Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Must We All Dye?

Here's one conversation from the late 90s I've never forgotten.

Boyfriend: Do you have a problem with grey hair?

Seraphic: No, I think grey hair can look very distinguished.

Boyfriend: Because you have one.


When I said "distinguished", I meant "on men" although I suppose it can look distinguished on women too. At any rate, I had not seen my premier grey hair, so this news was a tremendous shock. I knew theoretically that I would grow old and die, but I had never pondered that my hair would too. My hair has ruled my life; how could the tyrant die? Possibly that weeping and wailing in North Korea this year was not entirely artificial.

Anyway, one of the good things about being a ginger, as they call us in the UK, is that the grey isn't that visible. I suppose the day will come when I sit damply in front of a hairdresser's mirror, like Cher in Moonstruck, and say "Get rid of the grey." However, that day has not yet arrived for me. Many of my dark-haired contemporaries have been dying for years and years. Sometimes your first grey hair shows up in high school.

There is no reason to look old until you are old. Uh oh. I can hear some Early Church Fathers (especially St. Jerome) clamouring in our little library, demanding to be let out so they can tell us that it is terrible for women to think about our appearance at all. I will beat them back with a volume of St. Thomas Aquinas, as St. Thomas Aquinas states clearly that people should dress according to our station in life. He doesn't like make-up, except to hide deformity, but I bet given enough time we could convince St. Tom that grey hair counts as a deformity. Quaeritur: Was there grey hair before the Fall? Respondeo: Nooooooo.

Anyway, there is no reason to look old until you are old. I am not a fan of the over-40 set turning in desperation to knives and poisons to freeze our faces into smooth masks. However, I am not a fan of young things dressing in an elderly fashion, either. This can mean sloppy sweatsuits or this can mean black lamé. Lamb dressed as mutton is simply not good.

There is no particular virtue in dressing dowdily. I know a very holy young woman, with a very deep prayer life, who before her marriage studied In Style magazine with great concentration and applied what she learned to her wardrobe. After her marriage, she soon became pregnant, so now, although she still reads the magazine, she doesn't study it with the same application. She still looks marvellous, however.

Uh oh. I'm about to say something I have to preface with a lot of qualifications. Okay, we're all on the same page that attracting guys is not the most important thing in life, right? So we know that the most important thing is having a good relationship with the Most High, and next making sure we are well-educated, virtuous, useful women who will be able to support ourselves financially, etc? And we that should put worry about attracting guys right at the bottom of our priorities, way down after "Be a good friend"? Okay, good.

The thing is that guys tend to be more attracted to young or young-looking women than to old or old-looking women. Yes, there are some very young guys out there who are apparently looking for the Earth Mother, but all the Earth Mothers with much younger boyfriends I've ever met were knock-outs who dressed young for their age. They all--listen up--were slender and had long hair. But never mind them because I am not talking to the over-40 set today but to the dewy young. The Searching Single dewy young. The Serious Single dewy young can ignore me.

Listen up, Searching Single dewy young. If people keep thinking that you are older than you are, you must do something. If you have grey hair, dye your hair. If you have sensible short hair, grow it out. If you wear skirts to your ankles, hack them off at the knees. If you wear spectacles, get contacts or fashionable new frames. If you wear a black mantilla to Mass, good heavens, girl, put on a white one. If you wear no make-up, apply some make-up. If you do wear make-up, consult the lady at the make-up counter about a more youthful look. If you never smile, remind yourself to smile. If you wear black and grey, switch to mauve and pink. If you smoke, quit. If you are insomniac, see a doctor. If you're stiff, consider yoga classes. Okay, fine. If you think yoga is inherently pagan, try Pilates.

Yes, of course it is much more important that you are intelligent and have a good character. I once came up with a brilliant elementary school science project that should have gotten a much better grade than it did ; my teacher marked it down because it looked boring. And I guess it did look boring, consisting as it did of a small white bristelboard and red lettering and little jars. It stood in the gym between behemoth science projects featuring huge colourful bristelboards and displays with engines and wires and flashing lights. Nobody looked at my brilliant science project long enough to see how brilliant it was because most of the other science projects looked much more exciting. The prizes went to clever projects which also looked good.

