Going grey is on trend

Grey hair is losing its association with ageing and is becoming fashionable

When Ms Pearl Chia decided to stop colouring her grey hair and let it grow out, she did not realise that it would attract so much flak.

The 66-year-old retiree faced pressure from friends who thought she should have continued to dye it as they felt white hair made her look older.

But the comments barely ruffled the widowed mother of two.

"I didn't feel angry," says Ms Chia. "But a friend got annoyed at me because I wouldn't listen to her when she told me to colour my hair."

Ms Chia, who noticed her first grey hair when she was 50, decided to grow out her grey hair in 2008 for two reasons: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, she thought, looked good with his salt-and-pepper hair and she also found it troublesome to dye her hair every month. She adds: "I didn't like the smell of the chemicals in the hair dye too."

She is one among a growing number of people - more men than women, according to stylists - who are warming up to their faded follicles.

  • Go white in style

  • Here are several hair-styling and make-up tips to help you pull off the look.

    1 Lighten your brows to match your hair For those who have dark eyebrows and do not like the stark contrast with their white hair, make-up artist Andrea Joan Dom suggests colouring your brows a lighter colour.

    She says: "I would not recommend bleaching your brows, however, as your natural dark roots will show as they grow out. Instead, try filling your brows in with a light ash brown or ash blonde brow product such as a brow pencil or pomade.

    Ms Dom advises avoiding brow products with orange or reddish-brown undertones because the colours will not match white hair, which is more cool-toned.

    She recommends the Micro Brow Pencil ($15) from beauty brand NYX as the pencil tip is fine enough to create natural looking strands of hair and the attached spoolie-brush allows one to comb the product through the brows.

    2 Apply blush and lip colour to avoid looking too washed out White hair can make one's skin look sallow because of its cool tone, so counter this with a healthy dose of colour.

    For women with fair to medium skin tones, Ms Dom recommends light pink or peach shades. Women with tan or darker skin tones can go for coral, salmon or berry-toned lip colours.

    If you find red lipstick too strong, try mixing it with a bit of lip balm for a sheer wash of colour, suggests Ms Dom.

    3 Go for easy-to-maintain hairstyles Strands of white hair tend to be frizzy. To tame them, use hair products such as a leave-in conditioner and hair serum, advises Mr Victor Liu, a leading stylist at hair salon Salon Vim.

    To ensure that your grey or white hair does not turn a brassy yellow, use purple shampoo. As its name suggests, the shampoo is literally purple in colour and will counteract any warm tones in your hair.

    Some purple shampoos to try include the Aveda Blue Malva shampoo ($89 for a one-litre bottle, sold at Cinq Studio, 03-16, 6 Scotts Road, tel: 6636-0100) and the Vitality's Technica Silver shampoo ($25.68 for 250ml, sold at Salon Vim, 04-25, 313 Somerset, tel: 6884-7757).

    Mr Liu also suggests going for shorter hairstyles that are easier to maintain compared to long hair.

    He adds: "Short hair keeps you cool and trendy too."

    4 Transition to your natural white hair in stages For those who wish to grow out their white hair which has been dyed, Mr Liu suggests colouring the whole head a lighter shade in silvery metallic or dual tones. This involves colouring or highlighting the hair with more than two colour tones for a smoother transition.

    Other options to transition to white or grey are more drastic: Simply stop dyeing your hair or shave everything off.

    Mr Liu says: "If a person has a nice head shape and does not mind white stubble growing out, I would definitely recommend shaving off his hair."

A head of white hair, say hairstylists and fashion gurus, no longer carries the negative connotation of ageing.

Those who want to go natural are also getting some help from the changing tides of fashion: Granny hair is now in vogue.

Within the past two years, designers from fashion houses such as French luxury brand Chanel as well as American designer Alexander Wang have styled their models with silver hair.

It has also been spotted on celebrities such as American singer Lady Gaga, Madonna's daughter Lourdes Leon and reality-television star Kylie Jenner.

Thousands of people are also posting photos of themselves rocking the look on social media.

In Singapore, home-grown menswear brand biro styled its models' hair with white styling paste at a fashion show this month for "a futuristic" look, says biro co-founder Kage Chow, 31.

