Three years ago, shortly after I turned 43, my husband quietly started pressing me to have my hair colored. He had been dyeing his own locks back to their original sandy brown for years.

It struck me as vain. I resisted. Sure, my once-black mane was now salt-and-pepper. Ok, it was getting saltier all the time. Aggressively saltier. 

But hey—what about George Clooney? The phrase “silver fox’’ was practically coined for the man. If he was sexy, then couldn’t the rest of us use our gray to look “distinguished’’?

Still, I consulted my father. Fully expecting paternal benediction—“Son, you’re perfect as you are’’—what I got instead was a shrug.

“Yeah,’’ he said, “It’s probably time.”

And that’s how I become part of a relatively new fraternity, a pick-me-up for an otherwise sluggish salon industry: men who dye in midlife. 

It’s not vanity

This is not just my personal observation.

Anecdotal evidence abounds with stylists noting the increasing number of men showing up in their chairs. Men’s magazines are publishing guides to hair color and websites are having fun with dye-and-reveal posts. And industry analysts are noting an increase in sales of hair color for men.

Michael Boychuck, a celebrity colorist whose A-list clients include Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani and Paris Hilton, says he sees a steady rise in men visiting his 5,000-square-foot COLOR Salon at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

“A lot of times when people come in, they say ‘I have a business meeting and I don’t want them to see all my gray.'”
Michael Boychuck
Celebrity colorist in Las Vegas

In industry parlance, the men come in for “gray coverage.”  Baseball legend Pete Rose, 77, and pop singer Rick Springfield, 69, are among the famous male clients he is willing to name.

Boychuck says heterosexual, urban men—remember the metrosexual?— are leading the charge into middle age, having previously de-stigmatized other aspects of male grooming, such as manicures, pedicures and manscaping. While such grooming practices for men used to raise eyebrows, now they’re mainstream.

“Guys aren’t judged by that at all anymore,’’ Boychuck says. “A lot of times when people come in, they say, ‘I have a business meeting and I don’t want them to see all my gray.’”

It’s not vanity, says Boychuck. “It’s better for their professional life”

It’s your career

It’s true. Until I colored my hair, it had never occurred to me—or I just resisted thinking about—how others perceived my appearance. (I’m the tee-shirt and jeans guy in my household.) Balding men have a built-in early warning system that chronology is having its way.

But those of us lucky enough to keep our hair are often the last to realize our age is showing, especially when we don’t feel much different physically in that pre-wrinkle period when hair color may be the only external signal.

Steve Friess documented his entry three years ago into the growing fraternity of men who color their hair.
Steve Friess

In the era before the Internet and tech booms, that was OK, says Steve Reiss, publisher of the industry magazine Salon Today. Nowadays, though, the power in corporate America has shifted so dramatically to those in their 20s and 30s that looking “older”—as in, say, 45 or 55—is seen as a handicap.

“Older men have to look relevant in an era where there’s a digital divide and where looking older suggests you don’t get it digitally,” Reiss says. “Where a lot of men had said, ‘I would not color my hair because I’m not that type of person,’ they’re now able to justify it because it’s not about their egos, it’s about their career.”

What the ladies do

Boychuck hit on one of the other reasons I shied away so long from coloring my hair. For most of my life, coloring hair was effeminate.

As a kid, I’d tag along with my mother to her weekly appointment at the beauty salon. She’d sit in that row with all the other women, heads under shower caps under heat lamps, the potent scent of ammonia permeating the air. It was something the ladies did. Just the ladies.

Now, of course, we have a 72-year-old blond man in the Oval Office and much of the world sees him as an alpha male. Gone are the days when the public willingly bought the improbable notion that Ronald Reagan somehow had naturally jet-black hair well into his dotage.

But part of that emasculated stigma, Boychuck notes, stemmed from the fact that men’s hair color was once of such poor quality that it was comical. Pete Rose, now one of Boychuck’s clients, used to be a Grecian Formula pitchman in the early 1980s, the manufacturers hoping to use the athlete’s virility as a way to buffer any doubts about men using hair dye.

Instead, the product and its users became punchlines. (For the record, Rose’s hair is now an inoffensive black-and-grey.)

In fact, the color techniques and products have improved so much that the colored hair looks natural. 

“It’s not like you look like you have shoe polish in your hair,’’ Boychuck says. “It can blend in totally, it fades off nice, there’s no ammonia in a lot of these products now and they don’t turn red or orange.”

Curl up and dye

The key is that you look age-appropriate, says Reiss of Salon Today. “You’re looking for something that looks like you,’’ he says, “only better.”

Here’s his reasoning why men should curl up and dye: “If somebody told you your hair is dry, would you have any problems with conditioning it? If your skin was dry, would you have any problems moisturizing it?” 

“If somebody told you your hair is dry, would you have any problems with conditioning it?”
Steve Reiss
Publisher of Salon Today magazine

So, if your is gray, why not some highlights or color?

“It’s the natural progression,” he says.

So now it’s been three years and I’m still dying my hair. I like it. I look younger, I have a little more confidence, I haven’t lost any of my masculinity. Great.

But then Reiss goes a tad too far: “It’s not just hair, it’s their skin care. There are men who are wearing make-up.”

Make-up? Now that’s vain.