Sabrina Golonka first started to go grey in her 20s. “I have really dark hair and it always looked obvious and witchy, so I dyed it,” she says. “I did the all-over colour thing for ages, but it’s a lot of time and effort and money.”
Sabrina, 43, is a lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, she lives in Leeds and is currently home-schooling her two children aged nine and seven.
She began to play with her grey and for a while had what she describes as a “Mallen streak”, named after Catherine Cookson’s fictional family (later made into a popular TV series in 1979) with a distinctive hereditary flash of white flowing through their darks locks.
But earlier this year, at the Russell Eaton salon in Leeds, Sabrina was encouraged to try grey blending to achieve a different and more versatile look which happens also to be low maintenance, requiring fewer salon visits and so particularly suited to lockdown.
“Now I have three haircuts in one,” she says. “Depending on where I part it, I can have a totally different colour profile, but there is actually very little colour in my hair. If I part it over to the left side, it looks like I have a lot of rich brown because I have rich brown lowlights around the front, so that looks really polished. But if I part it on the right, there’s a bunch of lighter sections that have been toned a silvery colour, so it’s a lightened grey-blended style that also looks really polished and chic. And then if, for whatever reason, I wanted to part it more in the middle, it just looks natural.
“It is incredibly low maintenance. I can just let it air dry. I don’t have any noticeable root grow-out because of the way it was blended. It doesn’t look like I have missed colour appointments at all.”
Sabrina was asked by Robert Eaton, creative director of Russell Eaton, which has salons in Barnsley and Leeds, to take part in a new national campaign by Wella to showcase the technique known as “grey blending”.
“It’s not just a trend, it’s a huge movement in hair now,” says Robert. “It is going to become much more mainstream.
“There is not just one technique. It is about embracing your grey hair, looking at your own hair colour and thinking about conscious colour placement to enhance it, rather than just covering it and having roots done every six weeks. It is something that evolves and grows out with more ease.”
Carol Brown, 59, from Leeds, also took part in the Wella shoot earlier this year, joining silver-haired models Emmanuel and Silvina. “Her look is well-groomed, stylish and glossy, but blending those grey and white hairs in the right way and picking the right tones,” adds Robert. “She went from being quite golden to something more beige and expensive looking.
“Her hair is part of what defines her. She has always worn it long and she wanted to make sure that she could still do that, without it looking as if she was trying to be something that she is not. It is relevant to her age group.”
Carol, who is a former jewellery designer and model, says: “I used to have subtle highlights for many years and then I was concerned about the condition – when it is long, it can start to go straw-like,”
She went back to her natural colour but found it too dark. “Then I started to go grey about four years ago and that was a shock. I didn’t want high maintenance or all-over colour or to lose the glossiness.”
Now, thanks to grey blending, Carol says she needs to visit the salon just two or three times a year. “I do buy good shampoos. Because I don’t go that often, I can justify spending extra on shampoo and conditioner.”
The shoot has made her reconsider whether or not she might go back into modelling. “I did from 17 onwards and now I feel I could turn round and say ‘no, I don’t want to do that’, so it would be a different experience.”
Sabrina points out that women are beginning to reclaim their grey hair as new generations experience it and refuse to be pressured into covering it. “It doesn’t have to be synonymous with letting yourself go,” she says.
“There are more examples of older women in the spotlight being seen in more diverse roles. There are more examples of different ways to age.”
Grey hair is not for everyone, says Robert, and it can make some people indeed look older. “You have to make sure that the tone is right, and the brightness. If you have grey hair that looks dull, you can have some really white and bright pieces of light colour that make it look like you have got a much more vibrant head of hair.”
For those wanting to try grey blending, he advises that you leave your hair alone for the time being and then, when you can, go into your hair salon and talk it over with an expert.
“Lockdown has given people a chance to see what their own hair colour is like and given them the opportunity to make a change,” he says. “But it’s not a home fix, you have got to have the skills.”