I think we can all agree that “disaster” is quite a hefty word. It is bigger than “accident”, and bigger even than “calamity”. In my battered 85-year-old thesaurus, it ranks up there with “catastrophe, tragedy, ruin”. Yet this is how celebrity hairdresser Nicky Clarke has chosen to describe what would happen if the Duchess of Cambridge – brace yourselves – allows herself to go grey.
“Kate is such a style icon that even a few strands of grey would be a disaster,” he has said, like some latter-day follicular Nostradamus.
Now, I am in the front row of critics as regards the Duchess of Cambridge’s state-funded position as national clothes hanger, official breeder and trained ribbon-cutter. Privilege without merit, and all that. But if the world’s most-photographed woman manages to ignore comments such as this, and continues to let grey hairs grow in her (admittedly spectacular) mahogany barnet, then she could be performing the most important, subversive and feminist act possible for a member of the Royal Family.
For times have changed since Nora Ephron announced that hair dye was potentially more transforming for middle-aged women than feminism or exercise. Clarke (whose pronouncements also include “unfortunately it’s the case for women – all women – that until you are really old, you can’t be seen to have any grey hairs,”) clearly has a lot of followers, but suddenly those women in their late middle age who have naturally mature faces framed by immaculate black, chestnut or blonde swinging bobs do start to look a bit strange.
Could it be the case that the barnet fixer is actually a bit out of step, and the Duchess of Cambridge (despite her love for mid-height wedges) is fundamentally more on the button?
Perhaps we women who blast peroxide on our heads at the first evidence of grey should all think again about our desire to erase the signs of ageing, and thank the Duchess of Cambridge for leading the way. For not only is her position a provocative nudge against the unquestioned acknowledgement that youth is more beautiful than age, it is also a rebuke to silly double standards.
Let us muse, for one second, on the problematic hair – or lack of it – of her husband: a man who was already going bald while still in his twenties. Does Nicky Clarke suggest that Prince William’s baldness is a “disaster”? Is he urging the Duke of Cambridge to go for a combover? A transplant? A wig? Of course not, because nobody cares.
We all know that it is different for chaps, whose grey hair or indeed baldness does not indicate the end of fertility, and their usefulness on the planet, blah blah. The Silver Fox enjoys a sexy subset all on his own. Indeed, as far as men go it is clearly only the misguided likes of Mike Read or Paul “Jet” McCartney who give the opining of the likes of Clarke more than two seconds thought. And furthermore, thanks to Mumsnet, we now know that unexpected star of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn sends women’s hearts racing thanks to his “grizzled sea-dog look”. It may be one of the things which could end up sending him to No 10.
However, it is the likes of the Duchess who might encourage everyone to question our attitudes. Of course, it helps if you are gorgeous anyway. The beautiful Anna Ford made the front pages when she stepped out with grey hair, but that did not suddenly make her cheekbones any less spectacular. Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Helen Mirren; these are all setters of style who have also all allowed strands of grey to appear in their hair, while Jamie Lee Curtis (pictured) and Diane Keaton have gone the whole way, and are all the more fantastic for it, since they look confident and happy. They have made being grey look like a deliberate style statement, not an awkward moment of forgetfulness (“Damn! I forgot to book in with Nicky Clarke!”), which is very clever.
Wearers of glasses, of whom I have latterly become one, already know about this position. No longer are spectacles an embarrassing middle-aged admission of failing eyesight; they are an important fashion accessory, causing various people in the front row of fashion shows to affect myopia. Liberty has just launched a range of glasses by make-up queen Bobbi Brown and models on the runway this year for Alessandro Michele’s collection at Gucci all wore spectacles.
Nicky Clarke says “it’s not the same for women”. And in many areas of life, it is not. But in this case – under the influential lead of the Duchess of Cambridge and her revolutionary silver strands – it could become just that.Reuse content