Fashion week embraces grey hair and the rise of natural chic

Seven million women in the UK dye their hair – but now grey is a sign of smart maturity

It's supposed to be every woman's worst nightmare: that first grey hair. But now a generation of women is embracing "silver power" well in advance of retirement age. And suddenly the fashion industry is playing catch-up.

New campaigns for Marks & Spencer and Clarks feature models in their 40s and 50s with grey hair. Two women with full heads of silver locks feature in Toast's new launch for autumn; and the former BBC1 Clothes Show presenter turned body image campaigner Caryn Franklin, who is now in her early 50s, has grown out the front of her hair so that it is completely grey.

Grey hair is still frowned upon in some fashion circles and more than seven million women in the UK dye their hair at home, but a survey for John Frieda Haircare found recently that women are going grey earlier. Some 32% of women reported finding a grey hair by the age of 30, compared with 20% 20 years ago. The survey blamed stress.

Women increasingly see natural grey as chic, according to Elaine Dugas, head of the "classic" division (their name for the older women) at Models One. "In the past, the association with grey hair was 'old'. But a lot of women go grey at a young age. The stigma of it being associated with ageing is being dismissed because we have these aspirational women. There's a real shift in our perception of grey hair," said Dugas.

In recent years fashion has become enamoured with older women with natural white hair – such as Daphne Self, who will be gracing the catwalk at Antipodium at London Fashion Week tomorrow at 82. Other favourites with designers include Carmen dell'Orefice, 80, who worked the runway for Alberta di Ferretti this year, and Valerie Pain, 67.

The new breed of silver-haired "middle-youth" types includes Su Daybell, an amateur model with curly metallic grey hair who appears in Toast's new catalogue; Roxane Gould, an American model in her fifties who appears in Marks & Spencer's new campaign; and the Norwegian, Velaug, who is in her forties but appears with long white hair in adverts for Nivea and Clarks.

Catherine Hayward, fashion director of Esquire, is well-known in fashion circles for her striking hair. Her style icon is IMF boss Christine Lagarde, who has a silver-white hairdo. Hayward said: "I started going grey when I was 19 – my grandfather was completely white in his 20s. There was always a slight streak, so it felt quite natural."

Franklin first realised she was going grey when presenting The Clothes Show. "At 34 it suddenly appeared: a wide grey streak at the front of my head. I rather like it. However, not everyone on the show approved. I was phoned by a colleague who said they had been discussing how old I looked in a meeting and had decided to wind me down unless I dyed my hair to cover it. Naturally I was indignant and I refused." She fronted the show for five more years.

"Our culture is fearful of ageing," said Franklin, "and especially ageing women. I say, 'Stop apologising for getting older. Embrace it.' I have deliberately chosen women with grey hair for the award-winning initiative I co-founded, All Walks on the Catwalk [a campaign to promote diversity of age, size and race in fashion]. Two of our models have naturally grey/white hair and women love them.

"I want young women to see that beauty ages beautifully and there is no need to feel that getting older is something that has to be medicated, managed with surgery or be obsessed about."


Viv Groskop

The GuardianTramp

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