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My Old Hair

[Note: This post, in a slightly different form, appeared previously in my other blog, “Tightly Wrapped.” Since this blog has basically turned into that blog, I am in the process of moving everything worth saving over here. I apologize if you’ve seen this before; in response to an impassioned comment from my friend Claudia on the original posting, I am not, as of now, a white-haired crone and I do not have a stylish geriatric “do”].

For women of a certain age, hair becomes an issue. When I was a child, my hair was cut into a blunt bob until I was old enough to beg for long hair. Despite my ineffectual use of a brush, it was a look that worked for me in elementary school. In high school, I affected the same Farrah Fawcett wings of hair worn by every other girl in my school, and during my years as a young professional woman I had a “Rachel.” In between, I flirted with layers, grew out layers, straightened, permed, highlighted, and bleached. At one point during college I had a somewhat bizarre asymmetrical cut, and a failed blonde-ing which resulted in hair the same color as an apricot.

To my surprise, my hair is now getting old. It is turning not gray, but actually white, and this alien old lady hair is growing in at both temples and along my part. A Hair Care Professional has informed me that I have a number of options, including highlights to blend the gray, or all-over permanent color to cover the gray. (White hair, for some mysterious reason, is always referred to as “gray” in this context). Both of these choices involve large sums of money, standing appointments for maintenance, special color-preserving shampoos, and large-denomination Pottery Barn gift certificates at Christmas for all stylists, colorists and wandering hand massagers. They also involve the cycle of colored hair characterized by three days of too much color, two weeks of great color, and four weeks during which the color fades daily until it looks wrung out and drab. This last stage is, of course, followed by the shock of newly applied color, which makes one’s hair appear to be seven shades darker or two shades blonder than it was only hours earlier.

I liked the idea of hair color when it was optional, but I bitterly resent the notion that I “should” color it to obscure signs of advancing age. I admire women with beautiful gray or white hair, like Heloise or the model in the J.Jill catalogs whose beautiful, young faces contrast stunningly with their, long silver hair. The problem is that my hair isn’t silver, it is reddish brown with white bits at the temples and near the part. It looks very much like a bathtub with hideous rust stains. Currently, I color it with temporary color that washes out in twenty-four shampoos (or, more accurately, it washes out in about fourteen shampoos and I get around to re-doing it at twenty-four), and leaves big dark stains on my pink bath towels. Every twenty-four shampoos I reevaluate whether I should let it go white, have it professionally colored, or go another twenty-four and see if I have a hair-related epiphany. So far, I have gotten as far as making and canceling two appointments at the salon, and buying one more box of temporary color.

Coupled with the issue of color, is one of length and style. My mother, a former Wellesley girl, has a number of rules regarding a woman’s appearance. Prohibitions include tattoos and piercings of any kind, “vulgar” amounts of gold jewelry, and long hair on women “of a certain age.” (When she really gets on my nerves, I remind her that in her day, Wellesley girls rolled hoops once a year). I believe myself to have passed that age about two years ago, but I cannot bring myself to get either the short, wash-and-wear “old lady” cut or, the longer and slightly fluffier variation, the “fat lady” cut. I am also avoiding the “suburban mommy cut,” which generally involves long layers that can be tucked behind the ears. I have had this cut in the past, and it actually looks pretty good, but makes me feel vaguely Stepford. Add beige highlights and a pair of khaki Capri pants and I’m interchangeable with every mom at the grocery store.

At the moment, my hair is growing past my shoulders, an awkward amalgam of ancient layers, split ends and seasonal frizz and curl. Last summer I let it get grayer and grayer, and allowed it to curls as it saw fit. Right now it is long,  pretty much reddish brown, and straight. One day, I may see a magazine picture, or have a conversation, or see someone on the street, and be seized by the sudden, desperate need for a haircut and highlights. In the alternative, I may wake up one morning at peace with the decision to be permanently finished with coloring and “styling.” For now, I am looking a little suburban, a little Lady Godiva (although always fully dressed in public), and a bit confused.


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

9 responses »

  1. I look forward to the day when I can quit getting highlights to lighten my “dirty blond” or “mousey brown” hair…I really do look forward to having some gray or white in the mix. Honestly. I’ll save a lot of money!

    My mother used to claim that she got “reverse streaking” done because it made my father feel younger. Recently (now that Dad’s been gone for a year and a half now), she claimed that “a different hair dresser than (her) usual one”…”*misunderstood*” what she wanted (thus, *completely* darkened it)!

    (I think I’ve started to figure this business out…)

    • So you really don’t have any gray yet? That is SO unfair. I actually sat behind Jenny Hatton (do you remember her?) at a concert the other night, and admired her hair which is long and wavy and auburn-turning-gray. If mine looked that good, I’d stop dyeing it in a second.

      Your mom’s hair looked very cool – very artistic. Interesting, that misunderstanding with the hairdresser….:)

  2. Now days with the ageing process catching up to individuals faster than the normal rate it is not surprising to find individuals both men and women opting for hair color products to help get rid of the grey and white hair peppering their side locks.

    • Do you really think we’re aging faster? It’s possible, I guess, but I was just talking to my mom the other day about the fact that she had no gray at my age. Maybe I got the bad genes.

  3. In all my years (many), my hair has always been my nemesis. We have a love-hate relationship. Some days we work well together and others, not! After years of trying to do my own color, I finally decided to go professional and it’s the best thing I could have done for myself in the hair department. It took awhile to work through the red tones coming through and the correct amount of this-and-that color combination, but we got there. My hair becoming salt-and-pepper helped too. We finally, now, touch-up the roots every six weeks and it turns out looking highlighted. It’s worth it! You’re not alone with the frustrating hair experience thing. I have to believe that most women understand.

    • Funny you should say that, because the very first thing I thought when I met you was that you had beautiful hair. I was right, too. 🙂

      The red is a big issue; my “original” hair was chestnut with a lot of red in it, and when I try to restore it to that color it looks kind of fake-y red to me. I think it may be time to turn this mess over to a professional, but when I used to do that it was $100.00 every 6 weeks. Yikes?

  4. Thanks for the compliment. My hairdresser (Michele) is very reasonable cost-wise. I especially love how she does my color and, after all these years, we’ve also become friends. I’d have a real tough time spending $100 every six weeks, too. Right now I spend about $65 (that includes tip). It’s one of the few luxuries I allow myself. Unfortunately, my wonderful hairdresser is having health problems (I’m worried for her)and for the first time in a long time someone else will be doing my hair (tomorrow). Michele referred me to this person along with the color solution she uses. Will be happy to pass along the results and contact information. Anytime. And, I totally understand about how difficult the red tones are to tamp down. I love red hair, but could never be a redhead — wrong coloring. Never knew I had red tones in my hair until I started coloring it many years ago. They’re tough to tame.

    • I hope all goes well for Michelle, too. I would love to have info on where you go…I have to be able to come up with $55 bucks every six or seven weeks (that’s $65 minus the $10.00 box of Clairol). Right?

  5. Rationalization: Not splurging daily on $4 lattes; like the dollar menu if I need a quick bite to eat when I’m out (unless I’m having lunch with a friend); don’t get my nails done; only buy clothes off the sales rack (unless it’s a really really important occasion — like my daughter’s wedding); try to be economical at the grocery store; always take advantage of store discount coupons; turn out lights when I’m not in the room; put a sweater on instead of cranking up the heat when cold; don’t have to pay daycare anymore; etc. Figure I save in six weeks what the hairdresser costs. In the end . . . what the hell! I’m/you’re worth it! I’ll get the number to you after I see what happens tomorrow with the new girl. Wanna make sure we’re all set in that area.


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