My Year of Going Gray

graying hair
Getting in touch with my “roots”

It started 12 or 13 years ago, when I was in my mid-30s. I had two small children, a cool dot-com job with many younger colleagues, and a sprinkling of gray hair. I didn’t mind the gray too much, but sometimes there’d be a wiry one or one that stood straight up from my head. I didn’t care for those. My hairdresser encouraged me to let her try coloring it. I did. It looked pretty. It was fun. So I kept doing it.

But now I’m going to stop. I’m letting myself go gray this year, and judging from my roots, I’ll be way more salt than pepper.


First and foremost, to save money. When I first started coloring my hair, I could go eight weeks between touch-ups. But then it scooched to seven, then six, then five, and now I really need to go every four weeks to keep ahead of that advancing line of gray. If I don’t color my hair, I can probably go back to seven or eight weeks between cuts. The savings are not insignificant.

Second, to save time. I enjoy hanging out at the salon. My hair stylist, Stacia, of the marvelous Pomegranate Salon in downtown Davis—not the same person who originally colored my hair—is, in addition to being a true artist with hair, my neighbor and friend. My visits keep me in good hair and allow us to catch up with each other’s lives. Nevertheless, most visits take about two hours. A haircut alone doesn’t need to happen as often and takes about half an hour. Time saved over a year: over 20 hours. I’ll miss seeing Stacia. But that’s a lot of time that this slow writer needs for her slow writing.

And finally, to enjoy the virtues of going “natural.” I don’t want to overstate this one, as I obviously don’t judge women who color their hair, having been one myself for so long. I know plenty of committed feminists who color their hair. Yet my desire to stop masking this evidence of natural aging—to buck the pressure to look younger—does feel like a feminist impulse, and for me, right now, it seems right to follow it. I’ve been inspired by the example of several women I know who are beautifully gray. Anyway, for all the improvements made to hair dye in recent decades, surely it’s still a little better for one’s health and for the environment to not use those chemicals, right?


I’d always intended to go gray around age fifty. That’s still a little over a year away, but I decided to get a jump on it for several reasons. One, I’m taking a self-imposed, unpaid sabbatical this semester to finish my book. So the money thing mentioned above is somewhat more urgent now than usual. But in addition to losing income, the sabbatical also means I’ll mostly be holed up at home writing and generally seeing far fewer people outside my immediate family and friends. What better time to go gray than an eight-month period of general non-circulation?

Also, my 30th high school reunion happened in October. It was a blast. I love the people I went to high school with. I actually mean that. But I wasn’t quite up to seeing them with gray hair—by which I mean I wasn’t quite up to them seeing me with gray hair. But now that that milestone is behind me and I’ve reconnected with so many wonderful old friends, it feels okay.

And then there’s the author photo issue. There’s a chance—a chance, mind you—that my book could come out in the next few years. (I need to finish it first, and no, I don’t have an agent yet.) But should that blessed event occur, I don’t want to have to “keep up” with my author photo, if that makes sense. I fear a book jacket featuring a brunette me could exercise a sort of tyranny and consign me to another decade of dyeing my hair. Better to go gray now.


The hardest part of going gray, of course, is the long, awkward transition between being a fake brunette and being authentically gray. The fear of that in-between stage can keep a coloring habit going for a long time.

So what’s a middle-aged gal to do?

In the early days of my graying-in, I could, for bare-headed occasions, apply some temporary cover with a hair crayon or touch-up stick. I learned this trick two summers ago during my residency at Hedgebrook from, of all people, Gloria Steinem. (A great story that deserves its own blog post one day.)

But it’s been three months since my last color touch-up, and the advancing swath of gray is getting too wide for this treatment. And that’s where hats come in. I’ve always loved hats, and now I have an excuse to get more. Here are a few from my collection. What do you think? Kinda cute, right?

Gallery o' hats
Gallery o’ hats

(From left to right, a hat made of men’s neckties from The Wardrobe in Davis; recycled fabric cap by Flipside Hats, available at the Davis Food Co-op; orange cap by Pistil Designs, available at Outdoor Davis; and a Manchester United beanie I’m “borrowing” from my 14-year-old.)

One thing that’s making this easier is having my hair stylist’s support. Stacia’s going to work her salon wizardry on my changing hair by putting some silver highlights through it at my next appointments to address that stark line between colored and natural. I will post an update later this year with pictures.

Finally, I’m being forthright about it, as evidenced by this blog entry. I wore my funky necktie hat (far left in the “gallery” above) to a holiday party last month in Berkeley, and every time I was complimented on the hat, which was every ten minutes, I’d blurt out, “Thanks! It’s covering up my roots. I’m letting myself go gray.” At which point several people could not resist pulling my hat off to have a look. Oh, well. The hazards of transparency.


Here’s the thing: It’s not irreversible. This is an experiment. If I hate it, I will go back to coloring my hair.

