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How Not To Look “Old” with Gray Hair

Inside: How to wear gray hair without looking “old” or older than your age.

As a gray hair blogger, the number one fear women confide in me is that they’ll look old with gray hair.

But what does “old” really mean?  It’s so subjective

After all, the women asking me this question range in age from their early 20s up through their mid-80s.  I’m sure “old” means something different to each of them.

Yet it’s really not a surprising question.

WHY DO PEOPLE ASSOCIATE GRAY HAIR WITH OLD AGE?

Hair dye has been around for a long time.

But 65+ years ago, when at-home coloring kits became readily available, women started dyeing their hair in droves

image of a pinterest pin

Advertisers pounded it into female consumers that gray hair was drab and frumpy, and it got to the point where so many women dyed their hair (up to 75% of the female population in some countries), that only the very elderly let their hair go naturally silver.

And since only the very elderly were wearing gray hair, it makes sense that people might confuse gray hair with a marker of advanced age as opposed to simply another shade of hair color.

Yet we know it’s not true – many of us (myself included) started graying in our teens.  Many of us were fully gray in our 20s or 30s.  

IS THE TIDE TURNING?

With the advent of the Silver Revolution, it seems that we are moving past the idea that gray hair is solely the province of the elderly.  

Women of all ages, including celebrities, are rocking their gray hair freely in a way that hasn’t been seen in decades (if ever).

Many of us who have embraced our gray hair have found that doing so has also helped us move past other fears surrounding aging. 

Gray hair became a launching pad to help us STOP trying to recapture our youth, or who we used to be, and enjoy who we are now.

Despite all this progress, I still get asked over and over again: “How do I wear gray hair without looking old?”

image of woman with gray hair

A SILVER SISTER SURVEY

I was curious why looking old seemed to be the number one concern among women regarding gray hair, so I surveyed my blog readers and members of the silver hair online communities to find out why.

Out of 294 women surveyed, 67% of them feared looking old when they first thought about going gray:

image of graph about fear of look old with gray hair
© Katie Goes Platinum

GET THE PDF

This post is a long, detailed read. If you prefer, you can purchase the PDF version for only $5.  It contains the full article (including pictures) and you can print it out and refer to it any time you like. (Click on the book below to purchase)

I would love to give it to you for free, but it costs money to maintain a blog. I would love your support so I can continue to help our silver hair community.

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WHAT DOES “OLD” MEAN?

Since, as we know, old is a subjective term, I asked them to define what they meant by “old.”

Here are their responses in order of popularity:

  • older than one’s age
  • frumpy 
  • dowdy 
  • unstylish

Others defined looking old as:

  • looking “unsexy”
  • “not “cool or fun”
  • ”not looking like “me” anymore.”
  • “looking like you let yourself go” 
  • looking like someone with “diminished vitality”
  • looking “past it” or “past my best”

Aunt Bea and Granny Clampett (two fictional characters) were mentioned in passing as representing the epitome of “old.”

COMMON CONCERNS

One of the most common reasons women worried they’d look older with gray hair was because it might hurt their chances of employment or mean they were “unsuitable for promotion at work.”

Women who were frequently mistaken for younger were especially vulnerable to worrying about this: 

  • “I’ve always looked somewhat younger than my age, so I worried I would actually look my age.”
  • “I’d always looked much younger than my age.  I’m an actor and was worried that I’d lose roles and just wind up doing ads for Ancestry and Lipitor.”  

Fear of becoming “invisible” was also a concern:  “Overlooked, irrelevant, invisible…”

I came to tears reading these responses, even though I wasn’t surprised by the findings.   

Our culture(s) value youth and attractiveness so much that there’s a huge stigma to looking your age or older than your age.  

READJUSTING YOUR CONCEPT OF AGE

When I was still dyeing, I didn’t think I was the type of person who cared much about what other people thought of my looks.  As long as I was happy in my own skin, I was OK. 

I considered myself fairly self-confident.

