More older women in Japan embracing grey hair amid changing notion of beauty

(From left) Ms Teiko Furuya, Ms Ayako Miyahara and Ms Shizuyo Kono make their gray hair a part of their stylish look.
(From left) Ms Teiko Furuya, Ms Ayako Miyahara and Ms Shizuyo Kono make their gray hair a part of their stylish look. PHOTO: YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

TOKYO (YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) -More women in Japan are cheerfully letting their hair go grey instead of dyeing it, discovering in the process that asserting their individuality also gives them a more positive attitude.

"I'm more able to be myself since I stopped dyeing my hair," said Shizuyo Kono, 66, with a smile.

She began dyeing her grey hair in her mid-30s, but her hair gradually sustained more and more damage. Fearing it would become entirely unsalvageable, she stopped dyeing it in her early 50s.

Now she loves her glossy grey hair. People on the street sometimes ask her, "How can I get hair like yours?"

Kono, who lives in Tokyo,was featured in Over 60 Street Snap II, a photo collection of fashionable women aged 60 and over published last year. She still keeps in touch with Ayako Miyahara, 74, also from Tokyo, and Teiko Furuya, 70, from Saitama prefecture, who were featured in a book in the same series.

"We can enjoy fashion without worrying about the colour of our clothes," said Miyahara. Furuya dyes her hair a blueish tint because she still has some black hair, but she said, "I really want to do it in white."

The greying trend originated in Advanced Style, a photo collection published in the United States in 2012. (The Japanese-language version was published by Daiwashobo.)

The collection showcased the outfits of older women on the streets of New York. It became a sensation, and was even made into a documentary.

Advanced Style became a turning point for a fashion industry always in pursuit of youth, leading it to develop a higher regard for beauty at different ages.

That tide reached Japan as well, and photo collections featuring older, grey-haired women began to be published. Last year, Shufunotomo Co. also published Paris Madame Grey Hair Style, a photo collection featuring stylish Parisian ladies with undyed grey hair.

The number of celebrities and prominent figures with grey hair is increasing as well, and they are becoming style icons for the women of their generation. One of them is fashion coordinator Taki Kato, 71.

When Kato was 45, she went on a business trip to the United States, where someone praised her grizzled hair by saying, "What beautiful highlights". At that point, she stopped dyeing her hair.

"I was able to let go of the inferiority complex that my grey hair gave me, and take pride in my way of living."

Popular stylist Junko Ishida said: "Grey hair also has the advantage that it makes it easier for you to enjoy fashion. Black hair limits what colours you can wear, but grey hair goes with youthful colours such as bright pinks and greens."

The attitudes of women in general are also changing. According to a survey held last year by Tokyo-based Recruit Lifestyle Co, 78 per cent of women who dye their grey hairs agree that "depending on how it is presented, grey hair can make a very stylish impression". That is no less than nine percentage points higher than two years ago.

Izumi Yonezawa, an associate professor at Konan Women's University, who is well-versed in fashion culture, said: "The generation of women who are now in their 60s or 70s were in their 20s when magazines for women like an an and non-no were launched.

"They constructed a personal sense of style for themselves, and I think asserting that grey hair is an expression of their individuality is a part of that. There is no question that the notion of what is fashionable for women has broadened."