Contributor Andrea Pflaumer talks about the best colors to wear with gray hair! Enjoy, darling.
For those of you who have decided to ditch the dye, first of all, congratulations. It can be a difficult decision, sometimes made harder by relatives, well-meaning friends…and hairdressers. But increasingly women are making that decision, and it’s being reflected in media advertising. Also, a lot of younger women are actually dyeing their hair gray. We’ve now become “cool.”
So for those of you who are going au naturel, let’s just think about what you will look like if you just stop coloring your hair altogether, and how to choose the best colors in your wardrobe for the new version of you.
Your Fundamental Color Palette
For starters, your ideal color palette remains fairly consistent throughout your lifetime. That’s because 80% of the palette is determined by the color undertone of your skin. Hair color and eye color only make up the rest – about 20%. So in general, unless you have undergone some health situation that has significantly changed your skin tone, your best colors will not change too dramatically from what you have always worn and loved. However, you may find that you prefer certain shades more now than you did when you were younger. Just use the yardstick of whether the color shows up first…before you do.
Is It Gray, White, or Salt-and-Pepper?
The original color of your hair will gradually lose pigment, fading to the lightest version of what it was. It actually becomes just more transparent, as melanin, the pigment that determines hair color, decreases with age. Also, So-called “gray” hair comes in many shades depending on the original color. There’s gray, and then there’s silver, and there’s salt-and-pepper, and of course, white. Some women with brown hair tend to have a mix of brown and gray as they age. And then there are those who have those fetching swaths of gray hair around the temples, or in sections throughout their hair.
The original color will determine what shade of “gray” it will likely turn. Many women who had jet black hair when they were younger will now have snow-white or salt-and-peppery hair. Blondes, especially those with very light blonde hair, can start to turn white as early as in their 30s. Their version of “gray” is actually closer to white. Brown-haired types may find that their silvery gray hair almost has some warmth to it, leaning a tad toward the orange range. They also often notice that their darker hair remains alongside the gray strands for a longer period of time than other colors. And for redheads, they tend to change to a white shade that still has an almost rosy-pink quality.
Contrast is the key
Because each of us is unique in our coloring, there can be no blanket dictums on what colors you should wear as your hair changes. But there is one guiding principle and it applies throughout your lifetime. The intensity of a color, how saturated it is, must still balance your inherent coloring. What that means is that the color will not overshadow your skin tone and eye color. So, using that yardstick, choose colors to wear near your face that will not overwhelm you or conversely, dull you out. By doing this you stay the focus, not your clothing.
So let’s imagine that you had very dark hair in your youth and that it has turned white or salt and pepper colored now. Assuming that your eye color is either black/very dark brown or very light (blue or green) and your skin tone is either very dark or very light, you are still going to be able to pull off shades that have a lot of “pop.” In fact, continuing to wear clear white, darkest black, clear reds, deep emerald greens, and very intense blues and turquoises will look quite striking against your white or salt and pepper hair. Your natural coloring was kind of dramatic to begin with, so these saturated colors simply carry forward that quality as well.
More on Skintones…
If you are one of those whose skin tone has always leaned toward a bright, warm, peachy pink your hair might have been in the blonde or brown category. So your hair has likely turned white or silver. You can also wear clear shades, but they will be those that are whitened down and warmed up a little. That means avoid the more saturated shades, such as very deep rich cobalt blues, very bright fuchsias, and almost neon-like colors. They can wash you out and make you look a little sickly. Your favorite peaches, many shades of pinks, baby blues, cornflower blues, lavenders, and orchids can be beautiful against your new hair color.
Brunettes are the most likely to actually turn a gray shade, but it’s a silvery gray. They often have some warmth in their skin tones, and less intensity, brightness or contrast in their overall color expression. So their ideal colors will be warmer, more complex, darkened, and combined with other colors instead of clear and bright. They include a lot of greens, particularly the “food” greens (avocado, olive, basil, e.g.) plum-like purples, lots of teals, and sensuous reds like brick, ruby, and maroon. The darker their skin, the more depth and complex will be their ideal colors.
The Softer Side
And if your hair, eyes, and skin were always on the softer side, and the contrast level between them was minimal, your original soft black, pale blonde, or “quiet” brown hair has now likely turned to a gentler dove gray. That means the contrast level in your clothing should also be minimal. There would be a visual disconnect if you wore, for example, black and white stripes, or bright red patterns on a black background, even if your hair has turned gray or even white. Grayed-down pinks, denim blues, (and lucky you: what we think of as “denim” blue is actually one of your best shades) seafoam and sage green, mauves, heather, and iris purples will be simply smashing on you.
Note: As for denim, I actually highly recommend my older women clients to wear jeans in one of their favorite shades. I personally think that older women with gray or white hair look very hip and downright sexy wearing blue jeans.
Making it Powerful
But one way to make a statement and show that you willingly own your changing hair color is to create an outfit that is an exact match to it. That can be a very sophisticated look. To avoid looking boring or like you are trying to hard change up the textile or the shade of the pieces. An example would be to pair a refined knit cashmere sweater with tweed pants in the same or similar color. And if your hair still has some of its original color anything that combines those shades in the weave, the textile, or the print can also be stunning.
It Can Actually Be a Blessing
But frankly, your changing hair color is not a bad thing. As we age our skin becomes less elastic and gravity takes its toll, causing it to droop a bit. So, outlining a less glowy face or one that has more experience lines by dyeing it can actually age you. Look at it this way: Mother Nature has given you a gift; a kind of softened halo that de-emphasizes those wrinkles and sags. Also, white, gray, or silver hair is more reflective and less absorbing of light. It will create an airier quality around your face. And things that are airy are, well, uplifting! And “uplifting” sounds a lot better than “gray.”
Have you embraced ‘the gray’? Let’s discuss this in the comments at the bottom of this page!
Andrea Pflaumer is the author of the Amazon best-seller Shopping for the Real You: Ten Essential Steps to a Perfect Wardrobe for Every Woman: Fashionistas, Fashion-phobes, and the Over 50 and She’s Got Good Jeans – a guide for how to shop for and where to find the perfect jeans for your body and budget.
Her new online course is called: Discovering Your Inner Style: An Adventure in Dressing Authentically.
Andrea does in-person and online wardrobe and shopping consultations for women worldwide and blogs at Shopping for the Real You. She is the host of a video collection entitled: Vital, Vivacious, and Visible after 50 and Shopping for the Real You: Expert Edition where she interviews women in the areas of fashion and beauty.
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