Stanley Tucci, Colin Firth
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The Age of the
Silver Fox

The Age of the
            Silver Fox

I first spotted
the gray a couple of months before my 30th
birthday–three or four strands glistening on my
left temple. I leaned into the mirror for a closer
look and confirmed my worst nightmare: I was officially old.
Sure, there were only a few hairs now, but it was only a
matter of time -- months, maybe a year? -- before
I’d be totally gray and my youth would be lost
forever. Call it hyperbole, but as is the case with so many
men, much of my self-esteem is tied up in my
appearance and libido. How would this baleful
development affect my relationship prospects? More
important, would I ever get laid again?

The Day I Went
Gray: It could’ve been a Roger Corman horror flick
for all the anxiety I felt that morning -- and
continued to feel for weeks. Every day I’d
check, hoping it was just a trick of the light. I
wasn’t entirely certain (or maybe I was just in
denial) until I sat in my hairstylist’s chair
and told her what I suspected. She didn’t believe me,
but then she bent down and homed in on the wayward
hairs. She touched them, moved them around a bit, and
then declared, in the relaxed way of someone clearly
used to dealing with diminishing pigment (and fragile egos),
“Yeah, they’re gray.” Then she
snipped them off.

Gradually, the
shock wore off, and I no longer felt negatively about the
gray interlopers. I didn’t feel positively about them
either. They were just a physical fact, something to
which I grew indifferent, like the birthmark on my
right forearm or the little moles elsewhere on my body. I
have dozens of those babies, and they don’t make me
less attractive, do they?

I was still
wrestling with the answer to that question when one
afternoon last winter I came face-to-face with a
silver fox while at the grocery store -- and my
insecurity about gray hair dissipated instantly like a
bad dream.

 

I had seen silver
foxes before, of course, and even counted some of them
as friends, but this guy was different: He was stunning --
lean, attractive, skin unblemished. With his stylish
clothes, Ferragamo shoes, and palpable sense of ease,
he was a paragon of desirability -- and his thick gray
hair only upped the sexy quotient. I wanted to sleep with
him, date him, have his kids. And it was all the more
enchanting considering this was in Chelsea in New York
City, where the average gay guy still sports cargo
pants and a fake tan. This man -- and he was definitely a
man -- made the other guys look like mere boys.

Sure enough, I
started to see silver foxes like him everywhere, these
smoking-hot guys with toned torsos, obvious confidence, and
insouciant hair, who weren’t decades older than
me but only a few years. Wherever I was -- on Seventh
Avenue, in my Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, or
on business trips -- they seemed to flaunt their silver hair
and masculinity as if they hadn’t a care in the
world. I was beguiled. Now I couldn’t wait to
go gray. I wanted to be a silver fox -- and to date one.

1012 Cover medium | Advocate.com

It has never been
hotter to be a silver fox. While men used to cover
their gray with Grecian Formula, now an increasing number of
them are proudly accepting their changing hair color
-- regardless of their age. Instead of being written
off as “old,” these silver foxes are defiantly
rewriting the rules governing men and age -- part of the
larger cultural backlash against everything from
wrinkles to death.

And while movie
stars like George Clooney and Sean Connery loom large in
the phenomenon, the silver fox also encompasses guys in
their 30s, even 20s, who are sexy, in shape, and have
some to a lot of gray hair. While the older silver fox
may be hailed for his worldliness, status, and
sophistication -- as well as his silver locks -- the younger
foxes offer a unique variation on the theme. They look
hot and youthful -- and at the same time seasoned,
thanks to their gray hair. As one 26-year-old told me,
“It adds to their sexiness when guys in their 30s
have gray hair. It makes them look like established
men -- like what a man is. It’s hot.”

Gray hair is
“cool now,” says Andrew Weir, one of the
fashion world’s go-to guys for casting
advertising campaigns and editorial features. In his
work scanning the streets for “real” men and
women to model for his clients’ projects, he
says he’s noticed a definite rise in the number of
silver foxes. Forty-one years old and graying, Weir is one
himself. “I’m as vain as the next one --
I spend two hours at the gym every day,” he
says. “But my hair? There are two choices: Look like
an idiot or embrace it. The things I have power over
are what I’m going to work on, like eating
right.”