But every time I thought about going grey, I hesitated.  I found, to my chagrin,  that I DID worry about looking older than my age (or even…my actual age!) 

I didn’t like that feeling, but I tamped it down and continued to dye my hair without much self-reflection.

Once I finally made the decision to stop dyeing, I felt so incredibly FREE that it forced me to do a lot of soul-searching.  

That’s when I realized that the fear of looking old had really been weighing me down.  Tossing off the weight of society’s expectations about what I can or should do took years off me!

And I’m not the only one.  

As noted above, the majority of my social media followers and blog readers agree that they had this type of epiphany once they went gray. 

It held true in the survey, too:

image from survey about looking older with gray hair
© Katie Goes Platinum

Survey Comments:

“I defined “old” as being someone who gave up on themselves such as letting the white hairs show. Going back to my natural hair color which is now salt and pepper is the best decision I ever made for myself. I didn’t let myself go. Everyone sees the real me now.”

Anonymous Survey Response

“Looking old” is subjective. I rock my natural hair now and don’t worry about what others think. If they think I look old, then so be it, I don’t care, I can’t control their opinion. I’m happy with myself!”

Anonymous Survey Response

I feared… “that I would not be perceived as professional at work. But it’s been fine & I have noticed more women embrace their natural color. A great attitude and continuing to do a great job is what they notice more!!”

Anonymous Survey Response

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that making the decision to let one’s hair go gray is often the main catalyst that helps us stop fearing looking “old?” 

Once we get over that fear, we can stop trying to recapture our 20-year old self, and start enjoying our “new” self.  It’s such a relief!

NOT QUITE THERE YET?

But maybe you’re not there yet.  And that’s OK.  

I could tell you all the rah-rah stuff about embracing your age, and enjoying the “you” that you are now.  And I would tell you this with the utmost sincerity, because I believe it.

But what if I told you all this, and you still felt worried about looking older as you gray?

I want you to have FUN as a silver sister, and you won’t have a good time if you feel “blah” about your appearance. 

So, as promised, here are some tips to help you look and feel fantastic in your gray hair no matter your age.

Please note that this article may contain affiliate links.  You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.

HOW TO WEAR GRAY HAIR WITHOUT LOOKING “OLD”

#1 Wear your Silver Hair with Confidence  

image of self-confident woman with gray hair and yellow scarf

Flaunt your gray hair.  Own it.  Remember that women pay hundreds of dollars at the salon for the hair color that you get naturally.  

And if you don’t feel that confident yet in your appearance with gray hair, you can fake it till you make it.   

Look in the mirror in the morning and say, “I ROCK these silvers!” and eventually you’ll believe it!

Whatever you do, do NOT ask your friends for advice on whether or not you should go gray.  Or apologize for going gray.  

When you do these things, you’re opening the door for negative feedback. And that can destroy your confidence.

Remember: Mother Nature truly is the best hair colorist out there.  

Look at all the gray-haired women around you – notice the beautiful patterns in their hair and note how different it is from the flat effect one gets from boxed hair dyes.  It’s glorious!

Need a little inspiration?

Read Before & After Gray Hair to see a ton of photos of women of women before and after they went gray. I think you’ll agree that gray hair does not automatically make them look “old.”

Subscribe to Tangled Silver Magazine – it’s a fantastic magazine devoted to silver hair, and the print edition is velvety soft and coffee-table worthy.  Seeing pictures of your fellow silver sisters (of all ages) flaunting gray hair will inspire you and increase your confidence tenfold!

image of tangled silver magazine cover
Use code KGP10 for 10% off

#2 Get a Great Haircut 

Remember: Gray hair is just another shade of hair color, so you don’t have to adhere to a specific style or length once you go gray (or once you are over a certain age).

When women tell me they are afraid of looking older with gray hair, they often reference the haircuts and hairstyles of their female relatives from earlier generations.

But many of those relatives grew up in a time when women of a certain age were expected to cut their hair short.   And the short hairstyles they chose were not the fashionable ones we love today, but ones that are considered dowdy by modern standards.

