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Silver Sisters Strut at the Bean to Encourage Chicago Women to Go Gray

 The Silver Sisters strut at last year's event in Times Square, showcasing their gray locks with pride.
The Silver Sisters strut at last year's event in Times Square, showcasing their gray locks with pride.
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DOWNTOWN — When former model Candace Jordan's hair started going gray in her 40s, dying it back to her natural dark brown never crossed her mind.

"I think that as women age — I think God knows best, and gray-haired women with their complexions, it's absolutely the perfect combination," said Jordan, a Tribune society columnist. "Once my hair started coming in gray, I absolutely embraced it and loved it."

For women who don't immediately embrace their silver strands, transitioning to natural hair can be difficult. But Diana Lewis Jewell, a New Yorker who founded the "Silver Sisters" movement, wants to spread the message that breaking up with hair coloring is worth it with a two-day conference ending with a rally in Millennium Park Saturday.

"You develop a confidence that you never knew they had," said Jewell, who went from blonde to gray via what she calls "skunk stripe" method by quitting coloring cold turkey and letting her "silver" hair grow out inch by inch.

For many women, the change isn't easy, amid "pressure from spouses and family and friends who say, 'Oh, you look so old,' or 'You're letting yourself go,' or 'It just isn't modern,'" said Jewell, a former marketing director for Vogue.

To spread the message that gray is great, Jewell is hosting events Friday and Saturday with workshops, presentations and speakers that highlight the beauty and styling options of gray hair, as well as social events for "silver sisters" gathering Downtown.

The annual meetup culminates with the fifth annual "Silver Sisters Strut" — sponsored by Jhirmack, which makes blue-tinted shampoo for gray hair — at the Bean, 201 E. Randolph St., at 4:30 p.m.

The setting "was definitely a strategic choice," Jewell said of the decision to stage the strut near Millennium Park's Bean sculpture. "We wanted to be surrounded by silver."

Jewell said the movement started in 2004, when she released her book "Going Gray, Looking Great!: The Modern Woman's Guide to Unfading Glory."

Women soon began sharing their stories on Jewell's website, prompting her to launch Cafe Gray, a members-only website for sharing tips and stories about transitioning to a coloring-free lifestyle.

"Most of the Silver Sisters who come to us have a long history of hair coloring. Nearly 42 percent have been coloring for more than a decade, and 35 percent have been coloring for more than 20 years," Jewell said. "Those that make the transition tell me they experience this great freedom and authenticity, that they feel like they can just be who they are."

But Jewell said getting to that point isn't always easy, which is where advice and support is helpful.

"They always say, if I could just go gray instantly, that's the way I want to do it. But they can't," she said. "They have to go through a transitioning period, and like it or not, they're going to have to use maybe a zig-zag part, to confuse the eye. They're going to have to use headbands, they're going to have to use little sparkly barrettes or updos.

"But the more they go through it, and the more they're committed to the process, they discover they don't care what people say."

And Jewell said a recent hair trend makes now an especially great time to join the Silver Sisters ranks.

"The ombre trend is really big right now — that's really helping them out," she said of the style that fades vertically between two tones of hair color.