2 Books to Help You Go Gray Gracefully

Dear readers,

I’m telling you first so you can hold me to it: I’m ditching the hair dye this summer. Twenty-five years, countless colorists and thousands of hours of dark brown gunk (not to mention dollars) later, the time has come to embrace my silver roots. I know the growing-in won’t be easy. I know I should have let it happen during the pandemic. (As if lockdown wasn’t stressful enough.) I know that there are certain, shall we say, biases against salt-and-pepper hair, but I’m leaning into a different narrative — one that celebrates wisdom, sparkle and experience. Pizzazz, too, even though the word has always sounded to me like the perfect name for a Chevy sedan. As always, I turn to books to shore up my stance. Here are two that did the trick with levity and gravitas.


If you search on Instagram for “#grombre” and “#silversisters,” you’ll find an entire community of women encouraging, supporting and advising one another through the evolution from dyed hair to what lies beneath. There are tutorials, testimonials and videos. There are evangelists, apologists and philosophizers. There are posters who swear by headbands,highlights, lowlights or stripping — processes that replace your current color with your natural one by matching the shade of your roots or removing dye. (Google “Jack Martin hair” and you’ll get the gist.)

I’m a sucker for a sisterhood — I’ve spent hours scrutinizing strangers’ tresses and liking their mirror selfies — but, for me, the last word on hair color or lack thereof still belongs to Anne Kreamer. She documented her brunette-to-gray journey for More magazine (may it rest in peace), then expanded those dispatches into a memoir, “Going Gray” (2007). I read it during my first attempt to go natural … and, just to give you some idea of how long I’ve been waffling about my hair, the baby I was pregnant with at the time is now 17.

When I revisited Kreamer’s book a few weeks ago, I remembered the impetus behind her decision: She saw a picture of herself with her teenage daughter and realized that her “much too darkly shellacked helmet of hair” wasn’t fooling anyone. “I looked like I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t,” Kreamer writes. I can relate.

“Going Gray” has a few dated moments; Hillary Clinton was still a senator when it came out. But “the gulf between the two camps, the embracers and resistors” is still, as Kreamer describes it, “pretty vast.” There are still plenty of people who LOVE gray hair and cannot WAIT to see yours but wouldn’t in a million years allow theirs to see the light of day. To be fair, my friends have been around this block before and they’re probably tired of having the same conversation with me every three years.

Like Kreamer, I’ve learned that the best way to succeed at difficult tasks is “to tell as many people as possible as quickly as I can about my plans.” She writes, “The public knowledge becomes a goad to keep me on track.” Amen, sister.

Read if you like: Survival stories, beauty that’s more than skin deep
Available from: Bookstores and libraries but definitely not hair salons

Nonfiction, 2014

“It’s a peculiar phenomenon, but generally when women first come to me, they are very apprehensive. I don’t know why,” Betty Halbreich writes. She was 86 when her memoir came out, and still working as a highly opinionated and unfailingly loyal personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman. Halbreich goes on, “Maybe it’s the store that people have adorned with so many absurd titles, like ‘Mecca of Style’ or ‘Fifth Avenue’s Finest.’ Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s my white hair!”

If you subscribe to the idea — apparently true — that stress causes white hair, “I’ll Drink to That” accounts for every strand on Halbreich’s head. She walks readers through her battle with polio, the dissolution of her marriage, the challenges of motherhood, a suicide attempt, a stint in a psychiatric hospital (where, she lets us know, she was the best-dressed patient) and treatment for breast cancer.

But this isn’t a sad book. It’s a dishy, honest account of a job that became a calling. Halbreich worked with Candice Bergen, Liza Minnelli, the wardrobe stylists for “Sex and the City” and an endless parade of customers in need of life advice along with their ball gowns and interview suits. Her one liners are priceless: “I don’t believe in disposable fashion or people.” “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither should a wardrobe be.” “Too many people wear a label rather than what is becoming.”

Fittingly, Halbreich earned the trust of Babe Paley — her first major client and the “most fashionable woman in the world” — not through couture, but by admiring the unique blue-gray of Paley’s hair. Her career flourished from there.

Read if you like: Fashion, the wisdom of the ages
Available from: bergdorfgoodman.com, an indy bookstore like the one that Halbreich’s mother owned in Chicago, Oak Street Book Shop

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