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Silver lining

Men no longer want a look to dye for

Mario Russo is letting his mane go gray. He cuts hair at his salon on Newbury Street called Mario Russo Salon.
Mario Russo is letting his mane go gray. He cuts hair at his salon on Newbury Street called Mario Russo Salon. (Globe staff photo/John Tlumacki)

Up until eight months ago, Josh Mazgelis would head to the salon to get his ''dark-lights," so he could hold the salt and add more pepper to his gray hair.

''You know how women get highlighting? I would get dark-lighting. It's a lot of work," says Mazgelis, 35, who lives in Westford.

But lately the computer engineer has embraced his gray and doesn't mind the salt pouring in more.

''Some people have mentioned that I have the same kind of look as George Clooney. If I wear my hair short in a Caesar cut, they say, 'Yeah, just like George.' "

Charles Kessler also loves his gray head. In fact, he gets all philosophical about the follicle.

''You are the basic heart and soul of who you are, and that basically comes down to your hair follicle," says Kessler, 60, a resident of Dorchester's Melville Park and a clergyman for the Chaplaincy Center in Providence. His hair is mostly gray, leaning more toward the ashy side, with hints of brown in his goatee. He wouldn't have it any other way.

''Most people seem to like it," he says, combing his hair with his fingers. ''I'm fine with the way Mother Nature and the good Lord made me."

Mazgelis and Kessler could be poster boys for a growing attitude among today's men: It's OK to go gray.

While some men are still determined to cover those stray white strands with tint, the more laid-back gray heads say their look is becoming more accepted. A recent GQ magazine article touted the trend as ''Gray Is the New Black."

Some of these men and some hair stylists credit the look to a baby boomer attitude that one can gray gracefully, but there has also been an increase in the number of younger celebrities and newsmen who are letting their salt and pepper shine.

Movie star Clooney, 44, Comedy Central quasi-news anchor Jon Stewart, 43, and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, 38, see the silver lining in their own hair. There was Taylor Hicks, 29, who stood out during this season's ''American Idol" auditions more for his gray hair than his singing. And there was Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, 36, gracing a recent cover of Men's Journal magazine with his silver buzz cut and beard.

Magazine ads for clothing companies and erectile dysfunction drugs are also featuring more younger men with slivers of silver.

Cooper, who has been graying since he was 20, wrote an essay in Details magazine about the perks of his shades of gray, which is more sleek and silverish than peppery. ''On a guy, gray hair says, 'I'm mature, stable. I can be relied on.' " he wrote. ''I can't honestly say it's done me any harm. . . . Give in to gray. Make the most of it while you're still young."

Boston hair salon owner Mario Russo says men seem to be managing their grays well and showing them off with style -- meaning, keeping the hair short and groomed. Instead of dyeing their hair back completely to their natural color, men are keeping some of the gray and blending it in better with their natural hue through coloring products.

Men these days tend to be more focused on staying fit than on their hair color, he says.

''Men are definitely not as uptight anymore about going gray," says Russo, who has let his hair drift to gray. ''And I think a lot of that revolves around becoming much more fit. I am taking care of myself and I like it. I don't feel that because I have gray hair that I am looking older. I feel younger because I am taking care of myself."

Russo also says the trend reflects a generational state of mind. As some baby boomers, that colossal generation born between 1946 and 1964, turn 60 this year, they are finding their own hair spokesmen giving gray a good name. Check out former president Bill Clinton's snowy head of hair at 59, actor Harrison Ford's gray streaks at 63, actor Mark Harmon's gray wisps on CBS's ''NCIS" at 54, and Jay Leno's bush of mostly white hair with the black patch in the front at 55.

Locally, you might be seeing more men with gray hair. Bay State boomers make up 30 percent of the population, according to a study by MetLife's Mature Market Institute.

''The baby boomers are now all old and turning gray," says Russo, who's 46, ''and you are seeing more men around with gray hair than 10 to 15 years ago because there are men around who are older."

The men who are going with the gray say it's a symbol of gravitas and not necessarily nature's way of saying they're becoming as old as our country's Founding Fathers, who donned powdered grayish-white wigs to look wise and authoritative.

''When you do start to go gray, you can wear it proudly, as if to say, 'I am growing up, I am a little more sophisticated,' as opposed to being someone who is embarrassed by it," says Adam Rapoport, GQ's style editor. At 36, he began to notice salt sprinkling around the sides of his dark brown hair. But the more he grayed, the more flattering comments he got from women.

''Your guy friends will give you a hard time about it, but the women find it sexy, cool, and sophisticated," he says. He thinks younger men seem to be more comfortable with the gray look these days. ''They've got some role models out there who are doing it with style and taste."

Among those making the silver life look good: Cooper and Clooney.

And the bad? Rapoport points to 56-year-old Richard Gere, whose hair is floppy and ''a shaggy mess" at times.

Rapoport also finds that dye jobs tend to be obvious, whether done in the salon or at home, especially for men. ''Women dye their hair and color their hair and guys expect it," he says. ''With men, there is something very Vegas about dyeing your hair, like Wayne Newton."

Channel 7 news anchor Randy Price knows this firsthand.

''It's pretty hard to pull off," says Price, 56, who tried dyeing his hair back to his natural dark brown a few years ago while on vacation in Miami and then decided he didn't look quite like himself. ''Ultimately, I don't think the color of your hair has a whole lot to do in determining how vital you are."

Since that hair dye experiment, Price has accepted his gray and prefers to be au naturel.

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''It looks neat. It's a little maturity," he says. ''Changing it doesn't produce the results that most people are desiring. Being yourself is, I think, valued more than bringing yourself down a few notches in the age category. It's better to concentrate on exercising."

Greg Bussiere, a 50-year-old Beacon Hill resident, would dye away his gray every six months so that his ash-blond hair would stand out more than the silvery strands, but he is going with the gray these days.

''It's a sign of wisdom and sage old advice," says Bussiere, who has waves of smoky gray hair. ''A lot of men who are really revered and looked up to are the ones with the gray. It's a sign of power."

Johnny Diaz can be reached at