“Hate that Gray” 1963

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In her entertaining memoir, Does She…Or Doesn’t She–and How She Did, advertising executive Shirley Polykoff takes credit for the explosion of the hair dye industry with her clever ads for Clairol in the 1950s. Before that time, she writes, “hair dye had about the same acceptance as lipstick and cigarettes before the First World War.”  She not only came up with catchy slogans, she took ads beyond women’s magazines and into the mainstream media, eventually even to television.

Polykoff used different tactics to convince older women to cover up their gray hair.  First of all, she sold the product Loving Care as a wash that only attacked the gray, which seemed less radical than a dye.  Second, she included references to marriage in the ads as an incentive (or perhaps a warning).  “Makes your husband feel younger too… just to look at you!”

These days, many older women are proudly going gray.  (I am not one of them).  But the very fact that there is now a counter movement shows how successful firms like Clairol were in convincing older women to dye their hair.

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5 Responses to “Hate that Gray” 1963

  1. Jzzy55 says:

    I’ve gone grey, primarily out of habit, laziness and cheapness. I hated dropping $80 at the salon every four weeks, and absolutely loathed wasting an hour or more hanging around waiting for the dye to set. Until I started coloring my hair in my 50s to cover the grey, I had never colored or otherwise altered my hair in any way. No SunIn, no perms, no straightening. Commencing to fuss with my hair only later in life always felt very odd. After a lifetime of choosing to stick it out with my natural hair, I just couldn’t stand the whole dye thing. It took a few years for my hair to start looking interesting rather than just unkempt, but now I get frequent compliments on my two tone hair.

  2. when I was a teenager and dying my hair either red or black or both – I used wonder who on earth would buy brown hair dye (my hair was brown) only to be buying brown hair dye some 25 years later! I have since grown it out and now fully grey. I actually still miss my brown hair especially as it seemed to balance an outfit – but fully prefer the condition of my hair. Going grey is not an easy decision to make – funny the comment about making your husband feel younger….. one of the first things my hairdresser said when we were talking about a cut to help me grow out the grey (she did a brilliant layered bob and blended the mixed colours) was ‘what does your husband think’ I had to remind her that my husband has a bald patch so really these are superficial details

  3. JS says:

    The famous slogan, “If I have only one life, I want to live it as a blonde,” was apparently written by a brunette.

    I hate the whole idea that women can be typed by a reference to their hair color.

  4. JS says:

    I’m too concerned about ageism to go gray. Apart from that, I’m not sure I’d like how I looked. Completely natural is not always best.

    • I made the transition by first wearing a gray wig (a good one) occasionally for a few weeks, so my husband and I could get used to the idea. (My hair had always been quite dark. My plan was to go white and then have some hairs carefully reverse streaked for a subtle soft gray look.) The wig was a lucky purchase, because the hairdresser who assured me she could get decades of dark auburn dye out of my long hair was wrong! For a while, the wig was hiding orange — Navel Orange! — hair — but I wasn’t going to go back to dark auburn at 70. It was time for the transition. Now I get compliments from strangers on my white hair. And I can wear colors I couldn’t wear before. I do understand the “ageism” thing. But the right gray might work in your favor…. I have a friend who works in the film industry. People always remember her because she has the only gray hair on the set! (It’s cut in a “young” woman’s hairstyle — very chic.) And salt & pepper gray can look striking and “bring out your eyes” — if you have medium to coarse textured hair. Best of luck — whatever. Do visit a wig salon if you can find one — see your options before you do anything drastic.

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