For most men, it's about staying competitive in a youth-focused workplace. For others, it's a need to keep up with new young wives. And for some, well, they just like the sleek black tops on those "Jersey Shore" boys.
These are among the reasons stylists say that more men — including those in their late 40s and older and those at senior corporate levels — are dyeing their hair, shedding the shame that was once attached to the practice. Hair salons across the board — from inexpensive chains to ritzy Beverly Hills places — are noticing a rise in the number of men coming in for color treatments, hoping that covering the gray will help them hang onto jobs or put them on the fast-track at work.
"I started noticing it when the recession kicked in and people were losing their jobs," said Nancy Braun, color director for Beverly Hills salon Rossano Ferretti. "Every year another 5% or 10% come in" over the year before.
The percentage of American men coloring their hair increased from 2% to 7% between 1999 and 2010, according to New Jersey-based Multi-sponsor Surveys, a market research firm, and 11% of men ages 50 to 64 now color their hair.
Doug Macintosh, colorist at John Sahag Workshop in New York, says his clients tell him they want to hide gray hair for fear of being laid off. "They are afraid of looking too old," he said. "But they also don't want the gray completely covered, or else it looks fake." To counter the over-dyed look, Macintosh does a five-to-10-minute process that darkens 25% to 50% of the hair, leaving an attractive sprinkling of gray on the sideburns and top.
The one exception: younger clients who want a total change and ask for the all-black hairstyle of Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino and his ilk. "They like the macho of the 'Jersey Shore' boys," Macintosh said.
"Men have seen their girlfriends, sisters and wives cover their gray hair, which has led them to feel more open and secure," said Pam Kelly, national director of technical salon services at Fantastic Sams. Her stylists use color designed specifically for men — more ash and matte tones, and quick-rinse dyes that can be done at the shampoo bowl.
Still, discretion is a key component for men who decide to take the plunge. Braun, at Rossano Ferretti, said her male clients ask for a five-minute color that can be done at the shampoo bowl or, for more extensive color treatments, book the salon's private room.
"They don't want their wives' friends to see them sitting there with dye on their heads," Braun said. She also gets requests for balayage — hand-painted highlights — which on men results in "subtle nuances of their natural color."
"They want to come out looking refreshed, where you can't quite tell what the difference is," she said.
Leander Rappmann, a 34-year-old freelance film editor, said he started going gray a couple of years ago and now colors his hair back to his original brown every two months.
"I just like the way it looks," he said. "It has a natural feel, and nobody can tell I've had anything done."
For other men, hair color is just another tool to change up a look.
Ian Michael Black, Aveda's global color director, says his younger clients with longer hair go for the 'ombre' look — color is worked in foil but kept away from the root area. Those with shorter hair have it worked through the middle in a zigzag pattern. Both, he said, result in a "softer, more blended look that will look like they spend most of their time at the beach."
Denis De Souza, colorist at the Andy Lecompte Salon in Beverly Hills, says he gets requests from clients to replicate the youthful highlights of the male stars on "True Blood," including Ryan Kwanten and Alexander Skarsgard.
"Younger men want a change," he said. "They see actors on TV with highlighted hair and go for the same look … highlights that give extra dimension and prevent hair from looking dull. They generally go for a more subtle look than women."
Still, emulating the look of celebs is something that's much more prevalent among women than men, said Erick Calderon, vice president of Mastey de Paris, a maker of professional hair-care products.
"Women go into a salon with a copy of Us Weekly," he said. "It's different for men. It's all in the levels of color. They don't want to change their hair color, but instead to pick a shade, dye it the same color and have the hair look healthy and shiny."
The one exception Calderon noticed: In hosting a team of stylists from Sweden recently, they all came in with pictures of George Clooney, wanting the same salt-and-peppery tone.
"That's Sweden though," he said. "That doesn't happen here."