Grey matter: how Liz grew up

There comes a moment when a woman must stop dyeing and start to live an honest life. Elizabeth Taylor's time has come.

John Lyttle
Tuesday 29 July 1997 23:02

Elizabeth Taylor's decision to leave her shorn hair alone and let it grow shoulder length and proudly grey will doubtlessly be dismissed by many as a fashion, or anti-fashion, statement. In fact, it's more of a mission statement: a resetting of priorities. Having recently survived a five-hour operation to remove a tumour from her brain, Elizabeth has obviously realised that it's what's in, not around, your head that counts. Obviously and a tad belatedly. Having a raven- - indeed, raving - black barnet at the age of 65 did look damned odd; as if still playing the sex object at free-bus-pass age and beyond was of consuming importance, a measure of not only desirability but also self-worth.

Call it hair conditioning: grey hair makes men "mature" (John Major, Bill Clinton, Richard Gere) but renders women "old". It's the difference between distinguished and extinguished. No matter how much men are told "Let's all meet up in the Grecian 2000", they aren't actively threatened by total loss of allure. Women, however, are blithely expected to dye by their own hand at least once a month. Clock Nastassja Kinski's current Clairol campaign. Nastassja begins by confessing to disguising up the salt in her pepper, but insists that no one will ever be able to tell. Apart, presumably, from the millions of viewers already wondering why Nastassja keeps referring to her russet locks as "natural" - a tidy subversion of the truth. If she's so fixated on natural, what could be more natural than the wearing of the grey?

It might be well for Kinski and Clairol to consider not just ageing demographics - the grey area is expanding all the time - but also changing attitudes. Grey is this season's shade, the colour of relief - thank God, no more stained hands and smudged hairline - and the colour of tempered steel: of strength. Grey is fast becoming cultural, political and cutting edge.

Ask the clothes designer Betty Jackson, who carries off a silver mop without undue fuss. The same applies to Liz Tilberis, editor of Harper's Bazaar in the US, trim and precise and right at the thundering heart of fashion. And then there's Betty Boothroyd, Speaker of the House and the best sort of political pin-up. Her grey is one good reason why she's called "madam": an announcement that she has little time for trivia. We're talking of the wisdom that grey has traditionally bestowed on the male of the species, and of which Germaine Greer, an iron-head herself, has eloquently written. In that sense, grey might also be dubbed the implicit colour of threat. Hence, perhaps, Vivienne Westwood's shrewd abandonment of symbolically raging red for a bleach bob that mimics grey's cool authority. Maybe the lurking subtext also explains the snip-snip-sniping at lucky Liz, whom many would clearly prefer to struggle permanently with her figure instead of discovering a sense of proportion. Which is what grey signals most of all: I Am What I Am - if I have confidence, then I have no need to cover up. A lesson you don't need to be older to have learnt. Nastassja, take noten

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