“I get weird looks from women in the age range where they’re just discovering their first grays, but older women—especially those with a whole head of gray—just love it,” Anna Muselmann says of her hair. At 22, she’s not prematurely graying; she dyed her brown hair a milky gray in April. “It’s funny to pass grandmas on the street and realize we have the same hair,” she says.
Muselmann, who works as a studio assistant in Oakland, has mostly kept her hair short since she first cut her ponytail off six years ago. “I could only ever imagine growing it out when my hair turned completely gray; the thought of long silver-white hair sounded so beautiful,” she says.
Gray hair has recently gone from dreaded to desired, as celebrities, models, and young women across the country head to salons to ask for silver-y finishes. Surprising no one, Tavi Gevinson did it years ago. Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Kylie Jenner, Orange Is the New Black’s Dascha Polanco, and Girls’ Zosia Mamet have all stepped out with gray locks in the past two years. Even Pink has gone gray.
“It’s an unconventional look, but it works well on a lot of skin tones,” says Aura Friedman, a colorist at Sally Hershberger Salon in New York City. It also transcends style: Gray is popular amongst those who religiously read fashion blogs and Coachella girls put it in braids and add flowers, but the muted tone is also ideal for a minimalist aesthetic. Even goths go for it. “As a teen goth in the ’90s, I dyed my hair black,” hairstylist Tabitha Baker-Duenas says, “but goth girls now are opting for gray instead. It’s pretty quickly replacing black as the go-to color.”
According to stylists at salons across the country, the number of young women who’ve requested gray dye jobs has skyrocketed in the past year. The popularity of dyed gray hair among young women has also emboldened older customers to stop coloring gray over.
Though fashion and beauty writer Mary Peffer doesn’t have a single gray hair, that didn’t stop her fromcreating a fan account on Instagram devoted to what she calls Gray Hair Heroes. “I’m fascinated with the cultural shift embracing a beauty marker so closely associated with aging,” she says. “In our culture, you go from being too young to too old, and you’re a narcissist if you’re happy with your looks.”
Despite the 21,761 photos tagged #grayhairdontcare on Instagram, the symbol of indifference to beauty standards is actually rather difficult to procure and maintain. “I often have to turn clients away, because I won’t dye someone gray before explaining that it’s very expensive and they’ll have to come back every four to six weeks for touch-ups,” Baker-Duenas says. “Sure, it’s kind of rebellious looking, but it’s also a lot of work.”
Julianna Lang, 19, a student at UC Davis and aspiring fashion blogger, found this out firsthand last week when she dyed her hair a dark, moody gray. Lang’s stylist didn’t bother booking any other appointments for the day; the job took 7½ hours. First, the hair must be de-colorized, or bleached white, and then the dye is applied. Lang’s boss has started jokingly calling her “grandma”; her “traditional Asian” parents think it’s absurd. But Lang loves it. So do many other women her age. “In the past few days, I’ve gotten numerous Facebook messages from girls I haven’t spoken to since high school all asking who dyed my hair and what the process was like.”
A year ago, Chicago-based fashion blogger Casey Schteamer bleached her hair white at the suggestion of a friend/hairstylist. “I was terrified it would look ugly,” she says. “Even though it definitely didn’t look pretty, it helped me get over my intense emotional tie to my appearance, which has been liberating.” Instead of going back to blonde, she played around with a few candy colors, and most recently settled on gray. She thinks the trend originated as an attempt to “push back against our culture’s obsession with staying forever young.”
The modeling world, which tends to reinforce this obsession, has been pushing back against it as well. Cara Delevingne, 22, led the gray charge, while Eckhaus Latta favorite May Hong’s gray hair has become such a signature that it’s listed among her height and weight online. But older women with (naturally) gray hair have garnered even more attention.* Joan Didion’s Celine ad, in which the 80-year-old writer poses with a curt gray bob and gigantic sunglasses, has been the most talked-about fashion advertisement of the year. Joni Mitchell recently modeled for Saint Laurent, Iris Apfel posed for Alexis Bittar, and Dolce & Gabbana included three grandmas in a 2014 ad campaign.
Linda Rodin, owner of cult favorite beauty line Rodin, is in her 60s and has recently found her modeling career picking up again after a long hiatus: She posed for a Karen Walker series and later appeared in a campaign for the Row. “It’s great to have recognition as an older woman,” she says. “It feels like an odd gift at my age, but I’m having such a good time modeling again.”
Correction, June 9, 2015: This article originally misspelled Cara Delevingne’s last name. (Return.)