You can thank any
number of factors for this new outlook, starting with
Anderson Cooper -- the poster boy for silver foxes, who was
33 when he first came to national prominence as the
host of reality show The Mole in 2001 (before
becoming a news anchor on CNN) and is now 41. And
certainly movie stars like Robert Downey Jr. -- who looked
rakishly handsome with his salt-and-pepper head on the
May cover of GQ -- have picked up where Cooper
started. Fashion magazines are influential too, as
silver fox models have graduated from watch and car
advertisements to high-fashion photo shoots, imbuing gray
with the shine of aspiration.

But more than
anything, it’s the growing cultural emphasis on
rootsy authenticity, epitomized by the green movement,
that is making guys reconsider gray. At its core,
being green -- as much about appearance and perception
as it is about saving the world -- means being natural, and
with gray hair there’s no artifice. For gay men,
historically known to bury hurt and pain under glossy,
performative exteriors, that’s especially
revolutionary. The AIDS crisis, for instance, was a big
factor in the hypermasculine Chelsea-boy aesthetic
that’s now on the wane: Guys, whether they were
HIV-positive or not, didn’t want to look sick, so
they became robust. But as the perception of HIV as a
manageable disease has grown, the specter of illness
and death has diminished. Like the bear scene, silver
foxes seem like a return to normalcy -- to an honest
reflection of what men really look like.

“I think
it’s a bit of a slap in the face of the overpumped
Abercrombie- or Hollister-wearing guy,” says
Daniel Peddle, another prominent fashion-industry
casting scout, who, like his friend Weir, is gay. The
silver fox, Peddle says, is a “more normal, not
exaggerated, masculinity. There’s something
feminine about it.” Even the notion of a fox, which
is a slight but cunning animal, plays into that
effect. “It’s not a wolf -- you
don’t think of some beast.”

It’s a
trend that New York psychotherapist Brian Lathrop has
noticed among his predominantly gay male clientele
too. In the last few years, he says, his clients in
their 30s and 40s have shown a greater acceptance of
turning gray in a way that’s markedly different from
just a decade ago. “They’re not treating
it like a symptom of aging,” Lathrop says. Instead,
they’re making it work for them. “It’s
not hypermasculine, but truly masculine.” As
his clients become more confident about themselves in
general, “you see it in their appearance because
there isn’t that need to be hyper
anything.”

Though the terms
are often used interchangeably, the silver fox is
entirely different from a “daddy” type or just
an older man who has it all, Lathrop says. “The
guys I’m working with -- they don’t
necessarily want to be daddies. They just want to live
their life fully and not feel like they have to defend
their masculinity. They’re still growing their
hair long; they still come off as youthful.” And,
Lathrop says, they all maintain healthy lifestyles to
achieve that effect.

It’s the
realism that’s so sexy -- and inspiring to younger
men like me. Take the posse behind the emerging New
York fashion label Loden Dager, who used a top
silver-haired model for the preview of their 2008 resort
collection. “Silver hair is first and foremost about
confidence and experience,” partner Alexander
Galan says. “For younger guys like ourselves,
it also gives us something to look forward to, not
fear.”

1012 Cover medium | Advocate.com

When
38-year-old Matt Pestorius met me at a coffee shop earlier
this summer, I felt the same whoosh of excitement I’d
experienced that afternoon at the grocery store.
Muscular but not overly so, with an energetic vibe,
Pestorius had a handsome, slightly lined face set off
beautifully by shades of gray hair. I grinned greedily when
a friend asked, “Who’s that guy?”
Although Pestorius was only my interview subject, I
felt a certain pride in my “catch.”

It’s an
effect that Pestorius admits happens a lot, particularly at
a largely gay restaurant near his home in
Hell’s Kitchen, where he’s known by the
young waitstaff as “that sexy guy with the silver
hair.” But being a sex object has taken
Pestorius a long time to get used to. “People are,
like, ‘I love your gray hair!’ but when I was
25, it was not the look at all,” he says.

A sales executive
who cut his teeth at L’Oréal, Pestorius says his
colleagues there encouraged him to dye his hair when the
gray came in strong at 28. He colored it every four to
six weeks but eventually grew tired of the
high-maintenance routine. “It goes against my entire
DNA,” says the laid-back Pestorius, and that
displeasure outweighed his fear of looking old. One
day he went to a hairstylist and said, “Cut it off,
just shave it! Get it off of there!” The short
cut made the gray stand out; he walked out a new man.