Today, the sky’s the limit! 

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to go short if you don’t want to.   Long silver hair is also glorious to behold!  

And short hair can be super-stylish:

The main thing you need to do is find a supportive stylist.  You’ll never rock your gray hair if the person cutting your hair is constantly pushing you to color, or making you feel bad about your decision to go gray.

Once you find a supportive stylist, get regular trims to keep your hair split-end free, and enjoy your gorgeous silver hair!

#3 Keep Your Hair Healthy

image of gray hair woman doing yoga

If your gray hair is healthy, it will enhance your youthful appearance.

To keep your gray hair healthy, try to avoid over-using heat tools and styling products, as these can lead to unwanted yellow tones in your gray hair.  

If you do use heat tools, put them on the lowest setting and use a good thermal protectant.  

If your gray hair yellows, you can try purple shampoo or a purple mask.  But it’s a good idea to limit your use of purple products to once a week as they can be very drying. 

Following up with a deep conditioner can help.

Check out my current gray hair routine for tips on how to take care of your gray hair, and take a peek at this incredibly helpful list of products to avoid.

#4 Try Fun & Modern Braids & Buns

The days of gray-haired ladies being consigned to wearing dowdy hairstyles are over.  There are a TON of cool hairdos out there!

Check out @silvergirlmx on Instagram.  She is a master of braids & buns and other fun styles, and she provides plenty of tutorials to help you master them as well:

If your hair is short or medium-length, you still have plenty of options. Try some of these cute hairstyles to jazz up your look:

#5 Wear Complementary Clothing Colors 

image of colorful clothing rolled up in bundles

If you’re happy with your current clothing colors, there’s no need to make a change. 

But if you feel like your wardrobe could use a little OOMPH, consider trying colors that complement silver hair and make it pop! 

Some of the most popular colors to wear with silver hair are: red, gray, black, white, and deep jewel tones like sapphire blue or emerald green.

However, the number one factor determining which colors will look best with your gray hair is your skin’s undertone.  

Check out the post below for more info on how to determine your undertones and the best colors for you:

Read: What Colors Look Best with Gray Hair

#6 Wear Fashionable Clothing

Having gray hair and/or being over a certain age doesn’t mean you can’t dress stylishly.  

Some of the most stylish women I know are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s – they put me (in my yoga pants/hoodies) completely to shame!

Have some fun with your clothes – and forget about all those “What Not to Wear If You’re Over 40”-type articles.  Whatever makes you feel fantastic, fits your body, and reveals your personality is fashionable (IMHO).

I’m not a fan of “fast fashion” as it’s terrible for the environment, so here are some stores that are fantastic for women over of all ages:

Are these stores a little pricey? Yes, but the clothes at these stores are well-made, will last for years, and often offer vivid colors that will really show off your silver hair!  

And you can always shop the sales (that’s what I do).  

A great alternative is Thred Up for high quality used clothing at affordable prices. It’s an online consignment shop with a great selection of clothes in a wide range of colors.

#7 Jazz Up Your Makeup Routine

image of makeup brushes and eyeshadow

A lot of us (especially the very pale ones) assume that we will have to wear a LOT of makeup once we go gray or we’ll fade into the woodwork.

But for many of us the opposite is true because silver hair gives a nice glow to the skin that is super-flattering.

More makeup or less makeup is something that you’ll have to decide for yourself – it just requires a little experimentation.  

And as long as you’re experimenting, how about trying out red lipstick? It’s a shade that intimidates a lot of women, but boy, does red lipstick look fantastic with gray hair!

For tips, check out this guest post by Asa Suriano: The Best Makeup Colors & Application Tips for Gray Hair.

#8 Take Care Of Your Eyebrows

Whether it’s due to overplucking or just the natural aging process, a lot of us find ourselves with sparse eyebrows as we get older. 

Thicker, fuller brows can create a more youthful look and provide a beautiful frame for your face. They also create a more relaxed appearance, where thinner eyebrows can give you a more severe look.

