I’ve been thinking about long gray hair. In particular, long gray hair with flared jeans. Should the combination unsettle us?
Let’s address the pants first. As one does. Flared jeans create controversy. Are they dated or modern? Trendy or delusional? In any case, these days they appear to make a non-classic statement. Some people like them, some people hate them, reasonable people can disagree. But they are clearly Out There, even if we don’t locate There exactly.
Long gray hair creates controversy in oh so many ways. If I sum up my current conjecture, I’d say it’s because we are OK with gray hair on women if aligned with expectations for midlife, i.e. cropped short and no-nonsense to enable more time in the garden, or cut to a precise chin-length bob for all things corporate. Visibly long gray hair, in a pony tail, or, heaven forfend, down one’s back, tests boundaries. Implies that women may, possibly, even as they age, still be Women. That we might still have some bounce in our flounce.
Today, however, it’s the nexus of flared jeans and gray that we will consider, a conjunction in which gray plays the provocative role of Madame Letting Herself Go, flares the villain, Questionable Style. This particular episode we shall entitle, Respect In The Office. And thank you all in advance for your stellar comment contributions to a previous post, including this comment from Prep West.
“Now that we are on the subject of hair color, have you ever considered the statement that a combination of hair color and clothing style might make? Could it possibly be that some people might think either consciously or subconsciously that a person with grey hair was wearing “Disco” flared jeans because they wanted to live in the past? Would that thought even occur if the person had a different hair color? Might they then think that that person’s ideas were not current and therefore that person should not be listened to? So, perhaps one or the other, but not both?”
(I ask that we please do not put Prep West in the stocks here. You are all so nice, and might leap to my defense, and while I appreciate your warmth more than I can say, this time I want to discuss ideas without regard to my feelings. I value all civil contrary opinions.)
When I requested clarification on the impact of gray hair, Prep West answered,
“The situation is one of impressions, if your hair is colored skillfully to the true range that it once was it most likely would give the impression that you still care about your appearance, if it is noticed at all. The greater issue is what the impression will be if you do not. Will some people think that you have decided to, “Let yourself go” because it is the norm for most women to be very attentive to their hair?”
Let’s deconstruct. To test our hypothesis, we change some of the variables and see if the outcome shifts. For example, if I had gone back to work at an investment bank in New York City, could I keep the gray? Could I wear flared jeans?
A big no to the jeans, but it’s the denim rather than the flare that raises eyebrows. As for the gray, while I’d probably have to dig my heels in harder, I think I’d be on the same path. I hope that had I been suited to investment banking back when, i.e., had I been able to both count and fight, that by now I’d be valuable enough to be allowed to do whatever the heck I wanted with my hair.
Let’s also test the hypothesis by taking it to extremes. Could I wear long gray hair, if I let it go altogether? No. Could I wear flared jeans, if I decorated them with a Bedazzler? No. So we’re talking about moderation. Does this nexus work in a world of moderation?
I think yes.
You see, I do not feel my long gray as is says, “She’s letting herself go.” At least not in any way that indicates weakness, or decay. Yes, one can interpret “Letting oneself go” to mean giving up, ceasing the effort required to stay engaged in a competitive world. In that model, if one lets go, one falls.
One could also, however interpret “letting oneself go,” to mean letting oneself go – forward.
That’s how it feels to me. As though very little of my emotional and cognitive bandwidth is now used in restraint, or pretense. That at 55 I am who I am, for better or worse.
I don’t mind looking 55, not one bit, as long as I’m the boss of what 55 means.
Back to the question of flared jeans. No matter the era or environment, I have shown up in wider-legged pants, whether beige Armani or denim 7 for All Mankind. They look better on me. Let’s say it’s my style hallmark. There’s room in this world for repeating oneself over the years, for sticking, all resolute and eccentric, to a certain shape, size, or color.
- Because I don’t think my hair says I’m letting myself go
- Because I don’t think flared jeans mean Disco
- And besides, nobody should be wearing flared jeans with rhinestone studs, oh wait I digress
- Therefore I do not believe the nexus of grey hair and conservative flared jeans compromises my authority in the workplace.
Here, gray hair and flared jeans mean pretty much the opposite of giving up and living in the past. But if I thought that my pants, or my hair, posed problems, they’d be replaced in an instant. Work clothes are about function, and leadership requires biting all kinds of bullets. I reiterate that all perspectives are useful, in our shared project of social anthropology and style. The question was well-worth considering. The conclusion might have been otherwise drawn.