Gray Gets Respect : The President, a Premature and Unabashed Silver Fox, Creates ‘Positive Image Consciousness’


Though still shy of his first hundred days in office, Bill Clinton has not been spared his share of media criticism. But there’s one rite of presidential passage he will never have to undergo: the comparison of two photos, one from before Inauguration Day and one some time later, the former showing the chief executive with shiny dark hair, the other illustrating how much grayer he has become as President.

Clinton, now 46, began going gray five or six years ago--”probably about the time he started thinking about running for President,” says Jim Miles, owner of the U.S. Male hair salon in Little Rock, Ark. Miles cut Clinton’s hair regularly from 1979 until the inauguration.

At the beginning, he recalls, the President’s tresses were a fairly uniform light brown. Now, they’re about three-quarters silver.


According to Miles, that never seemed to bother Clinton. “He’s always been too busy to worry about it,” the barber says. “That’s probably why it happened.”

But not all men in their 40s are so oblivious to finding themselves suddenly silver foxes. Indeed, 42-year-old Michael Pressman says he’s sometimes surprised when he sees himself in the mirror, “because I forget I’m gray.”

Pressman, co-executive producer of the TV series “Picket Fences,” began graying in his 30s and was entirely gray by the time he was 40. And, he admits, “It really does annoy me sometimes that people miss my youthful face and think I’m 50. My girlfriend looks 28 to people, and a couple have even wondered if she’s my daughter.”

Still, like Clinton, many prematurely gray men accept the inevitable with relatively good grace. As Michael Mayer puts it: “At least I’ve got hair.” Mayer, 45, a production designer for “L.A. Law,” says that when he worked on commercials, he knew men who religiously darkened their hair, in the belief that people in advertising prefer to work with young-looking associates. But he never considered it. And with gray hair now, he says, “I think I look my age. After all, I’m not 19.”

Some men even believe that being gray puts them at an advantage in the business world. Ray Lewis, now 48, is a sales representative for Bank of America. He remembers starting to gray in his 20s, when he lived in New York, “and I used to go to this Italian barber who would clip out every gray hair individually. But finally, he threw up his hands and said, ‘No more.’ I laugh when I think about it now.” These days, Lewis says, he thinks that being gray makes him “a little more distinguished, a little more credible.”

Hair-care professionals--at least in Los Angeles--doubt that the President’s being gray is likely to persuade many men who color their hair to abandon the practice. Colorist Kaz Amor, who services a sizable male clientele at the Melrose Avenue salon Visions, says that most of the men whose hair he colors are too concerned with appearing youthful to change--although one client, a film editor, “has been leaving a little bit of gray. It’s more acceptable.”


Clinton’s biggest effect on male grooming, Amor says, is that “he’s created a very positive image consciousness.” But as for the President’s hair, “I think he would put color on it if he could. I think ideally he’d prefer to be a full-headed brown-haired President.”

Umberto Savone, owner of the Umberto and Umberto for Men salons in Beverly Hills, thinks Clinton may have experimented with color a bit. “Professionally speaking,” Savone says, “I’ve been noticing that some of the gray has been removed on and off over the past six months.” But Savone, who has been gray himself since he was 24, considers the President’s hair color one of the sources of the power Clinton projects.

Savone also notes that “if a man has a certain pigment in his hair and he puts some chemical on it, it’s going to turn red in two or three days.” Instead, he advises, “mousses and gels are probably the best way to go” for gray-haired men who want to brighten up their locks a little. On his own hair, he says, “I sometimes use a certain mousse that makes it look darker.

“No man has come in yet and said, ‘I want gray hair like (Clinton)’ or ‘I want his haircut,’ ” Savone adds. But in Little Rock, Miles says he’s aware that the former governor has become more of a role model than he used to be--and Miles wouldn’t be surprised if some secretly gray-haired American men soon begin showing their true colors.

“After all,” he says, “he’s our leader. And we’ve all got to follow the leader.”