Stafford Hair

50 shades of grey – but which one are you?

Dear Paul and Leisa I am going grey and I am thinking about stopping bleaching my hair but I am worried about how it might look. Have you any advice?

Paul says:
A few years back, the cool kids started to emerge from their bedsits, lofts, clubs and studios with gunmetal-coloured hair — a steely grey and metallic shade. But nevertheless, this was undoubtedly grey hair — not white or silver or even that almost nicotine-flavoured yellowish grey that Irish grandmothers used to have. It was hardcore grey, end of.

And the fashion press and social media lapped it up, announcing ‘grey is the new black’ and ‘fade to grey’ and ‘Granny Glam’ (Ok, I made the last one up but you get the idea). The craze has been a lasting one as season after season new variations on the grey matter appeared everywhere from fashion shoots to celebrity catwalks.

This culminated with the iconic supermodel Kristen McMenamy, formerly a famous redhead, appearing on the cover of Vogue, sporting stunning waist-length two-tone locks of natural-looking silver grey and teal green. Every ancient taboo of ‘age-appropriate’ hair was broken forever.

Meanwhile, hair companies, salons, colourists and technicians were busy concocting tints and toners to satisfy the hunger for grey. We had metallics, pastels and blondes — with rose gold being the breakaway hit.

But suddenly we realised that in the desperation to find the newest tone, shade or variation — the blatantly obvious was staring us in the face — that many women (and men) were in actual fact in possession of this most desirable of fashion accessories — their own gorgeous grey shades.

So it goes that the decision to walk away from the bleach is becoming more popular. Grey hair is no longer regarded as ‘ageing’ or ‘lazy’; it’s a positive step towards eradicating traditional female stereotypes but also proves that our hair in its various stages of life can be celebrated for its uniqueness, much like every other aspect of our physical and mental persona.

The convenience of not having to colour your hair has to be a great attraction but that shouldn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the gift of great grey, white, silver and salt and pepper shades and this is where the colourists and cutters really come into their own.

As the world woke up post-lockdown, many pandemic-weary clients anxiously made their way back to their regular salon, overgrown and be-rooted desperate to be reinvented by their dedicated stylists. Suddenly a whole new world of opportunities were presented — first of all what to do with all this hair but also how to use this freshly arrived strange new colour lurking beneath what was left of the attempted home dye jobs.

This new natural colour could and would become the catalyst for change with many women, especially those who were grey or white. The choice not to go back to a cover-all procedure and to embrace the brave new world in an exciting, more sympathetic approach was too much of a challenge for us stylists to resist.

New haircuts were planned to accommodate the transformation, and pictures of celebrities with grey hair were shown on phones and tablets — Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Jamie Lee Curtis and for the braver greybies the aforementioned Kristen McMenamy (inset right), Tilda Swinton, Glenn Close and Andi McDowell.

The sheer variations of styles, textures and lengths would be the guide to women who saw lockdown as the path to a new relationship with their hair. And as their creative partners we found ways to help them through the early and difficult stages — coaching them emotionally as well as technically to a hair nirvana they never realised existed.

And in doing so we were able to dispel the myths of the ‘traditional process’ — that the only way to grow colour out was to either brutally cut it or strip it — neither a particularly attractive option. Almost two years later, the grey hair phenomenon is alive and well. I have new clients every week seeking advice on how to make the transition to natural colour and wanting to know about the new styling options that complement the radical change.

This is where it’s delicate — your hair may simply not be ready for the grey days yet. If the percentage of white is not significant to see real change or the texture means your hair is not going to have the qualities to make it look or feel better and even manageable, then it’s possible your time hasn’t come yet. Also, some white hair types require regular glossing or toning to keep them clean — white hair picks up staining from heated tools, products and even nicotine or grease in the atmosphere, so regular salon visits for cleansing are vital to ensure colour purity. Of course, silver shampoos are effective but also incredibly unpredictable if left on too long — cool if you have a foxy 1920s bob but if you have naturally curly hair you may be sailing a little too close to Dame Edna Everage or Mrs Slocombe.

It might not always be the easiest option and it can be a difficult decision, but taking the plunge to explore your natural colour could be the most liberating thing you will ever do with your hair. Going grey doesn’t need to mean that you’re fading away, indeed it’s the opposite.

Leisa Stafford’s tips to going, maintaining and staying grey for good

  1. Get the right shampoo. My go-to is Olaplex No 4P violet shampoo (€23.60 for hair nourishment, smoothing and of course keeping that white hair translucent without looking like you’ve had a blue rinse.
  2. Don’t use the yellow oils or products — instead use clear oils like Alfarparf Christalli Disetta, a clear oil for smoothing and shine or light grey or white pastes and creams. A favourite of mine is Alfaparf Milano Defining Wax or Afaparf Spray Wax for light hold and sheen.
  3. Get your stylist to add violet pigment to your favourite shampoo to keep yellow tones at bay, but don’t rule out delicate pastel tones that are temporary and fun.
  4. Consider the changing process sooner rather than later. A great colourist can start a subtle breaking down of the artificial colour in a kind, non-invasive way to ensure comfort and subtly.
  5. Before you embark on the colour journey have a clear idea of the end result – don’t hold off on the ideal haircut until you have the ideal colour.
  6. If you are a blonde and want to stay blonde but have grey hair, a great colourist can tone and blend the natural colour to enhance the blonde shades in a complimentary way. These techniques can be quick and simple but need to be handled by an experienced technician.
  7. Have realistic expectations. Black to white is possible but rarely successful.
  8. Your new hair colour will impact on your entire image — makeup, lipstick, glasses and even jewellery. And that’s the fun part so experiment with what might suit you now.
  9. Prepare for compliments. Your hair will attract great interest and admiration.
  10. When you are bored mix it up. Grey hair is a great base for toners and temporary colours; add a flash of depth now and again to show off a great feature of your cut or go for a little pastel shade.

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