But I don’t expect to. The other morning I was drying my hair before the mirror and pulled back a section to see how the underneath layers looked. And I was  surprised to discover that I actually liked the silvery sheen advancing across my head. It’s—well, it’s kind of pretty. And although I know it’s just a function of time and genetics, somehow it feels earned.

40 thoughts on “My Year of Going Gray

  1. Naomi – You will be cute and plucky no matter how old you are or what color your hair is. Here’s to your forthrightness, your hats, and your hair stylist! Best wishes for the transition.

  2. I also don’t want to judge either women who do or do not color their hair – but for me, I love being color-free, it’s so much easier (I always used home color). My hair is mid-ash-brown so it doesn’t seem that drastic to me in the bathroom mirror – but when I get my hair cut and my lap is full of silver, I’m kind of shocked.

    Of course, I grew up with the curse of looking younger than I was, which, in high school, is a nightmare. No 16-year-old wants to look 12. So I’ve always looked forward to being seen as “old.” I figure it means I don’t have to try as hard to keep up with the 30-somethings, and now, 40-somethings (and soon, 50-somethings).

    Do what makes you happy. If you are happier with color, do it; if not, don’t let anything outside you pressure you to look a certain way. Someone very wise once told me, in the context of an online game: “Someone’s going to complain no matter what you do, so you may as well do what you think is right.” Funny where wisdom comes from some time.

    I can’t wait to hear about Gloria and the coloring pencils!

    1. Thanks, Karen! I also looked much younger than my age when I was a kid, so I entirely relate to your sentiments on that. Of course now I’m a little nervous that I might end up being mistaken for being *older* than my age — we’ll see how gracefully I deal with that one. :-)

  3. Great post, Naomi. I speak as one in the salt and pepper club myself. I just haven’t had the heart to cover it up, since it doesn’t look that bad, and I kinda feel some dignity goes with it (a word not thumped much these days, I know.) I like my age, and decided when I was 30 (yes, that far back), that I would never try to hide it. And you are so right about the time thing. Pssst: If you let it grow long and pull it back with a clip, you can even whittle hair trims down to twice a year. :-) But, like you, I also know women who dye their hair tastefully, and it looks great on them, so like you, I think it’s every one’s personal decision what they feel comfortable with.

  4. I guess you have to go with what works. For me, short, well-groomed hair has always worked best for me. You’ve seen my hairstyles over 2 years in 2 of your classes. Once I had nearly all of my hair shaved off due to a gum incident. Remember on the 2nd day of English-Writing 301 when I had a shaved head? I don’t think that I could successfully pull off grey hair, white hair, or worst-case-scenario, no-hair.

    1. Matt, I think I do remember your having extremely short hair at one point. As for what you might or might not successfully “pull off,” your perspective may shift over time. My husband, who’s been gradually balding since his 20s, likes to say: “Gray hair — is hair.”

  5. enjoyed the blog post Naomi – I love the idea of adding the silvery highlights. They say gray is the new blonde and many women are experimenting with various “Shades of Gray” hmmm…. could lead to other experiments? haha, just in jest….. :)

    1. Leslie, you are so funny! Why I didn’t think of playing off the whole “50 Shades of Gray” thing for my title I can’t imagine. As for other experiments, going gray is about as edgy as I get! Thanks for reading!

  6. Go for it, Naomi. For some reason I’m going gray very slowly–and much later than either of my parents. And I’m fortunate in having as role models friends and a spouse who went gray early and have beautiful silver hair. I really feel that I’ve earned every one of those gray hairs, and I have no desire to cover them up. And not just because I hate spending time at the salon (which I do), or because I’m cheap (which I am).

  7. You have my total support, as you know. BTW, apropos of looking young, I forgot to tell you I was carded last weekend buying wine.

  8. Hi Naomi,

    Welcome to the silver fox club!!

    The last vestiges of red (Revlon #42!) are well below my collar bone and the braid has a fun weave of dark in it. Enjoy!


  9. For me the overriding issue with these kinds of things has always been whether someone is comfortable with who they are. I always feel like any and all cosmetics are an attempt to be someone else or to hide the real you, i.e. indications that a person hasn’t accepted who they are, so I welcome seeing people forego them. Hair dying is right up there. In your case, not only do I like the fact that you are accepting more of who you are in this way, but I also happen to like the underlying you too.

    1. Thanks for reading & commenting, Chris! Don’t know that I’ve really reached any greater level of comfort with self here, but I’m kind of curious to find out what I “really” look like. Thanks for the support!

  10. I guess I never thought about covering my gray hair, as you know I don’t like ” めんどくさいこと。” and time and money involved was not for me. I was totally liberated when perming one’s hair went out of style many years ago!

    I think you are still going to look very Naomi-Chan with gray hair.


