To begin with, a couple of contemporary case studies.
Well, not contemporary exactly. I suppose there is a chance Sir Paul McCartney and David Beckham have yet to log the life achievements for which they will be best remembered. The former may yet write a song that betters ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, the latter might still have a fragrance up his sleeve that will Süskind the insensible into sentience. And certainly, masturbatory revelations and skillful dodging of speeding tickets have kept them both on the front pages in recent times. But the reality is that Macs and Becca were at their most awe-inspiring in their 20s: back when they was fab, and had fabulous hair. It must, of course, be difficult for men who shoot to fame so early in life. Who spend their glory years being screamed at in stadiums, then the rest of their time on earth being constantly confronted with photographs of their younger selves being screamed at in stadiums. You can understand why they — or more likely their stylists — might reach for the bottle.
And we, the public, are not helpful. We, too, want them to look as close to how we remember them at the absolute peak of their powers. But to look at the world’s greatest living songwriter and England’s most iconic footballer in 2018 is to see the truth of when one should stop dyeing one’s hair. In his most recent round of public appearances, McCartney, 76, has looked better and fresher than he has in decades. And it is all down, really, to his hair: no longer coloured into a deeply implausible, Jagger-esque shade of brown, the greying, side-parted thing makes him seem… almost sexy again.
Beckham, 43, meanwhile, after years of bringing new meaning to the word smouldering, has raised eyebrows with his most recent, darkened brown buzz cut. Overnight, he seems to have started looking older, while McCartney seems to have come back sprightlier. Most obviously in terms of further, longer running case studies, there are, in one corner, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, and in the other, early throwers-in-of-the-towel George Clooney and Sadiq Khan. Our mayor may not be able to get much of a handle on knife crime, but boy does he know how to rock a silver side parting. And Clooney? Christ. He’s been ‘getting better with age’ for the entirety of this century. There are legions of men in their 20s who would instantly trade their still-just-about-healthy livers for that level of hair game.
Which is not to say there are not exceptions. Firstly, you should never, ever, trust a man who has made it to, say, 35 and not experimented with a change of hair colour at least once. And beyond that age, there are guys who have made it work. I mean not, after the weeks and weeks’ worth of research that I put in to this piece, any that I can name. But I am confident they exist. I’ve seen them on the Tube, on buses, as have you.
Going an unnatural colour works. Orange. Peroxide (on the right head). Red with an orange-to-blonde streak, à la David Bowie on the cover of Low. In fact, I’m fairly sure that lots of men well into their 50s, with the correct amount of swagger, could pull the latter look off. Becks certainly could. The key, I think, is that the point at which you start thinking, ‘S***, is it time I started dyeing my hair?’ is the point at which you should probably stop thinking about dyeing your hair. Dyeing your hair into flamboyance works. Dyeing your hair to try and halt the ageing process does not.
Macca must, surely, look in the mirror at his magnificent new locks and realise he should have stopped dyeing them a while ago. Becks must be thinking he should cease, if not immediately, then in the next few years. Together, albeit unwittingly, this knight of the realm and this notquite- knight-of-the-realm are still leading us, inspiring us and teaching us when it’s (not) time to dye.
Illustration by Mick Brownfield