Don't be like my science project.

I'm in a bossy mood, so I will go farther and vent about my personal pet peeve which is Single women cutting their hair too short too soon. This particularly bothers me in Poland, fabled land of beautiful women. Nuns cut off their hair for a reason, and this is not just so their heads are cooler under their veils. It is a way of announcing that they are simply not interested in attracting men; the men can push off. In Poland, I saw way too many Searching Singles with short hair.

My cries that Searching Single women should not cut their hair short always elicits answering cries from girls saying they honestly look better with pixie cuts. I have to respect this because I have unusually thick hair and have no idea what women with thin hair have to put up with. However, I have seen 30-something women with beautiful hair who have simply had it cut short, and I think this shortsighted. If you haven't given up on love, don't look like you have.

Incidentally, I just found "How to Dress Like an Old Lady" on the internet. I think it illustrates in an almost frightening way what I'm trying to tell you. Clothes, hair, make-up and posture really make a difference.


Sarah said...

My hair is quite a bit like yours, Seraphic-- red and very curly and very, well, yes, tyrannical is how I would describe my hair, too. (I love it anyway)

Anywho, I found my first grey hair in high school, but it was a freak incident, I think, and it never worried me much. And when I do start going grey, I don't think I will mind too much then, either. I think grey can look very dignified on women as well as men. And perhaps I am biased, but I have always really loved the redhead's version of salt and peppered hair. I also have promised myself that I won't cut my hair like it seems it is the rule to do once a woman turns 50.

theobromophile said...

"So we know that the most important thing is having a good relationship with the Most High, and next making sure we are well-educated, virtuous, useful women who will be able to support ourselves financially, etc?"

People who care about their appearance are often taken more seriously at work. Of course, looking "hot" or overly feminine can be problematic, but a woman who is healthy, fit, and put-together will find that such behooves her at the office.

(Says the no-longer-dewy-youth set.)

Anonymous said...

My posture used to be fabulous when I danced and now when I remind myself to SIT UP STRAIGHT I can feel my poor back groan with happiness, that's not to mention the change in my attitude. Good posture works wonders!

They mentioned millinery in that article. There used to be a hat shop near us (not a swanky milliner), now closed, owned by a permanently old man since forever. If you went into him he would look at you once and come back with the perfect hat out of hundreds. Hats - yay or nay? I never go out without one if there's a hint of rain. I rarely see women wear hats to gild the lily though, only practical woollen ones if it's snowing or freezing. I think we are due a gild-the-lily good tips post along with your annual "put on sunblock or you'll be prunes" one Seraphic. ;-)


Anonymous said...

Dear Dorothy, I have a very good relationship with my large mirror and it tells me that I look better with short hair;). It's also very comfortable because I have to wash my hair every morning and it goes faster with short one. And the most important thing is that I don't suffer any more from afternoon migraines caused by a long, heavy, thick, and tyrannical "mop";).

Sara, I don't see my greyish hair (used to be almost black) dignified, especially, when it doesn't correspond with a young look;). When you are almost 40, as I am, you will thank God for possibility of dying your hair ;D.

Girls, I' ve just bought a dye called "frosty auburn" (I hope I translated it correctly). It sounds very promising;).

Teresa of Kraków

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

In my last hair style change, I actually did choose a one that is longer than what I'd had for a while to be more feminine, with your advice in mind, so I'm not against the advice whole hog, but it's still short (to a long-haired girl; to my hairdresser grandma, it's between medium and short) because it looks good and is practical. It's feminine and cute, as well as wash and wear; a guy could run his fingers in it but it wouldn't be a long run.