“I was
really happy with it,” he says -- and more so that
night when he went to a bar and was approached by a
cute guy. “He literally asked, ‘So what
do I have to do to get a dance with you?’ ”
Pestorius says, laughing. “I was like,
‘Are you kidding me?’ I actually thought my
friends had set it up!” They hadn’t. Whether
because of his new hair or his new disposition,
Pestorius was in demand.

As a gay man, he
says it was tremendously freeing to be real about his
appearance. “When I decided to go gray, it was me
letting go of my need to be what everybody else
expected me to be -- to be what gay culture said I
should look like,” he explains. “I finally
said, ‘I’m tired of having to keep
up!’ ”

 

Gray hair is so
coveted these days by gay and straight men alike that
strangers often come up to Jared Cocken and ask him if he
dyes his. But you couldn’t manufacture the
rich, variegated color that Cocken, a 32-year-old
creative director in New York, has naturally. If you tried,
you’d look like you had dusted your hair with baby
powder (read: Tom Cruise in Collateral).

“It’s great for people finding you in a
crowd,” Cocken says about his hair, which he
amplifies by wearing lots of black and white. He’s
never considered dyeing it -- partly because
there’s less cultural anxiety around going gray
in his native England (he’s from Stratford-Upon-Avon,
hometown of Shakespeare and the Teletubbies). “There
are a lot more young gray-haired guys in London and
Dublin,” says Cocken, who started going gray at
18. “Maybe it’s something to do with the gene
pool.”

Cocken says he
never got a single comment on his hair until he moved to
the States four years ago—but now it happens all the
time, to the great amusement of his American wife.
“She thinks it’s hysterical,” Cocken
says with a laugh, especially since she doesn’t
find the color so remarkable. “I don’t
think she has any particular draw to gray hair, but she
really likes it on me.”

Many women have
long accepted gray hair on their boyfriends and husbands
in a way that gay men haven’t. So I’m
unprepared when Travis Parman, a 35-year-old media
relations representative for General Motors in New
York, sounds as blasé about his silvery 41-year-old
partner, John Davis, a health-care consultant. It
throws me off; I’m expecting Parman to express
some resistance, but he digs Davis’s coif. “It
connotes maturity, sophistication, and
confidence,” Parman says, qualities that are as
appealing as the color itself.

But it’s
Justin Conner -- unabashedly gray since his college days at
Vassar—who really surprises me. As he’s only
25, I suspect he’s on the leading edge of a
full-scale generational upheaval when it comes to men,
gray hair, and age. Like many of his peers, Conner talks
with a sense of entitlement about his life and how he
expects to be treated, an attitude that translates
directly from his silver hue. Admittedly, he was insecure
at first. “I felt compelled to dye it because I
didn’t want to look older than I was,”
he says. Then he had a fateful conversation with a friend
who said, “It’s a look, and everyone wants a
look. You have something that’s unique, that
defines you.” Once he became comfortable enough to
stand out, he started to enjoy it. Looking older, he says,
often works to his advantage: “I find that
people in their 20s don’t have their shit
together, and people don’t associate me with that.
They think I’m 30 or 35.”

Best of all, he
says, having gray hair is “a good conversation
starter. I get asked about it a lot!”

 

Clearly, gray is
well on its way to being just another hair color, taking
its rightful place alongside blond, brown, and black. Some
people like brunets, some like blonds. Me? I’m
starting to prefer silver foxes.

Looking back, I
suppose I knew this years ago, watching Barefoot
Contessa
on the Food Network and crushing on Ina
Garten’s friend T.R. Pescod, by then an established
silver-haired model. He’d bring flowers or
ingredients for a dish to her casually perfect dinner
parties, and I’d wish I was there with them,
being civilized and having fun in Garten’s East
Hampton backyard. We’d drink too much wine and
then, when Ina was in the kitchen cleaning up, T.R.
and I would go behind the bushes and have our own kind of
fun.

But I was younger
then and not ready to settle down. Now that I’m more
mature, it occurs to me that the silver fox may very well be
the best kind of guy to partner up with. Fully aware
of the pressure against aging in our youth-obsessed
culture, he chooses to be himself anyway regardless of
dubious external demands. And to me, that’s the
sexiest thing in the world. (Plus, what a trait to
pass on to the kids!)

That’s
why, despite my initial despair, I’m now eagerly
waiting for the gray hair to sprout: I want to be as
sexy and self-confident as a silver fox. Until that
happens, I’ll focus instead on trapping my own silver
fox to domesticate and love.

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