When luxury beauty and lifestyle PR expert Nicola de Burlet hit her mid-forties, she did something nobody expected – she stopped going to the salon for her regular colour touch-ups and instead decided to go grey. Here she shares the ups and downs of revealing her natural locks and shares her ultimate grey hair guide for anyone else looking to join the ‘silver sisters’, from which shade to choose to the influencers to follow for hair inspiration.
Three years ago, at the age of 46, I made a momentous decision – or at least it felt like it at the time. After 23 long years of dying my hair, of sacrificing three hours every six weeks at the salon to trade out my unremarkable mousy brown locks for glossy chestnut, honey blonde, vibrant auburn and a variety of shades in between, I decided to stop. And I don’t just mean stop covering up my natural colour – I decided to stop full stop, embracing the silver shoots that had started to appear more and more each month and accepting that now was the time to go grey.
While it felt like the right decision – I simply couldn’t afford the time at the salon it took to maintain the dye now that it was becoming clear my hair was over 80% grey, and at-home kits made my hair limp and lifeless – that didn’t mean it was an easy one to make. Firstly, what would my husband make of this sudden change? I was worried he would look at the grey head on the pillow next to him and wonder who the old lady was, before demanding I go back to my original colour. But I couldn’t have been more wrong; when we chatted about it, he blew me away with his positive reaction and support. “You’ll look amazing,” he said, and that was it. My seven-year-old son, noticed my colour transition, wondering aloud about “granny hair”. Ask him now, though, and he can’t remember me with any other hair colour.
Then there was my professional life to consider. I work in the luxury beauty industry, where appearance and personal grooming is closely scrutinised – how would my colleagues and clients react to my natural look? While the change in my hair was fairly gradual, meaning there was no shock overnight reveal, one colleague did remark one day, in hushed, shocked tones, that it was strange that I worked in the beauty industry considering I didn’t dye my hair. I felt wounded, but not crushed – the odd negative comment certainly wasn’t going to dampen my enthusiasm.
Ultimately, it was my brilliant hairdresser, Mathew Alexander, who was my guide on how to navigate this new territory. Every time I saw him we would discuss my current state of grey, until one day I suggested we go all out, presenting him with a picture of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada as my inspiration; her cut was great, the colour stunning. I was utterly convinced – Mathew less so, but to his credit, he went with it. The fact I have a fair complexion and blue eyes was on my side, so we decided to take it lighter gradually and let the grey fade in, bit by bit, toning it as we went to give it a pearly hue. This carried on over several months and each time there was less blonde and a bit more grey as the toner did its work. Sometimes I worried that I might look like a badger with my ever-evolving ‘do, but I was determined to see it through – and I could always dye it back if I didn’t like it, right?
No one else I knew had taken the plunge, so I sought inspiration from famous fellow greys instead – Jamie Lee Curtis, whose short silver crop is elegance personified; British Fashion Editor and presenter Caryn Franklin, whose grey streak hypnotised me in the Eighties; French model and photographer Yazemeenah Rossi, who has spent her life challenging the youth-obsessed fashion industry by offering up gloriously candid shots that celebrate her untouched wrinkles and all-white tresses; and septuagenarian model Maye Musk, mother of Elon, whose pushed back grey quiff and enviable bone structure meant she was chosen to front a Covergirl beauty campaign at the age of 69.
In recent years, grey hair has become a trend in its own right. Scroll through any social media platform and you’ll see younger women and celebrities like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga experimenting with dye jobs and showcasing their grey locks. I looked through Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration when I was researching my fledgling look and was blown away by the beautiful contrast of silver hair on a young face – proof that grey is not just for the middle aged. It turns out everyone wants in on this trend, which brings with it a quiet confidence, a wonderful air of insouciance that I was drawn to.
The fact is, I had never understood the term “crowning glory” – my mousy hair was never anything to write home about. Over the years I had straightened it, permed it and dyed it, but now it took on its own identity, taking me along for the ride. It became a talking point, my trademark. People came up to me to comment on it. “I wish I was as brave as you,” said one woman on the morning commute. A young man stopped me on a smart street in Mayfair just to say, “Your hair is amazing”. I blushed, secretly thrilled. I had feared the worst by going au naturel, assuming I would be branded “old” and fade into the background. But the opposite happened – I stood out, but in a different way. I found a new confidence and started being more experimental with make-up and clothes to reflect this updated version of myself.
