Silver Hair Chronicles: ‘After the initial shock of knowing I actually had gray hair under all that hair dye, I kind of stopped thinking about it.’

Jennifer Gustafson gray hair

For Jennifer Gustafson, a 56-year-old interior designer, the thought of letting her hair transition to silver was much more traumatic than the actual experience turned out to be. In fact, the reality of her life with gray hair has been a positive experience with more compliments coming her way than ever before.

The stigma she thought would come with having silver hair dates back to her childhood when bystanders assumed her white-haired mother was her grandmother. Luckily, she’s only gotten positive feedback from strangers and friends alike, and among her friends she has become the expert  on how to finally ditch the dye. And she feels more confident and comfortable in her own skin than ever.

Maybe times are actually changing?

Speaking of change, Gustafson is all for it in other areas of her life as well. After 15 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, she moved to Louisville Kentucky a year ago. Read on for more on her gray hair journey and for a peek at some of her gorgeous interior design projects.

Jennifer Gustafson interiors

Photo via Jennifer Gustafson Interior Design

When did you see your first gray hair?

“I saw my first gray hair on the day I graduated from college. I put on my mortarboard and saw what looked like a white thread sticking up, except it was attached to my head! Thus began my decades-long exercise in denial.”

When did you stop dyeing your hair? 

“That was a really long process. Over the years, the process of covering more and more gray strands became a part-time job, AND it cost me about a thousand dollars a year. Every six weeks, I’d see my stylist for overall semi-permanent color and then low lights and strategically placed highlights. Then, we started doing bleached ribbons at my temples since that seemed to be where the gray was most concentrated. During one visit to the salon (probably 2012-ish), my stylist asked me what approach we should take long-term for the gray hair. I naively thought that I really only had to deal with my temples and almost hyperventilated when she informed me that I had gray EVERYWHERE!

My mom started going gray in her mid-late 30’s. She didn’t dye her hair, and I remember people asking me if she was my grandmother. The whole situation was embarrassing to me, and as a 10-year-old, I vowed never to be seen in public with gray hair. Like every other part of aging, I was in complete denial, then panic. I was worried that my young tech clients wouldn’t want to work with an old gray-haired lady. Also, who would want to date an old gray-haired lady? My stylist wisely suggested we table the discussion for another time.

I did have one boyfriend tell me that if I ever wanted to dye my hair again, that would be cool. He’s not my boyfriend anymore.

It took about a year and a half before we would broach the subject again. In the meantime, I started really looking at the hair of women my age. What I noticed is that it usually looked great, but also seemed a little off. There was something incongruous about the hair color and the skin tone that, once I noticed it, I couldn’t not see it. Finally, we came up with a plan. I had pretty long hair at the time, so the first step was to stop coloring, cut about six inches off the bottom, and apply a toner to keep the gray from yellowing. Then we’d stretch out appointments to three to four months to give my hair a chance to grow and then cut a few more inches off the bottom and use toner on the roots. My hair grows pretty fast, so we figured it would take about a year and a half to grow out the roots.

When we got to the point in January 2015 when she said I would probably need about six more months of growth, I bit the bullet and had her cut off all the remaining colored hair. She did a great job with the cut, but we both knew that the length would not be super flattering initially, but I was so over the whole process and knew it would look better as it grew back. When I think back at how I felt then, I remember being convinced I had so much gray hair that no one would recognize me. Ha! Looking at pictures now, it was barely noticeable. I’ve been letting my gray hair do its thing since then.”

Jennifer Gustafson Interior Design

Photo via Jennifer Gustafson Interior Design

Was it difficult at first to see yourself with white hair?

“No, not really. After the initial shock of knowing I actually had gray hair under all that hair dye, I kind of stopped thinking about it. It takes a really long time to go completely gray (if that even happens at all), so the change is very subtle.”

Do friends/family/strangers have opinions about your transition? 

“Honestly, any feedback I have received has been positive. Although I did have one boyfriend tell me that if I ever wanted to dye my hair again, that would be cool. He’s not my boyfriend anymore.”

How has going gray changed the way you feel about yourself?

“I’m more confident, which has surprised me. My hair is a hundred different shades of gray and brown. I really like it. I also feel more authentic about my appearance—a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of thing.”

Jennifer Gustafson Interior DesignPhoto via Jennifer Gustafson Interior Design

What advice would you give someone who’s considering going gray?

“Look, people should do whatever they want with their hair, and if coloring it to cover the gray makes them feel better, then keep up that routine. But I promise gray hair can be beautiful, and it’s unique to every person. It will naturally match your skin tone, make your eye color pop, and give you a softer appearance. It’s kind of freeing, really. People seem to have no problem dying their hair blue or pink or green or even gray these days. I don’t see much of a leap from that to growing out gray. If you don’t like it, you can always cover it with color and congratulate yourself for giving it the good old college try.

What’s been the most surprising thing about going gray? 

“How many compliments I get from strangers about my hair. It cracks me up when people ask if it’s my natural color. Also, I seem to be the go-to person among my friends and their friends about going gray. It’s a scary proposition to change your appearance so drastically, and I think it helps people to have someone to talk to who has gone through the process and who can be a cheerleader along the way.”

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