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Shades of grey: to dye or not to dye one's hair in later life



This article examines older women's perceptions of grey, white and coloured hair. Using data from in-depth interviews with 36 women aged 71–94 years (mean 79), we elucidate the women's attitudes towards and reasons for dyeing or not dyeing their hair. The majority of our participants disparaged the appearance of grey hair, which they equated with ugliness, dependence, poor health, social disengagement and cultural invisibility. The women were particularly averse to their own grey hair, and many suggested that other women's grey hair was acceptable, if not attractive. At the same time, half of the women liked the look of snowy white hair, which they associated with attractiveness in later life as well as with goodness and purity. While one-third of the women had begun to dye their hair in their youth so as to appear more fashionable, two-thirds continued to dye their hair in later life so as to mask their grey hair and their chronological age. The women suggested that they used hair dye to appear more youthful and to resist ageist stereotypes associated with older women. We discuss the findings in relation to previous research concerning older women's hair, the concept of doing gender, and theories pertaining to ageism.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Laura Hurd Clarke, School of Human Kinetics, University of British Columbia, 156–1924 West Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z2, Canada E-mail:


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Shades of grey: to dye or not to dye one's hair in later life



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