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updated: 10/25/2013 4:32 PM

Wheaton resident ditches hair dye, struts with Silver Sisters

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  • Marge Petronis of Wheaton will join roughly 6,500 other "Silver Sisters" this weekend in Chicago.

    Marge Petronis of Wheaton will join roughly 6,500 other "Silver Sisters" this weekend in Chicago.
    Courtesy of Marge Petronis


Marge Petronis has the date permanently burned in her memory, a moment to celebrate like a birthday or anniversary.

July 10, 2012: The day Petronis ditched the hair dye and went natural.

She hopped on a plane for a European vacation and never looked back.

"At that time I had no idea it was going to be my last time," the Wheaton resident said, "but that's the last time it was colored."

Petronis, now 15 months dye-free, will toast that decision this weekend when she joins close to 6,500 other "Silver Sisters" -- a group of gray-, silver- or white-haired women celebrating their natural look at the group's fourth annual "meet-up" in Chicago.

The conference will feature "Sultan of Silver" hairstylist George Bruno, makeup artistry demonstrations and a fashion show. It will culminate with Saturday's "Silver Sisters Strut" in front of the silver Bean sculpture at Millennium Park.

The movement started roughly nine years ago, when founder/author Diana Jewell wrote "Going Gray, Looking Great" to help empower and guide women through the growing out process.

"The book covers everything," said Jewell, formerly a single-process blonde with highlights twice a year, "from how do you know if going gray is right for you, to transitioning, to the right colors and makeup to wear with gray hair, the right wardrobes and the last chapter, 'Hey you don't have to stay gray.'"

Jewell, of course, would never dream of coloring her hair again "As the guiding light to the movement," she said,"I have to stay gray."

The book spawned a website, Facebook page and community chat. Now the women gather annually to support, and to celebrate. The "Silver Sisters Strut" started in 2010 in Las Vegas. Last year, the women marched in Times Square.

"It is a global movement. Women really want to ditch the dye," Jewell said, "and they are growing gray younger than women used to. It's the old thing, 'Men with gray hair look distinguished, women look old.' This generation is proving that women aren't looking old -- they're looking hot."

Petronis, married and in her 50s, dyed for close to 15 years, coloring it red like clockwork every four weeks.

Exercising every day and eating right, Petronis came face-to-face with the epiphany that the chemicals she was putting in her hair didn't jive with her kick to adopt otherwise healthy habits.

"It was just a part of my life," Petronis said. "I liked the attention with the red hair, but then one day I thought to myself 'Why am I doing this?' Now I'm getting attention because my hair is so white."

When she went on Google to find information about how to whiten hair, and how long it would take to complete the naturalization process, Petronis found the Silver Sisters. Online instructions say not to use detergent or dishwashing liquid. Petronis had been doing just that, and her color faded to a "strawberry blonde, ugly yellow" that dried it out.

Petronis' hair is now white, although not completely.

"Months five and six, they were horrible," Petronis said. "It was good to read about the women who have done this before me. I learned that my feelings are not strange or peculiar."

Petronis laughs when she thinks of her new Facebook picture, asking herself when she sees it, "When did my mom go on Facebook?"

Her husband, shocked at first, is on board now with the natural look. Friends consider getting in line behind her.

"All my friends say, 'If I knew my hair would turn out that way, I would do it too,'" Petronis said. "I say 'How do you know it won't -- you're still tied to the bottle.'

"The standard line, 'You're going to look 10 years older,' it's not true. Your complexion gets lighter and your hair gets lighter. Natural, it seems better."

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