagram app to my phone a year or so ago, probably at the urging of one of my kids, but I haven’t used it and thus have 6.5 million fewer followers than Mr. Malik.

Another groovy guy gone gray is Gus Kenworthy, a freestyle skier who has appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. A third gray eminence is “YouTube personality” Tyler Oakley. Can I call myself a Friends and Neighbors personality?

Malik is 23. Kenworthy is 24. Oakley is 26. These dudes aren’t prematurely gray. They’re dyed gray.

And as you might have guessed if you’re at all familiar with the trend story as a journalistic genre, they’re not alone.

Non-celebs, too, are “appropriating a naturally occurring phenomenon from older men and giving it a twist.” One such person quoted in The Times said he feels “more fun and cooler [and] sexier” since he geezered up.

Fun and cool and sexy is exactly how I have been feeling for the past decade or so. And now that I know what these little pishers are paying for the privilege of looking “prematurely mature,” I feel even funner and cooler and sexier.

Stranger that I am to the world of dye jobs, I would have thought you just splashed a bottle of anti-Grecian Formula onto your brown, blond, black or red locks. Turns out if you want gray done right, it’s a two-stage process that can take eight hours.

First, the hair is stripped of its natural pigment. Don’t ask me how. Then it’s colored. Price range: $350 to $600. Not including upkeep.

One stylist compared the maintenance of the gray look to owning a pet. Does that mean it entails combing out burs and foxtails?

Alternatively, those 20-somethings could do the job themselves (in which case we’d find out if the young dye good). The Times story notes that Amazon has seen a spike in searches for gray hair dye, but my own search mostly turned up products formulated to make the user look younger, not older – products with names like Touch of Gray, Gray Away and Natural Instincts, which actually “fights gray” and makes you “look like yourself again.” Humph, I’d have thought gray fighters don’t want to look like themselves.

Well guess what, whippersnappers? To make my hair a glamorous shade of gray, I do exactly what I told a black woman I did when she stopped me on a New York street 40 years ago. How, she asked, did I come by my giant Afro?

“Same as you,” I said. “I wake up in the morning and there it is.”

Her hand-on-hip response: “You’d better check into your heritage.”

As far as I know, my heritage is Jewish dating back to Noah’s Ark, hence the subtype of the Afro: the Jewfro.

Truth be told, the why and wherefore of my ’fro wasn’t as simple as I made it sound: I had an Afro pick. Similarly, the why and wherefore of my gray hair isn’t as simple as I make it sound: I had bills to pay and bosses to please. Also children. Note to my kids: You were totally worth it!

Those children are now the ages of the gents who, as The Times put it, are “co-opting the hoary coifs of their elders.” Hoary coifs, eh? The word “distinguished,” by the way, never appears in The Times story.

So what’s next for the fashion-forward fella, varicose vein implants? How about ear and nose hair plugs? Crow’s feet stencils? Liver spot decals? Prosthetic wattles? Dummy hearing aids?

Maybe the walking stick will make a comeback as a gentlemanly accessory – you know, like the one Mr. Peanut uses.

And to think that friends gave me a little bottle of beard blackener as a 40th birthday gag gift.

I never used it. I knew that if I waited long enough, gray would have its day in the fashion sun. Gus Kenworthy credits CNN’s Anderson Cooper as his inspiration, but maybe Bernie Sanders’ popularity with young voters has been a factor as well.

Whatever, the trend trackers warn it won’t last long. “It’s just a fad,” one of them told The Times.

So much the better, says I. When the “men of the Instagram era” revert to hating that gray and washing it away, we silver foxes will have the true connoisseurs of the fun, the cool and the sexy all to ourselves.

And you thought senior discounts were the only perks of advancing age.

Former Sonora resident Russell Frank, 61, is an associate professor of communications at Penn State University.

Copyright © 2016 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Russell Frank
By Russell Frank June 15, 2016 19:45
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