Grey suits dominate the City – but not grey hair

WHEN Kate Moss appeared with grey locks last week, all hell – rather predictably – broke loose in fashion circles. Is the eternally gamine Moss ageing at last? But no, wily old Kate, who is approaching 40 (heaven forfend) had gone grey on purpose. And pundits observed that it exemplified with the icy look that catwalks are favouring.

And since Kate’s done it, it must be cool. But the “grey or not to grey” debate is a little more fraught than a simple matter of fashion. For women especially it is a symbol of age, and to allow grey hair in is to throw your hands up in the air and say: “Yes, I am ageing, the ravages of time are taking their toll”. On the other hand, unlike weight gain and wrinkles, grey hair in and of itself is not necessarily aesthetically displeasing. In terms of instant indicators of decrepitude in our society, bulging bellies, thick ankles and haggard facial contours are probably far more important.

More poignantly, there’s a major gender injustice with grey hair. Snowy haired men are considered silver foxes, with added sex appeal, while the same cannot be said for women, even remotely (grey-hair fetishists may disagree). George Clooney is a classic pin-up, while Helen Mirren, with her hints of silver, is more admirable than desirable.

This is unlikely to change soon – hell will probably freeze over before signs of ageing become celebrated in a society whose sexual tastes revolve so much around female youth. On the other hand, there’s a look of distinction and grandeur to be had with grey locks – think Judi Dench, Meryl Streep (in the Devil Wears Prada), Vanessa Redgrave, and shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May (well, maybe). In the City, Marjorie Scardino, CEO of Pearson and ex-Bupa head Val Gooding both add authority to their appearance with hints of silver.

Avoid salt and pepper

But in celebrating the passage of time by allowing the locks to grey, could your perception in the office suffer? Sara Hollamby, a City image consultant, says that while white hair can look good if well maintained, grey verges on the eccentric. “What you want to avoid is the salt and pepper look,” she says. “Not only is that very ageing, but it can make you look unkempt – as though you just haven’t bothered. Not a good thing for the office at all.” If you want to go grey, Hollamby strongly recommends a gradual, controlled transition. “Get a hairdresser to put in highlights so that it’s a slower process,” she says. “You’ll avoid that awful salt and pepper stage that way.”

Must women forever dye their hair? “No, there comes a time when you can go with it,” says Hollamby. “But wait for a time when it’s all white.” Evidently, different rules apply to supermodels than to ordinary mortal working women.

And of course, Hollamby reminds us that one woman’s eccentric is another’s fashion statement. Take a good long look at yourself and if you think you can rock the silver look, you probably can. Confidence is everything, after all.