Long hair and short hair can look equally good. For long hair, it's time and effort; for short hair, it's getting a good cut that suits the face (not just chopping it off, as a lot of girls I've known who told me they tried short hair and hated it did). I was also told by a successful woman lawyer that she advises young female lawyers and law students to get short hair or put their hair up. So, what to do? I can't change a whole profession, but I've known plenty of good guys who dated short-haired girls, and plenty of short-haired girls who've been asked out, gotten serious/married/etc.

I loved dyeing my hair. It was such fun. I wish the legal profession hadn't robbed me of my fun red.... someday it's coming back, because the sun takes my lovely darker brown and makes it a drab medium brown.


Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Oooh, I love hats! I wish I had a milliner nearby - but then maybe it's better since I have many more hats than heads already. I've been out and about with a nice broad-brimmed straw one this spring because I'm very fair and have enjoyed the shade and the style. Bring back hats, I say! (I also have a UV parasol and serious sunscreen, and mostly skirts for warm weather..... so even with short hair I think I'm firmly in the feminine realm). :-)

Sarah said...

The thing about dye is-- and this is why I stopped using it, after experimenting with several different shades of red, brown and black as a teenager-- it KILLS your hair. Kills it, fries it, chemically destroys it.

If I'm going to have grey hair, I'd just rather not have it look like a nest. ;)

Plus, I think people can usually tell when your grey hair is dyed after only a few weeks.

Charming Disarray said...

I have to disagree about the white mantilla. I think they're incredibly tacky and childish looking. During the winter I've started wearing cute knit hats but it's not feasible during summer, and I'm much happier with a black mantilla. It's more sophisticated. (And I almost never wear black otherwise.)

Seraphic said...

Oh dear. But in some Trid communities, black mantilla = married or widowed lady.

I like white mantillas. As long as they're aren't plastic or actually bridal veils, how could they be tacky?

Hats are one way around the mantilla issue. I am fond of hats myself, but if the weather is terrible, then mantilla it is.

Seraphic said...

Oh, of course, I wouldn't usually wear a mantilla at an N.O. Berets were simply made for N.O.s.

Sorry to hear that dye fries hair! What about Aveda all natural plant based thingamabob?

theobromophile said...

Henna (a) does not kill your hair; (b) makes it softer and thicker; and (c) does a fantastic job of turning grey hairs into lovely, shimmering, vibrant red.

Nzie: who says you can't be a red-headed lawyer?

Lynn said...

Seconding the henna comment! I am not fully red, and so use a mix of cassia, henna, and buxus. It takes away the frizzies for a good month. I can also just mix up a tablespoon or so to get the roots. Slap it on late in the evening, cover with a showercap and a hat, and go to sleep. No frying, no nasty smells, great conditioning.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Theobromophile - a female friend who graduated from law school a couple years ago advised against it for now. The shade I like it not natural looking at all, so I'd have to go auburn (been there, done that - I want red!) or lighten my hair first to get a natural look (already perming so not a good idea).

I had a pretty good experience with color in terms of hair damage, but I also didn't use a strong peroxide. My sister bleaches out to a platinum and it does hurt her hair, so she's had to use cholesterol on it, etc.


Jam said...

Well, some people would argue that mantillas themselves are a bit tacky, unless you're a Spanish/Hispanic lady, in which case your mantilla would be black anyway... (Are mantillas the Hitler of the Catholic blogosphere? sooner or later, it all comes back to lacy veils or murderous maniac dictators.)

I have thin, limp hair that just gets straggly if I try to grow it out so I keep it bobbed above the shoulder now. I assume this isn't the kind of "short" hair you're talking about! When it's not too humid and I think about it in advance and the planets align correctly I can get it to curl, which is sort of fun.

Seraphic said...

One day when I am feeling particularly lonely, I will do a WHOLE post on mantillas, and just watch the comments pour in!

I'm glad to hear about henna because I imagine that will be my eventual solution to the grey issue.

The Sojourner said...

My husband has seal-brown hair (it looks black unless he is wearing a black shirt/suit jacket or his black fedora, in which case it looks very clearly brown) and apparently found his first gray hair at 17 or so. He pulled it out to examine it, which is one of the great regrets of his life because it has not come back. (He's going to be 23 next month.) He is apparently very much a fan of the idea of looking distinguished.

