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Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 13:17 GMT
Grey, mein Herr?
Boris Yeltsin and Gerhard Schroeder
"Just because there's snow on the roof, Gerhard..."
Germany's 57-year-old Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has fiercely denied he dyes his hair. Why is dyeing still the grey area of political image-making, asks BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley.

Gerhard Schroeder "should let his temples grey naturally". This seemingly innocuous comment by a German image consultant has sparked international debate about the contents of the raven-haired chancellor's bathroom cabinet.

The German leader has been enraged by the suggestion his hair colour is anything but as Mother Nature intended. He has threatened court action against anyone who says otherwise.

PM Tony Blair
"Chestnut brown or burnt sienna"
While it is perfectly reasonable for an important world leader to react angrily to insinuations that he has publicly told an untruth, some may find hair colour an odd political battlefield for such a busy man.

Perhaps not. While voters have become accustomed to seeing their leaders in colour co-ordinated suits at slickly organised media events, seeing male politicians with suspiciously dark barnets can set alarm bells ringing.

"People can see why a male film star might dye his hair, but for politicians it can be seen as frivolous," says Pat Henshaw, from Color Me Beautiful, an image consultants much used by UK political parties.

Going mature

"Bill Clinton was a very young president [46 years old] when he came to office. He wisely allowed his hair to grey, giving him a look of maturity."

Of course, this is not to say President Clinton was not without his fair share of vanity. Civilian flights at Los Angeles's busy airport were once famously halted as the world's most powerful man had a $250-haircut aboard the parked-up Airforce One.

Presidents Clinton and Putin
"I'm sure I saw a dark hair in there"
Ms Henshaw says that "do-it-yourself" hair colour treatments are often not able to stand up to intense media scrutiny - "It's a bit like putting a toupee on" - but professional dyeing may not be much better.

"Unlike women, men don't tend to wear make-up to cover the other signs of aging. Men run the risk of having wonderful smile lines, but oddly dark hair."

Grey prejudice

However, the temptation to dye may be strengthened by the so-called "cult of youth". In the US - where sales of male hair dyes tripled during the 1990s - a business survey suggested that "snow on the roof" makes one appear less capable, less energetic and even less broad-minded.

The visible signs of aging may be of particular concern to leaders, such as Gerhard Schroeder and the UK's Tony Blair, who once made a virtue of their relative youthfulness.

Both Mr Schroeder's "neue mitte" [new centre] and Mr Blair's "New Labour" suggested a vibrant break with the grey political past. Indeed, both men ousted greying incumbents to win high office.

Ann Widdecombe MP
Blondes have more fun, ask Ann
"Many men are very concerned when they see grey hair coming through," says Ms Henshaw, "in shock they can instinctively reach for the dye bottle."

A politician's desire to appear youthful may also be heightened by the constant presence of TV camera crews and press photographers not only around the halls of power, but outside their homes and even the airport arrivals lounge.

To some political pundits, the appearance of wrinkles or grey hairs is not merely a sign of normal aging, but a barometer suggesting there may be trouble at the top.


Tony Blair - whose own hair colour has unfairly come under press scrutiny thanks to the Schroeder debate - is often the subject of worried newspaper editorials commenting that his once boyish looks have been lost beneath a more "haggard" visage.

In the UK, Ann Widdecombe has shown that dyeing is best left to the women of the House.

Carlos Menem
"Apply more dye, Maurice - Madonna likes the look"
The former shadow home secretary once weathered many cruel jibes about her distinctive chestnut "pudding basin" haircut. But as a convert blonde, the MP has won glowing praise for her "younger, softer-looking" image.

Of course, the burning political issue of male dyeing is far from black and white.

Shamelessly reaching for the bottle saw Argentina's former President Carlos Menem scoop perhaps the highest accolade a septuagenarian could hope for - the approbation of Madonna.

"I noticed that he had small feet and dyes his hair black," said the Evita star on visiting Argentina. "[He is] a very seductive man."

Click here to add your comments

Your comments:

From a woman's point of view, I think grey hair is very distinguished, and is one of the things that initially attracted me to my husband, who was 29 at the time!
Sinead C, Ireland

As a 55-year-old professional person, I've found that it is expected in business for women not tobe grey. I like to tell people that the older I get, the less there is about me that's "real". It's like theatre or art. Some invention is called for.
Lisa, USA

My hair went white at the age of 14. I was so embarrassed that I dyed it black and have done so ever since for the last 11 years. Hair dye is great - without it I would have had to walk around looking like a christmas pudding with icing sugar on my head.
Adam Irvine, Oxford, England

Away with grey until at least 65. New porcelain veneers (Hollywood white) for teeth are also recommended. Selective cosmetic surgery, too.
Mathias de Laval, Germany

Don't give in to vanity. Go grey gracefully, I say.
Damian Elsen, UK

Aged 23, the brow and lashes on one of my eyes have turned white of their own accord over the past four months. It has attracted a lot of attention.
Andrew, London

Hair dyeing only makes a politician look like he is covering something else up. With so many of them being seen as less than honest, I would have thought that they would want to appear more honest and open. Surely this would be best achieved by leaving their hair its natural colour?
Mark Homer, UK

I don't really care whether or not a politician is grey - just like I wouldn't care whether or not he was bald. But to dye your hair if you are going grey is just pure vanity and shouldn't be done.
Chris L, UK

Many men in their 20s and 30s dye their hair because grey hair makes them look older prematurely. In this case, dyeing one's hair is justified. However, as we get older, going grey is more natural.
Brian, Luxembourg

People wear contact lenses because they don't like how they look with glasses. People wear smart clothes because they feel better in them. Why should dyeing your hair be "pure vanity"? If we believe it makes us look better we should do it.
Steve, London, UK

Should we be proud to be salt and pepper, distinguished grey or snowy white? Or are you a fan of the dyeing arts? Add your comments by using the form below.

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