The ever elegant Queen Letizia of Spain has set the cat well and truly loose among the pigeons by, wait for it, having the temerity to appear in public with a grey streak in her hitherto all-brunette mane.
Or is it a grey patch? Opinions vary, but what we do know is that this is probably all her own work, or rather, hers and Mother Nature’s. When hair begins to shed its colour, it rarely does so in a conveniently even sweep, but in random sproutings. The technical term is the not very catchy poliosis and – public service announcement – it is completely normal.
In days of yore, folk would just accept this as the way of things and wend their merry way (or not so merry if your white splodge got mistaken for signs of witchiness by the neighbours), dropping dead at an age well before the French even start paying pensions.
Things are very different now. We live longer. We feel youthful longer, and when Mother N has the chutzpah to remind us that we might, after all, not be quite so young as we imagine our well-appointed visages suggest, mixed feelings ensue.
Such as the feelings about Queen Letizia’s grey. Honestly I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over the fact that the various shades of this lovely, dignified (in the face of some highly undignified behaviour from her father-in-law) woman’s hair can still cause such consternation in 2023. For some, you see, Letizia’s grey is a sign of “giving up”. Conversations about her grey lightning bolt have lit up social media. A lot of the commentary is positive. But not all.
A brief moment of self immersion here: I “embraced” my grey streaks after lockdown (note the emotive words we find ourselves using as women whenever we broach this subject). I received many encouraging coos, but behind them I definitely detected an “ooh you’re so brave” tone.
Aka, “rather you than me”. A very good, honest friend told me it was a mistake as I work in a youth-obsessed industry. A male friend emailed to say he hadn’t met a single woman who looked better after going grey.
Define better, I thought, even more determined to tend my grey patches assiduously until they met up all over my hair in one big, sophisticated silver lake. I know many men don’t love grey hair on a woman, but some do. (One grey-haired friend says she attracted a much better class of date once she’d gone fully silver.)
I’m now blonde with grey streaks, which feels like the best of both worlds. With one parting, I’m blonde. Flipped the other side, it’s more speckled. Cop out? Maybe, but I don’t feel I have to be bold, fight the fight or engage with any of the other exhausting emotional baggage that’s meant to come with grey. I just want to enjoy my hair.
I do mean it about the assiduous attention though. Anyone who thinks embracing grey – to whatever degree – is less work than chucking on dye every three weeks or sitting with foils on for hours on end, is in for a shock. Grey streaks/swishes especially, may need smoothing (texture wise, greys can go pube-y, sad but true).
De-brassing with purple shampoos and regular cuts and conditioning is mandatory if they’re to look shimmery, glamorous and soigné. But is making an effort really such a big deal? Surely it’s part of a whole ritual of grooming, the purpose of which is to keep us feeling good about ourselves.
The fashion world is actually highly tolerant of (well-tended) grey hair, be it strands, streaks, clumps or the whole caboodle, because they signal a degree of individuality and distinction.
Sophia Neophitou, the once raven-haired stylist and founder/editor in chief of 10 Magazine has permitted her grey to come through in its own time – ie slowly over at least a decade. She offsets her silvery strands with sharp, sexy tailoring from Azzedine Alaïa and Rick Owens – and her warm, Mediterranean temperament. The contrasts work.
Catherine Hayward, another super stylish fashion consultant has a slightly different grey take. Dramatically juxtaposed against the rest of her still-dark hair, her white swoosh, all around her face, is both considered and slightly Cruella-ish – in a good way. She’s a minimalist but always looks striking and fabulous. A bit of ironic Cruella channelling doesn’t go amiss these days.
For what I imagine are similar reasons, the so-called Mallen Streak, named after the Catherine Cookson trilogy about a doomed family who all shared a hereditary “witches“ swish of white hair, became a mini cult on the youngsters back in 2019.
Billie Eilish opted for mermaid-y green roots and the London designer Mimi Wade went for a silver bolt – many copied them. The point, besides looking interesting, was to reclaim the idea that white or silver streaks on a woman are a sign of evil, and damn well own it. Just as men like Richard Madden are allowed to own their grey bits without being accused of “giving up”.
None of these women has “given up” either. They’re just experimenting and having fun. Here’s an idea: why don’t we let them get on with it?