How millennial men are embracing grey hair

On two magazine covers that singer Zayn Malik has graced in the last few months –for Billboard and L'Uomo Vogue (as well as the racy video with his girlfriend, Gigi Hadid) – he looks every bit the young, brooding pop star. The requisite smoldering stare, perfectly manicured stubble and bad boy tattoos are all in tow.

And then there's the hair.

Malik, 23, a former member of the musical group One Direction, peers out in both images from beneath a silver mane. This isn't a case of a young man going prematurely gray, but a premeditated decision by the performer, who has a penchant for dyeing his hair and then broadcasting it to his 6.5 million Instagram followers.

Zayn Malik sported grey locks for the cover of Billboard magazine.
Zayn Malik sported grey locks for the cover of Billboard magazine. Photo: Supplied

Scroll through the gallery above to see 50 smouldering grey looks. 

Gus Kenworthy, the Olympic freestyle skier who came out as gay last year on the cover of ESPN magazine, debuted an ashen dye job in December on Instagram, thanking Anderson Cooper for the inspiration, adding the hashtag #50shadesofgay.

It's just another bold way to stand out from the crowd.

Michael Fisher

They're not alone.

“I’ve always been confident, but now I feel more fun and cooler,” says Michael Vasquez of his artificial gunmetal hair.
“I’ve always been confident, but now I feel more fun and cooler,” says Michael Vasquez of his artificial gunmetal hair.  Photo: Danny Ghitis / The New York Times

Dyeing to be grey

Gone are the days when guys would actively avoid greying hair. For a new generation of adventurous men, dyeing one's hair grey is gaining traction, appropriating a naturally occurring phenomenon from older men and giving it a millennial twist.

"Men are embracing colour more in a general way," said Amie Rau, a stylist at Matthew Morris Salon in Denver, who dyed Kenworthy's hair. "This is an extension of that."

Both Malik and Kenworthy declined to be interviewed for this article.

Rau said that since their first session, Kenworthy had brought in an image of a young woman with dyed grey hair as inspiration. "He kept asking me, 'Is it crazy that I want to do this?'"

After the ESPN cover, Kenworthy, 24, went to Rau to go platinum blond. "I said: 'You know, you just came out to an entire nation. You should do what you want to do,"' she recalled saying.

Grey and silver hair has definitely been trending, said Aura Friedman, a senior hair colourist at the Sally Hershberger Salon in New York. "The demographic of guys who come to me to go grey are doing it more as a fashion statement," she said, as opposed to a more natural look.

Friedman said she has dyed the hair of Phillip Picardi, the digital editorial director of Teen Vogue, and Drew Elliott, the chief creative officer for Paper magazine, among others.

Hair raising issue

Interest definitely seems to be up. A representative from Amazon said it had seen a threefold increase in the last year in customers searching for grey hair dye.

"It's kind of an ironic statement, especially when the wearer is noticeably young and probably years away from natural greying," said Michael Fisher, creative director of menswear at Fashion Snoops, the trend forecasting agency. "It's just another bold way to stand out from the crowd."

Tyler Oakley, 26, the social media personality who parlayed his online cachet into the documentary "Snervous" and book "Binge" last year, has experimented with his hair colour, adopting many shades, from purple to green.

"Grey is the favourite colour I've ever had," he said. "It was unique and fun, but it's not eye-catching in the way that like lilac or mint was. When I had those colours, I felt like everyone was looking at me. With grey, I felt like I was trying on a new look, but it was also relatively natural."

Silver foxes

Celebrities aren't the only ones to take the plunge. "I've always been confident, but now I feel more fun and cooler," Michael Vasquez, 30, a senior business analyst, said of his artificial gunmetal hue, now several months old. "I really love it. I feel sexier."

Admittedly, part of that is because of the positive response he received from friends and on social media, getting 90 "likes" on his Instagram account. "Of course, my mom doesn't like it," Vasquez said with a laugh.

Achieving the silver fox look is an involved process. "In the industry, we call it a bleach and tone or a double process," Friedman said, referring to a two-part procedure in which the hair is first stripped of its natural pigment and then coloured, an undertaking that can last eight hours and is often costly.

While there is a range in prices depending on hair length and colour, Friedman estimated that going grey would start at US$350 ($488) at most salons. (She estimated a session for her services would be $600.)

And that doesn't take into account upkeep. "It does require a lot of maintenance, going back to the salon for touch-ups and conditioning it at home with the right products in between appointments," she said.

The continued care also requires commitment, Rau said. "It's like owning a pet."

Fifty shades

But because there are so many shades of grey – from those with bluish undertones to more natural variations – the colour must be versatile enough to compliment a variety of skin tones.

"When you've got grey hair, every move you make seems 'young' and 'spry,'" Andy Warhol said in his 1975 book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B & Back Again) to explain his decision to dye his hair gray in his early 20s, a look that became his calling card. "It's like you're getting a new talent."

While there aren't many precedents for young men co-opting the hoary coifs of their elders, trendsetting women like fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson, pop star Grimes and Tilda Swinton have all embraced a faux grey.

"It has nothing to do with wanting to look old," said Fisher of Fashion Snoops. "We are in the midst of a time when guys are breaking their own boundaries and really finding new ways to express themselves. Having grey hair plays right into that."

NEW YORK TIMES

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