    1. Hi, Debra. I recognize you from your column in the Express/Enterprise. Flattered to have you as a reader. You should do a column on this! :-) BTW, I’ve gotten away from the gray-line-covering hats somewhat — my hair genius person is putting graying “toner” in the treated part of my hair to ease the transition between the two. It’s really working well. Or so my friends tell me.

    1. Hi, Hakikah. Thanks for reading. I keep meaning to update the blog about this, but have been busy finishing my book! I’ll try to post something by the end of the year about this. Spoiler alert: All the treated hair is gone now, and it turns out I’m not quite as gray as I thought I would be!

  11. Hi Naomi,

    I stumbled across your blog because I am writing an article about hair dying. I hope you are happy with your new look. I am fighting feeling increasingly judgemental about dying. I mean, if Glorian Steinem dyes, how can I criticize? Yet the waste, toxicity, and folly of it keeps getting the better of me. Perhaps the subject does not merit so much thought.

    Best of luck with your book. It sounds like a great story.


  12. Hi!! I’m 54 years old, but I look so much younger than my age. At age 51 I played a teenager in an independent film as the main character. Despite my girly face I’m actually 60 percent gray on top my head and 40 percent in the back and right side of my head. I am allergic to MANY beauty products but have kept up the facade of youth from a bottle for 3 decades. I want to go gray but fear it to the point of anxiety. Western culture tells wemon we are old, washed up, and haggard if we dare go gray. I’m terrified I won’t know myself in the mirror! Men who go gray on TV are “distinguished and smart”. Wemon are “hags”!! But, thanks to wemon like you, we can embrace our natural selves, learn confidence in being gray, and be “distinguished and smart” as any man with gray hair!! I’m scared to death of the “striped skunk streak” on top my head as I attempt to go silver. I may invest in a “topper” hair piece to cover that strip against dark brown colored hair!!! Thanks!! You are an inspiration!!!

    1. Thanks for reading. You know, I’ve gotten so many compliments on my hair since letting it go “natural.” That being said, I do think I look older than I did when I dyed it. But it’s okay. I know what you mean about women who are gray being considered “washed up,” etc., but I’m not going to let it bother me. Some stranger’s assessment that I’m an old crone doesn’t change the fact that the most interesting part of my life is just beginning. Good luck to you!

  13. In May 2012, I decided to grow in my grays. Based on the length of my hair, it will take about 2 years to fully grow in, but now that it’s Jan 2014 I am almost there. The first several months were the worst, and I also wore a lot of hats at that time. At this point it’s almost all done. I will say that I get more compliments on my hair now than I ever did when it was colored. Good luck as you let the silvers shine!

  14. Thank you for sharing your experiences ! Good move and all this time saved now !! Watching in months our hair color showing up more and more is delightful. For me it is anyway ’cause I realized how much I love my new color, very silver all in one go! And it is FREE to be so gorgeous…? whaooo…. and we save the planet of pollution too ! Fantastic.
    My hairdresser originally ‘fried” mine when I decided to go grey with some “discoloration” in order to help the grey to come in, that was a HUGE mistake…
    I would never ever do that again. I had “blonde” touches and I hated it all this time until it is almost all gone. I did braid my hair for many months in order to hide that color she add on me. I love french braids so that was cool.
    My hair went from “fake dark Brunette” (which I was originally) to completely white on one side and mostly silver grey all around. 16 months and still getting rid off the bottom colors. I started at 38years old. I will be completely white at 40 I believe (soon). it is funky transition, but I love it, I found it fun. Being proud of our White hair is a good sign of well-being and loving ourself. BRAVO Naomi ! Nature makes everything beautiful, let’s not forget.

  15. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been dying my hair a light brown with highlights for about ten years. I have decided I’m ready to see what my natural hair color looks like. My hair has been very slow to turn gray ( I’m 65), but I just noticed the gray is now on my temples. I don’t want to touch up that area in between my salon coloring every three months. I can tell that once I start having to do the touch ups in between it will just increase in frequency. So here goes nothing! I have a little over an inch of grow out. Most of the grow out is a mixture of brown with silver strands. The dyed part of my hair was looking brassy, so I decided to start using a shampoo for gray hair. That did the trick and helped tone down my dyed part. It even muted the grow out transitioning into the dyed. It actually looks pretty good! I used Pantene Silver Expressions shampoo and conditioner. It seems to work well for me so far. I’m excited to see what the next phase will look like.

  16. Just to say: Thanks for this post! I’m now 50 and letting my gray grow out (shoulder-length, and it will take me well over a year by my calculations). I found your website through a web search on how to go about this, and yours is the post I like best out of all that I found. My blonde relatives just can’t relate, so I come back occasionally to peek at your photos when I need reminding that other brunettes are going through this, too. I’m looking forward to your book coming out, and to seeing your author picture. Thanks for this post!

    1. Dear A James: Thanks for reading! It’s funny — of all the different things I’ve written about at this occasional blog, this is the post that gets the most viewings. Good luck with your own process!

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