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  • Writer's pictureMarisa Guerin

The Meaning of Purple Hair

April 10, 2024 - Marisa Guerin, PhD

I have been most entertained in recent years observing the reactions of strangers to the streak of purple in my white hair. My chemotherapy in 2022 caused me to lose my hair entirely, so now that it has grown back, I have been playing with it by putting a streak of color in it, either purple or blue (thank you, Deacon Anthony, for that recommendation).

For me, that’s the meaning of the purple: I am having fun with my hair.

I’m retired and don’t hold any important public positions, so I don’t have to show up anywhere looking serious and professional. If I want to be mischievous and lighthearted, I can be. It’s such a relief being older. Perhaps this is my version of the poem that goes “When I am old I shall wear purple, with a red hat….”

But obviously, my appearance is different enough from the way most 70-something white ladies look that I get second looks and comments very often. As a long-ago Sociology major, I am fascinated to notice who comments, how, and where. Here’s a sampling of what I hear.

Mostly young adult women, all races, in West Philly: “I LOVE your hair!”  Approving nods or surprised smiles – on the sidewalk, in a store, at the dentist, pretty much anywhere. Of course, this neighborhood is an easy-going bubble of people who are extremely diverse, politically progressive, and accustomed to gender fluidity, so it’s like I’m being marked as belonging here.

Little boys or girls, all races (but only occasionally): “Your hair is purple! I like it.”  Usually surprised, and after that split second, immediately onto some other focus of attention. I’m interesting, but not that interesting.

Some younger men and some men my own age, usually Black: “Hey, like the purple!” Sounding amused and friendly.

A white-haired white woman a bit older than me at a meeting: “You can DO THAT??! I want to do it too!”  The marvelous revelation that this is something one can choose to do and get away with it.

Other older white women: “Oh! I Iike your hair.” With a similar bit of shy envy but also uncertainty, kind of like, oh my, that’s different.

Black women my own age: “Nice color in your hair. Makes you look fun.” Smiling, a bit surprised. Maybe my purple streak prevents me from being stereotyped.

My husband Mike: “Yes, that’s my wife with the purple hair.” Said with more than a hint of pride in my nonconformity.

Pretty much everyone when I have traveled in the United States Midwest, Southwest, or in Spain: Zip. A second look maybe, but not a word said.

Now, why would that be? Is it that here in my home town, Philadelphians feel like everyone is someone they could or do know, so they feel entitled to comment on the hair of total strangers? Very possibly. Despite our reputation for some rough edges, we are actually quite a friendly city and not inclined to stand on ceremony.

Or is it that in the more polite regions of the nation and world, it just isn’t done to comment on someone’s unusual hair?

Or is it that unusually-tinted hair is only seen on (usually very progressive) young people, so my older self is a puzzle?

I have no clue.

Of course, every day that goes by, there are more women and men, even older ones, with tints of all kinds in their hair. I expect that if I keep this up, over time my purple will no longer be noteworthy.  But even if no one else comments, I continue to be entertained by my own hair. I don’t mind at all that my hair is white now, but I can get bored with that. For the time being, the color streak is fun.

So, there you have it. A report from the field on life as an older woman with unexpected purple in her hair. Isn’t this the least serious, most frivolous blog post you have ever read? I must say I have had fun writing it.

Enjoy your life today!

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Apr 11

 “When I am old I shall wear purple, with a red hat….”

Time to check out the Red Hat Society.


Apr 10

I think it looks delightfully whimsical and it makes me smile. Thank you for encouraging the spirit of play in us all!


Doug Perry
Doug Perry
Apr 10

Yes, I love the purple, or blue, streak! Glad you’ve reached the point of feeling free to do what YOU want to do.

After decades of three pice suits, white shirts and wing tips, when I retired 20+ years ago I announced that I never wanted to wear something uncomfortable again … and, I haven’t! Good for us!!

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