AFTER YEARS OF being camouflaged, colored, covered, even plucked, gray hair is finally becoming acceptable to trend-setting women. Marie Seznec, for example, the celebrated house model for the new King Midas of haute couture , Christian Lacroix, sports a salt-and-pepper mane. CBS-TV newswoman Kathleen Sullivan, prematurely gray at age 34, lets her silver show through. And recently, Vogue magazine featured a gray-haired model in one of its more avant-garde beauty layouts. Even hairdressers, traditionally the last to admit that there's a place for gray, now concede that many women who have gone silver not only look good but they look modern as well. Manhattan hairdresser John Sahag, who styled the gray-streaked hair featured in Vogue, says a touch of gray "projects a creative spirit and a sense of playfulness. Suddenly, a number of younger ladies with salt-and-pepper hair are not coloring it. And it looks very sexy." A specialist in wash-and-wear cuts, Sahag says women who like easy-care hairdos tend to go for the "freedom of not coloring their hair. For them, going naturally gray is the answer."
Short-haired Maria Wagner, director of daytime television's "As the World Turns," is one of those women. Wagner says that after dyeing her hair for five years she went gray to buy herself more time. "When you cut your hair every three weeks and have to color it every four weeks, it gets to be too much trouble. Now it's natural and it's easy. People think I put in the highlights." West Coast travel writer Judy Wade, who has had white hair since she was in her early 30s, says most people mistake her for a blonde. "Others just think I'm young with prematurely gray hair," says Wade, an avid bicyclist. "When I take off my biking helmet, nobody expects to see an old woman with gray hair. I have a very active life, so most people don't judge my age by my hair color."
The graying of L.A. gets more apparent each day: KNBC-TV newscaster Colleen Williams has a fluff of gray bangs; Eleanore Phillips Colt, West Coast editor of Vogue, wears a dramatic white pageboy, and Joan Quinn, art patron and West Coast editor of Interview magazine, adds a touch of the unexpected to her salt-and-pepper hair with fuchsia streaks.
Still, says one Hollywood studio executive who requested that her name not be used, "it takes guts for a woman to let her hair go gray in Los Angeles." She is among the many who believe that gray hair is considered an asset for professional men but a liability for career women--especially in the entertainment industry. "With gray in my hair, I might be considered too old for the business; yet Johnny Carson and Grant Tinker can go around totally silver and totally successful. It isn't fair, but that's the way it is."
Many men, however, are coloring their hair, either to downplay the gray or to enhance the shade of gray that nature gave them. "Psychiatrists, professors, attorneys--not just celebrities--come in to do something with their gray hair," says Gini Herron, a stylist who specializes in hair color at Beverly Hills' Umberto salon. For those who prefer home hair coloring, Clairol has been offering Silk 'n Silver, a semi-permanent rinse that diminishes the yellow cast in gray hair, for 30 years.
One of the most attractive looks blends an appealing shade of gray with the original base color. "For some women and men, I leave a few gray hairs showing for a natural look," Herron says.
The emerging let-it-be attitude toward gray hair is a reflection of the fact that the baby-boom generation is getting older. Passing age 40, going gray and having a few good-natured crinkles around the eyes are suddenly becoming trends instead of taboos.
As author and poet Erica Jong has said, "We will really have made progress when women flaunt their gray hair and begin to enjoy, rather than tolerate, the external effects of age."
Hair: John Keoni / Cloutier; makeup: Carol Shaw / Cloutier; styling: Danny Flynn / Celestine-Cloutier