Men with gray hair are generally considered distinguished. (Think Cary Grant.) Women with gray hair are more often thought to simply look old. Does this double standard apply in the workplace and can it affect the way a woman is perceived and whether or not she's successful? Many ambitious women dye their hair because they worry that it will.

That insight comes from Jen Thoden, founder of Your Color Style. A frequent vlogger, she recently posted a video inspired by a speaker she met who wanted to let her hair go naturally gray but felt pressured to dye it. Thoden got a surprising amount of response. "I don't think I've ever received so many comments or emails," she says. And it's true--if you're a naturally gray ambitious professional woman (as I am) you do become acutely aware that the expected norm is to dye your hair. And you do find yourself wondering how potential clients, employers, or colleagues will respond to your gray hair.

But if, like the speaker Thoden met--and me--you prefer to leave your hair its natural color, Thoden has some advice to help you turn gray without coming across as old. "Even as a person turns gray, wearing the right clothes can make them appear vibrant," she notes.

Here are some tips:

1. Don't wear all dark colors.

As a native Manhattanite, I tend to depend too heavily on black, but that's all wrong, according to Thoden. "Dark colors can make you seem unapproachable," she says. "Instead, choose colors that naturally bring out your blush and lip color like medium pinks. Pink is a friendly and engaging color and looks great on everyone, even men. And if pink isn't your thing, try teal. It's universally flattering."

2. Choose vibrant colors.

Thoden says red, purple and navy are "power" colors that show authority. "These colors will have people taking you seriously and listening to your every word," she says. To avoid excessive darkness, choose a true red or bright purple, she says. And if you're wearing navy, balance it with a lighter, brighter color such as a pink blouse.

3. Pick colors you feel good in.

Perhaps the most important advice about color is to choose colors "that you feel amazing in," Thoden says. "When you feel good about yourself, that positive energy shines in all aspects of your life."

4. Go light on makeup.

As you go gray, start using a lighter touch with makeup, Thoden advises. "The heavier and darker the makeup, the more you could be emphasizing dark lines and circles--adding age," she explains.

5. Have a great haircut and clothes.

Don't use gray hair as a reason to give up on your own looks. Imagine a gray-haired woman with a stylish and flattering haircut, Thoden says. "She's wearing the right amount of makeup. The rest of her outfit fits well and is in colors that exude energy and confidence. People will look at her and see a competent, intelligent woman. It doesn't matter that her hair is gray. The woman is anything but 'gray.'"

6. It's all about confidence, and about accepting and embracing your true self.

"The more comfortable a woman is in her own skin, including her natural gray hair, the more confident she will be," Thoden says. "But many women don't have that confidence yet. It can be scary to let your true self show. We worry about being judged and it can be safer to hide behind hair color."

But if you can start accepting--and showing the world--your true self, it will have an amazing effect, she says. "The more people own their true selves, the more they break the fashion rules of color and style. And they can get away with it because their energy is so much stronger than the clothes and colors they wear." Someone who can do that "becomes the person in the room people want to talk to," she says.

"Allowing your hair to be naturally gray is an amazing way to start owning who you are and allowing your true self to shine through."

7. If your true self is a woman with dyed hair, then go ahead and dye it.

Just as you shouldn't feel pressured to dye your gray hair, don't feel pressured to stop dyeing it if colored hair makes you feel confident and like your true self. But think carefully about the color you choose, Thoden advises.

"One of the biggest mistakes women make when coloring their gray is making it too bright or too dark," she says. "As we age, our coloring naturally softens. Having bright hair would not be in harmony with your overall coloring and tone and it can be off-putting." In fact, it can have the opposite effect from what you're seeking. "Even if a woman had dark hair when she was younger, her hair is lighter now. The color of the hair should be in the same range of lightness to be in harmony with her natural color and tone. Darker hair may enhance lines and circles under the eyes and may visually age her."

8. If you want to grow out your gray, there are ways to lessen the pain.

Do you want to stop dyeing your gray hair, but dread the awful way it will look as its current color grows out? While it won't exactly be fun, growing out your gray doesn't need to be as awful as you fear. If you go to a beauty salon, a stylist can use such tools as highlights, low lights, color remover and temporary color that washes out over time, all of which can soften the dramatic line between your dyed color and your natural one.

If you dye your hair yourself and don't want to go to a salon, there are still a variety of tricks you can use. For one thing, stop using special shampoo for colored hair, since regular shampoo will wash out some of the dye. Here too, semi-permanent colors that wash out over time can be a great way to make a gradual transition. And if you've got light roots and want to look good for special event or meeting, consider using temporary root cover that you apply and then washes out. (Here are some more detailed tips.)

Published on: Aug 31, 2017
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.