Shades of gray
today at 3:32 pm
My last trip to a hair salon was February 7, 2020. On my Google Calendar, I made a note: “Went half a shade lighter with goal of going lighter each time until age 75, then going gray.”
The plan to go gray by age 75 seemed, at the time, like a reasonable compromise. For years I regretted getting hooked on dying my hair. It was expensive, and I worried that it was harmful to my health. But each time I proposed going gray to my stylist, he warned me I would regret it and that the worst part would be the transition, with my roots waving the white flag of surrender to ageing. To ease that transition, I asked him to apply dye a half shade lighter each time I came in to the salon, giving me years to go from dark brown to something like sandalwood.
Five weeks later, when I would have been due for a cut and color, I was sheltering at home. My hair was the last thing on my mind. But as my bangs began to block my eyes, I had to do something. On April 6, I grabbed a pair of hair scissors and hacked away, twisting tiny bundles of hair and cutting on an angle. The results were acceptable.
But my hair grows fast, and I balked at trimming the hair on the back of my head. Two weeks later, I handed my scissors to the only person I would allow inside my house, my fiancé, Johnny Zoom — the nickname came from his years in advertising. John is a talented artist and a perfectionist, traits that served him well in his professional life but that stretched the haircut to almost two hours. Tiny snip, step back, repeat. Still, there’s no one I’d rather spend time with, and although John had never cut hair before, you could have fooled me. He needed a cut too, so I tried to follow his example. We were both pleased with the results. Selfies taken at a certain angle didn’t reveal the white taking over the back of my head.
We repeated our mutual haircuts a few times until mid-June, when a friend gave me the name of her backyard stylist. Armed with precision scissors and a cape, the stylist came to my backyard and set to work. She knew what she was doing, and I became so occupied with learning about her background — there’s something about talking to a stylist, less judgmental than a therapist or even a bartender, that can’t be beat — that I forgot to show her a photo of what my hair had looked like pre-COVID. The result, which was totally on me, was the shortest hair I’ve had since infancy. Re the gray, it was like going cold turkey: darker strands shot through everywhere with white.
I haven’t needed another haircut since then, while my hair grows back to its pre-pandemic length. But I’ve embraced the gray. In 1956, Shirley Polykoff, the lone female copywriter at Foot, Cone & Belding, dreamt up the provocative “Does she . . . or doesn’t she?” campaign for Clairol. Now, more than 60 years later, I can answer. She doesn’t.