The Best Shampoos
There are a few things I’ve learnt along the way about my new look. Firstly, contrast is everything. Floral floaty dresses never worked for me at the best of times, but with grey hair I instantly became Miss Marple. I like the toughness of skinny jeans, a comfy T-shirt, a leather jacket and heels; white trainers with a dinner suit; a silk shirt unbuttoned and a statement earring. I’ve injected colour into my wardrobe for the first time – fuchsia pink, fire engine red, bright blues and greens – which make the grey sing and sparkle.
Make-up wise, I started to switch things up. Grey hair can wash you out, so a good foundation is key, and I use a sweep of bronzer and a pop of colour on the cheeks to lift my complexion. A well-defined brow will always bring structure to your face, but never more so than when grey hair is in play – I get mine shaped and tinted regularly. A smokey eye works brilliantly with grey hair and brings an edginess I love – think Chrissie Hind. I never wore a red lip when I was younger, but now you can’t stop me! Bright pinks and coral tones also work well, depending on your skin tone.
The Best Conditioners
If there’s one thing I’ve discovered on this journey, it’s that going grey is all in the attitude. Greys are a tribe – you know it by a subtle smile, a discrete nod. It’s like we are old friends, bonded together by our hair colour. I bumped into one such silver sister I had been chatting to on Instagram in real life one day, on the stairs in a club in Mayfair, and we took one look at each other and said, “It’s YOU!” and hugged.
There is a frankness and honesty in going grey that says, “This is me – I am embracing who I am and where I am in my life”. It takes courage and it is a journey. It won’t happen overnight, but if you have the right people by your side you’ll find it can be a wonderful experience. I now walk a little bit taller and have a lot fun exploring this new look I have carved out for myself at the age of 49 – I’ve also been signed up to a modelling agency, as the media industry starts to embrace the grey more and more. No fading into middle age for me – this is only the beginning.
The Best Boosting Products
How To Do It: Nicola’s 5 Fool Proof Tips
It’s all in the cut
An edgy, chic cut provides a beautiful contrast with the colour. A sharp bob, a sweeping fringe – now is the time to really make a statement.
Using the right products is key
Grey hair is thicker and more wiry, so using the right conditioner is vital. Invest in a purple shampoo to tone down any yellow elements and keep the silver shining. If your hair is dry, use a hair oil as a pre-wash treatment to hydrate and really bring out the gloss.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
Now is the time to really play with colour when it comes to make-up. Try a more vibrant shade of lipstick – I love a bright red (a cool red works best with my complexion, while more orangey reds work well with warmer tones).
Keep it bold
I find a tougher look works really well with grey hair – I’d always wanted a second ear piercing, so I went ahead and did it; it adds a bit of edge. And a denim jacket or a leather biker look great – layer under a khaki utility jacket or a smarter Crombie coat, depending on where you are going.
Listen to your hairdresser
Not all greys are created equal and it’s a genetics lottery as to how grey you’ll go and how fast – the back of the head being the last to go. Discuss with your hairdresser about how to manage this and figure out what’s right for your hair.
The Social Media Influencers To Follow For Inspiration
This fashion journalist, author and Telegraph columnist’s feed is full of style tips on how best to dress up grey locks, as well as discussions around slow fashion and smart interiors picks. Check out her Instagram highlights reel to see how she manages her grey and learn about her own silver-haired inspirations.
South African model and pro-ageing ambassador Deborah Chambers is best known for her dramatic grey quiff, which has become her signature look. Follow her for her latest style advice, from statement glasses to brightly coloured suits, and learn how to master her much photographed ‘do (clue: it involves a lot of volumising root lifter).
British Vogue’s eternally chic Deputy Editor and Fashion Features Director has long been a champion for the silver brigade, having turned her natural mink-grey hair into a style statement when she was in her twenties. Tune into her feed for elegant musings from the front row and to marvel over her waist-length silver tresses, which never have a hair out of place.
World-renowned sexagenarian silver-haired model and photographer Yazemeenah Rossi has spent her life challenging the youth-obsessed fashion industry by offering up gloriously candid shots that celebrate her untouched wrinkles and natural grey tresses. Her hair first went white in her thirties and she has said she never once thought about dying it, despite being offered “a lot of money” to change it.
Tracey Lea Sayer
Fashion editor Tracey Lea Sayer’s feed shows her styling her gamine grey crop with a seemingly endless variety of looks, from high waisted shorts and kaftans to statement coats and power suits. Funny, frank and honest, you’ll also find her sharing her views on everything from menopause to the best workouts for the over-40s.
This French journalist, fashion writer and author shocked tout le monde when she decided to go grey seemingly overnight, rejecting root spray as she continued to post her outfits on Instagram with snow white roots emerging from her dyed brown hair. She has since written a book, Une Apparition, which documents her journey from artificially coloured to silver maven.