BY DESIGN : Gray Hair Can Mean a Silver Lining

I t's mostly inevitable, the arrival of silver threads among the gold, but there are a lot of us who would rather suffer a plague of boils than the sprouting of a single gray hair.

For years we've watched the battle rage, women and men snatching up bottles of Clairol and Just for Men, the symbolic artillery in the war against visible aging.

Is the graying of America really the eyesore so many of us seem to think it is?

HE: Glad you asked, and boy, have you come to the right place. Speaking as a 41-year-old who has not a single hair on his entire head (apart from a couple of rogue red ones in the mustache) that isn't gray, I can say with truth that, if I could have my old brown hair back, I don't think I'd take it. (I'd take a little more hair if I could, but that's another story.)

I look at photographs of myself a few years ago when I had brown hair, and there's nothing about my appearance that's particularly striking. Now, though, people don't have much trouble spotting me in a crowd, and all that gray--silver, if I'm going to flatter myself--tends to make me look a lot wiser than I really am.

I get a lot of mileage out of knowing that Steve Martin is only eight years older, and he's just as snowy on top as I am--and has been for years. Think it hurt his career?

SHE: I don't laugh as hard at Martin as I used to. But maybe that's more about my grayness than his.

I've been hiding my silver threads since they first popped up when I was in my 20s. They bugged me then, and they bug me now. Let's face it: Gray hair can make you appear wise, but it can also make you look older than your years. I'm for looking as young as I possibly can, because that makes me feel young.

HE: That old saw about being as young as you feel? It's true. When I look in the mirror, I don't see an old guy. In fact, with that magical illogic particular to guys, I still think I'm about 22.

That can apply to women, too, I think. I'll never point the finger at any woman who wants to hide her gray artfully, but my hat's always off to the one who allows it to show. Some of the most striking women I've ever seen have had a big, full head of gleaming silver hair. It bespeaks confidence.

SHE: I think I have confidence for remaining a brunette all these years.

Be honest. In a room full of women, who would you approach first: the blonde, redhead, brunette or gray head? I'm guessing you'd make a beeline for the blonde, then the redhead, the brunette, the gray.

HE: Hair color doesn't mean a thing to me. I'll admit I'm partial to red hair, but there had better be a brain underneath it or she might as well be bald.

Don't misunderstand: The sort of gray on a woman I'm talking about needs to be just as stylish and well-cared-for as any other color. A well-crafted hairstyle is a must, as is attention to bringing out the highlights in the hair. It ought to shine. It should appear silvery.

You may be working with the stereotype of the moody poet in Birkenstocks with her unkempt gray--and in this case it's gray-- hair carelessly yanked back into a frizzy pony tail. If that's New Age, I'll remain fossilized.

SHE: But you said you were partial to red hair. Why, if hair color doesn't mean a thing to you?

HE: Yes, I'm partial to red hair, all other things being equal. But all other things--smarts, wit, a pretty smile--aren't. They can't possibly be.

SHE: I remember the big statement Barbara Bush's gray hair made when George Bush took office. People were generally turned off by her grandmotherly looks. They seemed to respect it on the one hand, hate it on the other. She was alternately patronized and shunned. Her silver hair looked particularly odd next to her husband's brownish-red locks (did he dye it?).

And now with Bill and Hillary, you've got the opposite thing going. His hair seems to be getting grayer every day. And Hillary's tresses keep changing from blond to brown and back again.

About the only gray hair I've ever admired covered the heads of Barbara Stanwyck and my beautiful mother, Dorothy. They had a sparkle in their silver that enhanced them.

HE: And that's my point. Silver hair, properly maintained, can look terrific.

Heck, if people think they look prematurely geriatric or just plain ghastly with gray hair, they can color it. I just think they ought to give it a chance. I got my first wisps of gray at the temples when I was about 19, and I got ragged about it, but I knew I'd look purely ridiculous trying to color them away. And when the gray started getting fairly overwhelming in my early 30s, I figured Nature was trying to tell me something.

Why complicate your life and run the risk of looking like hell by gooping up your hair?

SHE: It's true that men can't get away with dyeing their hair the way women can. Short hair showcases gray roots. And the brassy tones that come from a total dye-job look ghastly on men. They don't get to use makeup to balance it out.

But gray-haired men might consider doing what many gray-haired women do: Have a professional hair designer streak their hair with platinum or ash tones. It can only make them look younger. And what's wrong with that?

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