My mother, who has medium-to-dark brown hair, started going gray at 23. (Coincidentally, the year I was born. >:)) She still dyes it, but I think partly that's because my brother is only 6 months old and Mom gets enough "Grandma" comments already.

My hair is not at all gray as far as I can tell (the base color is a light golden brown, which might help hide gray). It is fairly thick overall but apparently the strands are very fine or slippery or something because it is impossible to put up without lethal amounts of hairspray. I currently have it down to my waist and almost always wear it in a ponytail. Not fancy, but I don't have super posh jobs so for now it works. (My last job was as a nanny; before that I worked for the campus newspaper where, in the course of putting the paper to bed, we stayed up till 2 a.m. eating candy from the vending machines and getting increasingly giggly. The sports editor, who was always the only man, always cleared out fast. :))

My husband has said that his first crush was on a girl who had beautiful long hair and played the fiddle. (He and his siblings used to take Irish music lessons--some of his siblings still do. I'm not sure if he ever actually knew this girl or just admired her from afar.) Since I'm singularly unmusical, it's probably a good thing I like wearing my hair long.

This attempt at a pertinent comment is actually an excuse to cheer for the swashbuckling protector. Yay! Jimmy there is definitely my favorite so far.

sciencegirl said...

Wearing clothes that were my size, from a store where college kids shop, rather than clothes that were 3 sizes too big from stores where my mom shopped, really was an eye-opener for me. I started getting catcalls and didn't really know what to make of that.

Once I understood that fashion had predictable rules, I kind of went for it. It's been fun. At work, I blend right in with my science conference T-shirts and jeans, and when I go out on a date I am pretty stylin', and not in a 65 year-old woman kind of way. More like Zooey Deschanel with skirts that reach my knees rather than mid-thigh. Not to say that when I am 65 I won't WERQ IT!

I am happy that white and black mantillas at my parish are a liturgical season thing, rather than a life status advertisement. If ladies have two, they wear the white one during Easter and the black one during Lent, and if they only have one, they wear the one they have. I can't wait to see what they all do for Ordinary Time. I have a silver mantilla, a blue scarf, and 4 hats that I alternate based on my outfit and liturgical holiday. I'm busting out the massive straw hat with orange dahlias and feathers for Pentecost because, you know, fire & doves, descending on my head. Oh yeah!

I end up looking old-fashioned, like Mary Poppins, but she was kind of young.

amlovesmusic said...

Ummm I have another comment about short hair. OK, maybe an essay....

I went a little over a year growing out my hair. It was at my shoulders, or a little bit past them. I have a job that requires me to be outside on many days, so I would either wear it in a ponytail, or half up and half down.....on the rare occasion down, if I knew I wouldn't have to be very active that day.

I cut it off a couple of weeks ago. I have thick, somewhat curly brown hair that doesn't get frizzy. Now it is cut short to the nape of my neck, with shorter layers that end at my eyes. I work with mostly men at my office. When I came back, all of them said "Whoa, nice haircut!" "I like your hair!" "Did you get it cut?? Looks nice!! *shoulder pat*" The only comment I got that maybe wasn't a compliment was "Whoa, going for the 'urban' look?" Oh, and my boss complimented me on it *again* a week later.

I was scared that my boyfriend would dislike it too...because I told him I was cutting it, and he was a bit sad, but then said "no it's OK, do what you have to do..." and even he was pleasantly surprised, and complimented me on it numerous times.

Long story short(pardon the pun), not ALL short haircuts are bad!! I think men like what makes women look the best.

Charming Disarray said...

"Oh dear. But in some Trid communities, black mantilla = married or widowed lady."

I was wearing mantillas long before I ever heard of that rule, so I consider it modernism. :D

I tried experimenting with colorful scarves for a while. That was fun. I don't think white is tacky on other people but it just doesn't look right on me.