Time to say bye-bye to my outer Golden Boy
Robert Redford is still unabashedly the “Golden Boy” — from the neck up. A stylist’s observation about hair colouring led Toronto man to an epiphany and a new look
When strands of grey and white hair start popping up in men, it often provokes an existential crisis. Even in the era of metro-sexuality, most men cave, letting nature take its course. But there’s an increasingly large minority vowing resistance, viewing guys like actor Robert Redford as prophets fighting the onslaught of the Grey Scourge. For de- cades, Redford has defiantly retained the golden locks that made him a Hollywood mega-star. Bob, bless him, is now in his early eighties, but he’s still unabashedly the “Golden Boy” — from the neck up. All of the above is something of a preamble to my own “Should I? or shouldn’t I?” saga about whether to go grey. But let me briefly detail the backstory behind this gruelling decision. Years ago, I wrote a story for a national newspaper about an ambitious young hair stylist named Jie Matar, a man renowned as much for his genius at selfpromotion as his deftness with a pair of scissors. The profile made Jie, whom I dubbed “the god of hair,” an overnight sensation with clients queuing up to be “Jieified” (his words). I, too, became one of his loyal clients, a role that came with a price, however: Never question The Maestro.
When the first strands of grey made their fearsome appearance, Jie insisted they be killed with chemicals. Who was I to argue with a god?
So, for many years, my Nordic locks remained resolutely sandy-blond and Redfordesque. And, indeed, on one bizarre afternoon a couple of years back, I was importuned in Toronto’s financial district by a clearly over-refreshed gent bellowing, “Well, hello Robert Redford, I’ll see you at the Oscars!!”
But I have increasingly felt it’s time to eschew the chems and say “Bye-bye” to my outer Golden Boy. Friends were divided on the “merits” of such a move. One camp warned, ominously, “Are you off your rocker? Ageism is rampant in the marketplace.” Others were more sanguine. “Remember your mom’s lustrous white hair, you’ll look like Anderson Cooper’s older brother.”
But then something quite fortuitous occurred that moved the dial toward the grey option. I bumped into Tony Charr, a well-known Yorkville hair stylist whom I’ve known since the days he worked with Matar. “Hey, Robert, I just moved my salon to Av/Dav, come by for a visit.” It’s an invitation he’d graciously extended in the past, but I always demurred, a decision that in no way reflected my feelings about his talents:
Young hair on an old face was off-putting, with your eyes inevitably focusing on the “do” not the “person” wearing it
Charr’s patently one of the top stylists in town.
But then involuntarily, I spat out what I’d secretly been mulling: “I am thinking of going au naturel; what do you think?” Running his fingers through my hair and exposing my iceberg white roots, he said, “You’ve got to be a bold personality to be white but you can do it.”
Not entirely convinced, I made an appointment, but then foolishly canvassed opinions about the big decision. “Are you nuts?” seemed to be a common refrain. Others, however, thought it a major way station along a Calvary called “growing old gracefully.”
By the day of the appointment I was in a state of suspended indecision, a nanosecond away from beating a hasty retreat back to Redfordville. “Give me dyes or give me death” sounded like a compelling mantra. But Charr assured me going grey, or in my case, white, would be an incremental process. The makeover drill would unfold as follows: He’d slowly “chip away” the sandy-blonde colour, replacing it with lighter highlights more compatible with my now Arctic-white roots.
“Don’t worry, it will be great,” he assured me. “You’ll look like you just jetted in from Stockholm.”
For anyone who’s never had highlights, let’s just say it’s a testing experience. Strands of your hair are dyed with the appropriate pigment then wrapped in tinfoil so as not to “infect” nearby follicles. And then you fiddle your thumbs and try not to look embarrassed while it dries. Let’s just say you gotta summon any dormant testosterone back into active duty for manliness maintenance.
While doing his work, Charr made an observation I found riveting. As people age their skin colour subtly changes in lockstep with their hair so when an older person sports exuberantly coloured “young hair,” the overall effect can look out-of-sync. “What happens is people focus on a person’s hair, not their face and eyes,” he explained, “and it’s the face and eyes that expresses someone’s humanity.”
That little apercu came as a news flash, but over the next few days, its fundamental truth struck me. Young hair on an old face was off-putting, with your eyes inevitably focusing on the “do” not the “person” wearing it. Some folks who go over-thetop colouring their hair often look like refugees from Ringling Brothers.
When the time came to remove the tinfoil, it’s safe to say I was apprehensive but excited. My secret fears that I would look like Father Christmas quickly dissipated. It was a new look, for sure. Redford was gonzo. And, sure, the white hair aged me a bit, but in a good way. But on the big existential issue, Charr was correct. When you look in the mirror, you see a person, not a haircut. I was sold; it’s a done deal. The Redford wannabe is history. Anderson Cooper’s older bro’ is the new guy in town.