Once you determine what color eyebrow works best with your gray hair, try filling in your eyebrows with pencils or powders in the right shade for you.

My favorites are made by Eye Embrace, one of the only eyebrow brands that makes eyebrow pencils in gray shades (in both cool AND warm tones).  I love them, and they’re super affordable!

image of eye embrace makeup
Use code KGPBROWS for 5% off

# 9 Have Fun with Bold Accessories

image of colorful purses, shoes, hats

Bold accessories can enhance your outfit and set off your silver hair to a fantastic degree!

Consider adding some of these accessories in bold colors:

image of woman with gray hair

#10 Take Care of Your Skin

image of woman with gray hair adding moisturizer to her face

Healthy skin is one of the top ways to retain your youthful appearance while wearing gray hair (or any color hair, for that matter).

To keep your skin healthy:

FINAL THOUGHTS

I hope this post has helped you see that many of us have these fears about going gray, but it’s possible to overcome them, not only emotionally (making the leap past being concerned about looking old) but also physically (by taking care of our appearance).

Now, one final thing:

This is an emotional tip, not a practical one.

Accept the fact that despite all your best efforts, there are still going to be clods out there who will assume you are your children’s grandmother or your best friend’s mother (or worse, your husband’s mother).

Remember: These people aren’t looking at your face or your body when they say these things.  

They saw your gray hair and made assumptions.  (It’s going to take a while to get our culture over the notion that gray hair = old).

When this happens you pretty much have two choices:

  1. Take a deep breath, remember it has nothing to do with you, and forget about it.  If possible, laugh it off.
  2. If that doesn’t work, whack them with your umbrella.

I lean towards #2, but that’s just me 😉

Further Reading:

If you want to read some interesting research about gray hair, check out Anne Kreamer’s book.  She did a number of studies on the way people perceive gray hair and the results are pretty fascinating.

GET THE PDF

This post is a long, detailed read. If you prefer, you can purchase the PDF version for only $5.  It contains the full article (including pictures) and you can print it out and refer to it any time you like. (Click on the book below to purchase)

image of spiral bound book with woman on cover

Please do me a favor and share this post to social media, as it helps me grow my audience and spread the word about our Silver Revolution!  And remember to subscribe to my YouTube Channel and Pinterest Feed for more gray hair tips and product recommendations. Thanks!

Check out my Amazon Shop for all your gray hair needs!

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9 Comments

  1. I know my hair looks healthier and compliments my skin tone. However, it has been a big change for me. My hairdresser even said “why would you want to color such beautiful hair” to make me feel comfortable. I seriously doubt I will ever color my hair again. I feel authentic with my gray hair.

  2. Susan Rioux says:

    Thanks for the great article. I have ditched the dye January 2021. Silver Revolution has been a wonderful support. I have had temptation to use color because of the demarcation & multi color scheme I abhorred but I have held the course. Thank you for your inspiration.

  3. I am one who consistently colored due to fears of ageism and trying to maintain a foothold in the corporate world. After I was laid-off from my last corporate job and finally landed at a reputable nonprofit instead, I decided it was time to “transition to my natural color.” I use that phrase deliberately because (a.) I am trying to de-emphasize the “gray” part of the process, and (b.) I actually have a LOT more dark hair than I realized! I’m 11 months in, with the “calico” look of transitional hair, and I find myself more OK with this than I ever thought I would be. Hang in there, Silver Sisters!

  4. thanks for a great article! i would add a 3rd choice to the ‘clods’…”challenge their thinking about gray hair, why should that represent ‘old’ to them?” and actually looking at children’s books, all grandparents have white hair while parents have different colors, so we really need new illustrators!!

  5. Amy Riedel says:

    You are spot on! I had several friends who said that I shouldn’t do it, but came back with you look great, but it’s not for me! Also, I did get more confidence once I embraced it and owned it.

  6. Crystal T says:

    Thank you for this article. As someone just starting to transition, this gives me so much hope!

    1. You’re welcome! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

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