Jane Fonda’s hair was a late-evening Oscars surprise. A mere three and a half hours into the interminable ceremony, the actress breezed onstage, slinging the crimson red coat she wears during her now-weekly arrests over her shoulder. It was a meaningful nod to civil disobedience chic, but my eyes stayed focused on her snow white hair.
It’s not surprising that an 82-year-old woman would be going gray, of course, but Fonda’s was a heightened take on the “natural” color. It wasn’t just platinum or icy or edgy—it was as sharp as an arctic stalactite.
It came courtesy of Jack Martin, colorist and owner of a salon in Orange County. On Instagram, Martin wrote that the dye process took over 7 hours, during which Fonda got some work done, writing chapters for her book, memorizing lines, and answering emails.
This past weekend, Sharon Osbourne sat in Martin’s chair. Again, Martin took to Instagram to describe how Osbourne, 67, has dyed her hair “once a week” for 18 years to maintain her ubiquitous cherry red mane. No longer—after eight hours, Osbourne emerged from the salon with her “natural” white hair in tow, thanks to some bleach and toner.
Despite what the ceaseless hair dye ads that play during my true crime podcasts want me to believe, it’s OK to go gray. That’s true now, and has been true for quite some time. Susan Sontag’s skunk stripe was described as “leonine,” “striking,” and “magnificent.” Helen Mirren, Emmylou Harris, Maye Musk, and Carmen Dell’Orefice have repped the shade for years, each one exuding an all-knowing, uncomplicated beauty.
In November, Alexandra Grant—a visual artist who is unfortunately better known to the internet as “Keanu Reeves’s date”—drew praise for stepping onto the red carpet alongside the actor with salt-and-pepper braids piled high on her head. Editorial writers congratulated Grant on “embracing” her age (46). Maybe she was just being it.
Either way, Fonda and Osbourne’s color is different. Their hair isn’t gray, or at least not the gray we’re all going. It’s not quite platinum blonde, either. It reflects light magnificently in photos, but on its own it’s not shiny.
The style does not fit the dwarfed perception of how women are supposed to look once they’re too old to date Leonardo DiCaprio—that is, homely and sexless. In fact, if Osbourne tousled her pixie just a bit, she’d look pretty punk rock.
One colorist from Massachusetts named Daniel Tetreault dubbed his ultra-white dye jobs “nordic,” which took off on Instagram last year. Online, he’s known as “Platinum blonde daddy,” and his clients are decades younger than Fonda or Osbourne. The look’s appeal spans generations.
RM, the 24-year-old rapper and member of the K-pop boy group BTS, has flirted with white hair over the past few years. Lexi Brumback, a star of Netflix’s Cheer whose tumbling videos I watch pretty much once a day, also sports the style. She’s 20.
In my early 20s, I also bleached my hair. I did it because I was feeling a little adrift. I was gaining weight and losing agency. I felt like I was watching someone else live my life, like a movie scene, so I thought at least that person should be hot and blonde.
I was not prepared for the deluge of comments I would receive from everyone, but especially other women, mostly strangers who came up to me saying they wanted to dye their hair too, so badly, they did not want to ruin it. At this, I would finger my many split ends, which I had taken to naming, so I would hate them less. Despite this, I plan to go white again, this weekend—why not, spring is coming. And sorry, but I like the attention.
“Everybody wants what many people can’t have,” Tetreault told The Daily Beast. “They want something expensive. Any girl with a clean, healthy platinum blonde, another girl knows she’s paid a lot of money for it.”
As indicated by Fonda’s stylists, and many others, it takes many hours of sitting in a chair to lift someone’s hair to angel-white status, and then a copious amount of products to help the color last. That’s a lot of time and money to invest in anything. For some, this means the color can be a visual flex, like a Rolex in the ’80s. Look, I can afford this.
“That hair is like an Hermès bag,” Tetreault went on. “A girl sees that bag, she knows if it’s a baby Birkin, regular Birkin, or crocodile Birkin. Girls know the difference.”
“A lot of women toy with the idea of going white, but it’s kind of hard,” Stephanie Brown, a New York-based colorist, said. “But it’s hard to get there, especially if you’re young and not already gray. You’re in the salon for hours, getting your color out, putting gray on top of it, then there’s upkeep. Platinum is for a certain group of men and women who have the time and don’t mind having hair that breaks.”
For as many bright young things who consider getting white hair another part of their grooming regime, there are older women who look at it as a rejection of standards. “[Going white] is a nice way to give one of your beauty things up,” Brown explained. “If you go naturally gray, that means you don’t have to worry about getting your hair done every week.”
Or, as Fonda and Osbourne’s anything-but-grizzled manes prove, going gray does not have to mean a “giving up” of anything. A woman can enjoy the ritual of leaving a salon with her hair feeling silkier, her head held higher. But she can also want to exit looking just a bit more normal. But not too normal. This is Jane Fonda and Sharon Osbourne we’re talking about, after all.