You’re never too old to dye your hair.
You're never too old to dye your hair. (Carolyn Ryan/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure my hair is completely white.

No, I didn't have a sudden fright, unless you count the realization that my hair has turned white, although truthfully, it isn't that big of a shock. I just don't know for certain what lies beneath several decades of hair coloring.

I come by my white hair perfectly naturally. My dad's dark brown hair was pretty much a lovely, crisp white by the time he hit his 20s. His mother's hair was the same. No battleship gray or glistening silver. No, their hair was Pantone 11-0601 TCX "Bright White."

I started noticing a few white hairs when I was nearing my 30s. While my friends might have been plucking their gray hairs, I was admiring mine. I liked them. In a decade, I knew, I'd have a lovely salt-and-pepper 'do. And I did.

But as I pushed toward 40, I felt the need for a change. For some reason, I'd always wanted to be a redhead, so I talked my hairdresser into giving me a reddish-brown hue. My white hair, which was starting to become more prominent, was transformed into burnished highlights.

When I turned 50, I told myself, I'd go back to my natural color. A woman in her 50s could have white hair. A woman in her 40s should be a redhead.

As my 50th birthday approached, I considered my options. By then, my hair color had gone more brown than red -- a certain amount of guilt over denying my roots, so to speak, had caused me to switch -- but I thought about what going white might mean. I still loved the color, or lack thereof, but would I be telegraphing a certain message about my lack of youth?

I was feeling a bit defensive about my age. I didn't feel middle-aged, but there was no doubt that others saw me that way. One day I was shopping with my friend Kathy, who is just a couple of years younger than I am. She's much taller than I am, has dark straight hair and is part Chinese -- in other words, she looks nothing like me, but it became painfully clear the sales clerk thought I was Kathy's mother.

We laugh about it now, but at the time, I was horrified. Kathy is a wonderful friend and an amazing daughter, but I still didn't want to be mistaken for her mom.

Another time, I got into an argument with a sales clerk who accused me of lying about my age and missing out on the perks offered women of my mature years. In a perverse carding reversal, I had to show her my driver's license to prove I wasn't 55, and the look she gave me told me she wasn't convinced.

If people already think I am older than I am, wouldn't white hair make me look even older? Wouldn't people just see the white, scan the wrinkles and jump to the conclusion that I was somebody's grandmother, perhaps in need of help across the street? It also would dampen my toehold on righteous indignation.

So 50 came, and I went a lighter brown that was often mistaken for blond. When I turn 55, I promised myself, I'll stop dying my hair.

The day I hit the double nickels I was fortuitously sitting in my hairdresser's chair, and I made a bold decision: Give me a darker brown, I told her, and add in some highlights. The white hair would just have to wait.

When I'm 60, I thought, that's when I'll step away from the dye. A woman in her 60s would look awesome with white hair.

Follow Joan Morris at Twitter.com/AskJoanMorris.