Local celebrities such as Hong Huifang, 56, and composer and performer Dick Lee, 60, have also flaunted their white manes with pride.

Says fashion director of regional magazine publisher Heart Media, Mr Tok Wei Lun: "I know of many people who are not bothered about going grey. Also, I don't think people associate white or grey hair with ageing as much as they did before.

"It is now no longer a must to colour one's hair just because it's turning white," he says, adding that younger people without white hair now spend hours in the salon chair bleaching their hair to achieve the perfect tone of silver-grey.

Dr Xiao Hong, an associate professor at Nanyang Technological University's Division of Sociology and Director of Master of Science in Applied Gerontology, believes the trend of "global population ageing is also changing societal mindsets and redefining social norms on beauty, fashion and being cool".

"When we consider older members of society as valuable assets to workplaces, families and the nation at large, then grey hair will be seen as natural and beautiful - altering traditional notions of grey hair and being old," she says.

Mr Nilesh Parekh, a freelance sound recordist who has a head full of silver hair, agrees. The 31-year- old's black hair started to grey when he was 17. He dyed it until he was 22, then decided to let it grow out naturally.

Mr Parekh, who is single, says: "I think it's an awesome conversation starter when people try to guess my age and realise that I'm a lot younger than I look."

Others do it for practical reasons.

Celebrity hair stylist Shunji Matsuo, 66, who has white hair along his hairline and in his sideburns, says: "Grey hair is not exactly something you need to hide and you can create many amazing looks with it.

For example, you can make use of your natural silver hair as a base and put in highlights."

But for Ms Nora Tien, deciding to go grey was about embracing herself. The 53-year-old business development manager at a skincare brand decided to stop dyeing her hair five years ago, when her scalp became more sensitive.

She managed the transition by bleaching her whole head and then made regular trips to the salon to trim off the bleached ends as she "could not bear to see the regrowth".

Her two children and younger relatives felt her grey hair was "cool", although her older friends and family thought otherwise.

"I feel it's alright to be your natural self and, for me, having grey hair was just a matter of time," says Ms Tien, who is a former model.

"I should just embrace it."


Going grey means people offer me a seat on the bus

Ms Pearl Chia, 66, retiree, mother of two


Ms Pearl Chia cut her shoulder-length hair very short while growing out her dyed hair.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

I decided to stop colouring my hair about eight years ago because I found it troublesome to keep dyeing my roots every month.

It was a big change because I had been covering up for eight years, but I have not looked back since.

I have always been proud of my grey hair - not many people can get my natural hair colour. Even younger people who colour their hair to try to get what I have cannot get the shade right.

MS PEARL CHIA

Transitioning from my dyed chestnut-brown hair was a relatively easy process. When I decided to grow it out, I first cut my then shoulder-length hair into a very short, pixie cut.

After regular trims over three months, my hair was finally grey evenly all over my head.

I have always been proud of my grey hair - not many people can get my natural hair colour. Even younger people who colour their hair to try to get what I have cannot get the shade right.

I had friends telling me to colour my grey hair and one even told me it was not pretty, but I was not offended by their comments. I just told them it was troublesome to keep colouring it.

I think having grey or white hair makes one look wise and dignified and now, more youngsters offer their seat to me when I travel on the train or the bus.

This is yet another perk of having a head of white hair.


My white locks match my skin tone

Ms Nora Tien, 53, business development manager for a skincare brand, married with two children


Ms Nora Tien thinks people have become more accepting of white hair. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

I noticed my first grey hair when I was 32 years old, after I had my first child.

My first instinct was to cover it up, which I did myself at home using brown dye.

My white hair helps me stand out in a crowd. Coupled with my height of 1.75m, it makes it easy for people to find me.

MS NORA TIEN

Since then, I have gone even whiter. I would say about 80 per cent of my hair is now white.

Although I was not concerned about people's comments, I did ask my children what they thought before I decided to grow out my white hair. They told me they thought it was cool.

I feel I can pull off white hair because it complements my skin tone and the colour of my eyes, which are a very light brown.

