Editor's Letter: I Will Wear Purple

By Annie Tobey | February 6th, 2019

Coloring my outlook on aging

Annie Tobey Purple HairOur relationship to aging inevitably changes over time – I know mine has. When we’re mere children, only grandparents, parents and other wizened adults face old age (which, from that youthful perspective, starts at age 35 or thereabouts).

As young adults, our perceptions are changing: a 30-year-old is not quite over the hill, like we believed as children, but we still know that we have more years ahead than behind. In middle age, the milestones become boulders rather than balloons: while birthdays 18, 21 and 30 sparked celebrations, 40 and 50 encourage jokes and gag gifts.

And as we clamber past 50, the signs become more and more apparent: gray hair, sagging skin and wrinkles, aches and pains, slowing metabolism, diminished hearing … Over-the-hill birthday cards target these changes mercilessly: it takes twice as long to look half as good, the cards joke; your wild oats have turned to shredded wheat; old age is when “happy hour” is a nap and an “all-nighter” means not getting up to pee.

Other allegations ring true simply because we’ve gained emotional maturity and accepted our eccentricities. We leave concerts and ballgames early to beat the crowd – we could stay till the end, but we choose not to. We don’t party as hard as we did in our 20s and 30s – as Oscar Wilde said, we’d “rather not have a good time than have to get over it.” And we willingly embrace Phyllis Diller’s outlook: “I’m at an age when my back goes out more than I do.”


I first heard about Jenny Joseph’s poem, “Warning,” in the 1990s. The verses went viral (before going viral was even a thing):

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves …

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

The poet’s words made me consider my own attitudes toward aging, developing ideas that have been percolating inside me ever since. I’m not fond of red hats or summer gloves, but I do love purple and brandy. I don’t know that I qualify as an “old woman” (unless you ask a child, which I know better than to do; and, regardless, the goalposts of old age keep moving with each new candle).

Perhaps it’s Joseph’s concluding lines that have influenced me most:

Maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Without recalling the poem, I recently began to ponder coloring my hair. By “coloring” I mean Crayola-marker colors, not a natural brown, black, ginger or blond. I’ve had a few perms and hair highlights over the years, but I’ve resisted covering up the gray. I know that looking younger won’t affect my birth certificate, and I don’t want to fight creeping gray roots. So when I stumbled upon an article on boomer-age women adding colors like cotton-candy pink, candy-apple red, neon green and vivid purple, I thought, “Why not?”

Annie Tobey, editor

So I did, and I haven’t looked back. A blend of purple and blue weave through my crown and forward, leaving the back and a bit of the sides to accentuate the natural salt-and-pepper that I’ve earned over 58 years (59 years, if you’re reading this after Feb. 25). Like many boomers, I’ve discarded “aging gracefully” for embracing it, flaunting it.

My purple, blue, brown and gray coif represents my celebration of who I am, of my age and of stepping outside of the expected. Bit by bit, year by year, I’m redefining what aging means to me. And I’m sure my ideas will change. As George Carlin said, “So far, this is the oldest I’ve been.”

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