Should I Go Gray?

Working from home has lessened my need to color my hair, so the grays are rooting up. Unfortunately, I have black hair, thus the contrast of colors is quite stark. Do I continue to color or cover my hair, or do I let it become natural? I am “winter” in the coloring chart, but I have a feeling I may turn into spring and have to make drastic changes in my work clothes if I let my hair change. What are your thoughts? — Jill, Houston

To color or not to color? This is a dilemma Hamlet would understand. When salons were closed during the pandemic, many of us had to face our original hair shade for the first time in years (or learn how to become our own colorist in the bathroom). After some initial horror, many of us also experienced the liberation of going back to our … well, roots.

Others, of course, went pink or lavender or shaved it all off. Either way, there was a lot of hair experimentation going on (hello, Kaia Gerber), in part because if things looked a little weird for awhile, it didn’t really matter because there were so few people around to see.

Now, of course, a return to the office is looming. As is the decision about how you want to return, or who you want to be when you return. As much as anything, that is what should steer your choices, not concern about the colors in your wardrobe. It is true that darker hair can coordinate differently with, say, bright blues or reds than do blond or white-gray shades, but the real question is how does it make you feel and what message do you want to send?

Do you want, for example, to signal how much you may have been changed by your experiences over the last year? If so, new hair is a great way to do it. And changing your color is an even bigger statement than cutting your hair because hair color brings all sorts of assumptions (right or wrong) with it. That is true whether you are revealing your hair truth or opting to dye.

Years ago, when I went from light brown with blond streaks to red (it was for a story), the first thing a good friend said was, “but redheads are mean, angry people” — even though I was exactly the same person I had been before.

Indeed, when I asked Bee Shapiro, who writes about beauty for The Times, what she thought about your question, she said, “I think of hair color as a personality thing rather than an age or even a wardrobe thing.”

If you are considering going gray, she suggested that you ask yourself whether “gray represents where you are in life right now? Is it the way you feel, and is it your personality?”

“Some women can wear gray in their 20s, and it suits them,” she went on, “but I interviewed the designer Norma Kamali recently, and she is 75 and just does not ‘feel gray,’ so she colors her hair darker.”

On one hand, gray hair can indicate maturity and wisdom. But it can also communicate age — or a lack of vanity. And irritating as it is, women with gray hair still get judged differently than men with gray hair. Maybe the pandemic gives us the opportunity to change that.

Or maybe, as the Prince of Denmark said, “And thus the native hue of resolution/Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”

Your Style Questions, Answered

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

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