I think my white hair is unique. It helps me stand out in a crowd. Coupled with my height of 1.75m, it makes it easy for people to find me.

I think over time, people have become more accepting of white hair. Nowadays, fewer people bother about what others think. Instead, they strive to be comfortable in their own skin.


Character is more important than looks

Mr Nilesh Parekh, 31, single, freelance sound recordist


Mr Nilesh Parekh PHOTO: COURTESY OF NILESH PAREKH

I first noticed my hair starting to grey when I was 17 years old. My first thought was: It makes me look older but also cooler.

Still, I dyed my hair a dark brown. However, over time, my scalp started getting dry and itchy and I had to stop colouring my hair.

I stopped dyeing my hair when I was 22. My mother, who dyed her hair black, disapproved. She used to say something like: "You had better dye your hair because you don't look good".

To me, my white hair represents dynamism and is a reminder that while growing old is inevitable, feeling old is optional.

MR NILESH PAREKH

But I stood my ground. After all, my hair will turn white eventually. It just happened sooner rather than later for me.

I have never been particularly worried about what people might say. I am not really bothered about my looks because I feel that character is more important. I do not style my hair when I go out - sometimes I let it become unruly because I like it.

But of course, I hope that my future partner will embrace my natural streaks.

A head of white has never been an issue for me but I totally understand why people might be affected, especially by what others say; some comments can be quite cutting.

I guess such pressure is why many people who go grey prematurely - I call them silver streakers - turn to hair dye.

I am glad I have embraced my silver streaks.

To me, they represent dynamism and are a reminder that while growing old is inevitable, feeling old is optional.


The colour of my mane is uniquely me

I was 16 years old and standing in front of the mirror, getting ready for my school's prom night - not by making sure that my make-up was perfect, but by plucking out the few scattered strands of white hair on my crown.

The strands of white hair, about 10 of them, were unapologetically shiny and conspicuous against the rest of my black mane.

I hated my white hair. Whenever I saw a girl with silky black hair, my self-esteem would plummet.

Then, there were the boys - I felt that my white hair made me look old and unattractive in their eyes.

Why me, I wailed at times.

At yearly health check-ups, I earnestly asked the nurse if my white hair was due to stress, hoping that it was something that could be, somehow, fixed. It is probably hereditary, said every single nurse, dealing me blow after blow.

Though friends had a tendency to point out, with puzzled looks, that I had white hair, they were generally kind and did not make further comments.

My father, however, seemed the most surprised.

Exclaiming loudly one day while we were out shopping in town, he said, in a tone which I took to sound unnecessarily incredulous: "Wah, you have white hair ah."

Yes, thanks to you, I mumbled defensively, embarrassed that a sales assistant had overheard our exchange.

White hair runs in the family. My father, 58, had a full head of grey by the time he was in his late 40s.

My mother, who is a few years older, started dyeing her hair a trendy ash brown when she began greying in her early 20s.

My older brother, 28, leaves his black cropped hair, with a sprinkling of white, mostly as it is.

As my white hair multiplied, it soon became impractical to pluck them, so I turned to hair dye.

By the time I was in my third year of polytechnic, I was touching up my roots once a month. By then, at least 30 per cent of my hair was white. I consoled myself that at the very least, I still had a head full of hair.

Having grown weary of touching up my roots every three to four weeks and emboldened by the trend of fashionable Asian bloggers with peroxide-blonde hairstyles, I began to entertain the idea of bleaching my hair to grow out my white hair.

I tested the waters by bringing up the idea with my mother and then-boyfriend, S, and received opposing reactions.

It's so ugly, said my mother. You'll look so cool, exclaimed S.

In the end, I decided against it, it didn't seem to be worth the effort: Half my head is still black, so the problem will remain, in reverse, when my black hair grows out.

I came to terms with my white hair three years ago when I realised that my closest friends and family do not see it see it a flaw, but something that was uniquely me.

I still feel self-conscious when my roots show because I think they look untidy, but I cannot wait for the day when all my hair is white so that I can finally ditch the dye and let it grow out.

By then, I hope that I am able to relish the stares that come my way.

Alyssa Woo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2016, with the headline 'Grey and proud of it'. Print Edition | Subscribe