You all know us.
At school we were first with the Sun-In and sachets of ineffective toner, experimenting with tints to fly under the radar of the uniform enforcers. We were the teenage hair mousse pioneers, staining our parents’ bathrooms in a bid for Ginger Spice curtain-esque streaks. And now we’re the ones who didn’t leave all that behind, a multi-coloured horde invading salons and storming Boots to claim the purple rinse for ourselves.
But we’re not alone. Cara, Georgia, Gigi – barely a day passes by at the moment without another celebrity framing their famous face with a hair colour no-one was born with, not even the chaps at Maybelline.
The pastels bandwagon - not to mention the grey/silver and rainbow bandwagons - has been well and truly jumped, bringing what was once seen as fairly alternative into the mainstream (scroll down for expert DIY tips to create your own spin on the trend).
So why are we all reaching for the bleach?
ReeRee Rockette, who opened London salon Rockalily Cuts in 2012, agrees that there’s been an uptick in people choosing shades beyond the blonde, brunette, black and red spectrums. “There's definitely been a marked increase in non-natural hair colours in the last couple of years,” she told Stylist.co.uk. “It's been fascinating to watch and be part of.
“I honestly think social media has played the biggest part in making these bright colours more popular. I call it ‘Tumblr’ or ‘Pinterest’ hair. Instagram in particular has increased people's awareness and exposure to alternative hair colours.”
The tonal trends do shift around though, and ReeRee says the image-sharing can lead to unrealistic expectations.
“Pinks used to be the most requested, which changed to turquoise, and is now currently silver and lavender. In our first year we weren't asked for grey hair at all. Now we get asked all the time.
“However, I turn the majority of them away. Grey is super hard to achieve as there can't be any warmth left in the hair, and actually I rarely like the outcome. A lot of the lovely hair we see online are weaves or filtered.”
It’s these washed out, hint-of-a-tint looks and the toe-dip styles of ombre, balayage and dip-dye that seem to have gained the most popularity, and London salon Bleach has a whole range of DIY products based around them.
Bleach co-founder Alex Brownsell agrees that social media plays its part, and the temporary nature of pastels et al is a big draw as a low-risk introduction.
“Summer and festival season makes people want to dye their hair fun colours temporarily. Pastel shades on top of bleached hair fade relatively quickly so are easy to have for a week or so,” she told Stylist.co.uk.
“I love the pastel trend, it’s my favourite because it’s got an element of punk, but is still beautiful and wearable. The super soft colours suit all skin tones.”
Travel consultant Caroline Seath, 31, has always experimented with her hair, but only in the last year started trying blues and pinks after going the whole hog with a white bleach base.
“My natural hair colour is what I and a lot of others might call a ‘mousy brown,’” says Caroline, who is currently sporting a turquoise shade. “I’d started putting bleach on the ends for the dip-dye look, then I started experimenting with other colours, like purple.
“It wasn’t too scary and of course washed out. I soon got bored, so I bleached the rest and have been trying rainbow colours ever since.”
Meanwhile, beer marketer and presenter Sarah Warman, 27, has experimented with a kaleidoscope of colour since the age of 16, when she dyed the underneath of her naturally dark blonde hair black and pink.
“The black ended up green with the pink not even showing up. It was dire. But I didn’t actually hate it (not as much as my mother did!) I then reached for the bleach.
“Since then, I have gone candy floss pink, fuchsia, Halloween-witch purple, dusty lilac, mint green, napalm orange, turquoise and dabbled with electric blue, pink streaks, and lilac tips.”
Sarah, now enjoying blonde and lilac, changes up her hair two to three times a year.
So what prompts those of us who never settle on any one colour to constantly try something new?
Though the hair myth of blondes being dumb has been swept up and binned like the discarded split end of a theory it is, we do use our hair colour to say something about ourselves – even if all too often you suspect that something is ‘The glossy lady on the box promised me something more than this’.
Consultant Psychologist Ingrid Collins told Stylist.co.uk: “Our hair is as unique as we are. It gives us so much opportunity to express ourselves and we have more options now than ever.
“It’s a signalling system just as much as our clothes and make-up, or lack of it, are.”
Given my own predilection for changing my hair colour and style (my last salon trip resulted in silver, purple and pink), I’m slightly worried what the answer will be when I ask if those who change often are simply signalling a ‘Look at me!’ desire – or revealing insecurities.
“It’s hard to say the impulse behind it is simply a need for attention,” says Ingrid (I love Ingrid). “Those who repeatedly visit clinics for surgical treatments on their face, for example, clearly have a more serious issue with attention, whereas hair colour can be more about rebellion or simply a sense of fun – I know a lovely lady in her 80s still dying her hair blonde with pink splashes.
“Those who find a style when they’re younger and are happy to stick to it could mean they’re happy with everything in their lives and it’s saying a lot about comfort in their own skin. However it could also be that they’re not very imaginative!
“Those who never have the same look twice could be very creative or simply insecure. It’s hard to generalise, but what we can say is that hair’s a big signal, and unusual hair invites you to be curious about a person.
“Non-verbal signals are an important indicator of whether you want to know more about that person.”
The interesting thing about signals is that it depends on the person receiving them. Sarah told me of opening the door to a neighbour, who clocked her orange barnet, “made a disgusted noise and blurted out, ‘Urgh what happened to your hair?!’ My reaction was actually to apologise, despite the fact he was standing on my own doorstep insulting me!”
Thankfully, her office team are fine with her ever-changing ‘do, though many bosses aren’t. And while that may or may not be a reflection of personal feelings, it’s certainly to do with knowing how some customers or clients might react to rainbow hair.
I’ve had the whole gamut myself: unconcealed horror, aggressively bemused and flat statements of acknowledgment, such as “Your hair is blue”. My younger brother, whose hair is bright green, likes to respond on these occasions by flailing around shouting “Oh my God, is it? What happened?!”
So when other people react negatively, what is someone else’s choice of hair dye provoking in them?
“That’s a very good question,” says Ingrid (I still love Ingrid). “I believe it’s challenging their group norm. We’re tribal creatures and we search for reassurance we’ve joined the right tribe, a good tribe, whether that’s blondes or musicians or whatever else.
“If you’re not very sure of yourself, the group identity takes on much more importance and if someone comes along who challenges those norms, it’s unsettling.”
I confess that my nose was put out of joint when Lily Allen, someone who’s been switching up colour over the last year like Wella’s going out of business, said her “watermelon” pink and green ‘do was a last fling before turning 30.
I’m 32 and don’t agree with the the implied idea of there being “appropriate” hair colour for your age. Does the same apply to clothes or lipstick?
And funnily enough, the more people in the public eye – like Lily herself – choosing non-natural colours, the more everyone else is likely to.
As Alex from Bleach says, “the more it’s seen around, the more accessible it feels,” and right now, it's starting to feel as ubiquitous as a boybander's tattoo.
I ask Ingrid if it’s because we’re so far from untouchable golden Hollywood these days, with celebrities feeling reachable via social media, we think we can have what they have. “Certainly that’s part of it, it’s aspirational.
“We have a built-in mechanism to identify the alpha males and females in society. We’re co-creative in celebrity and want to be like them. We can’t be them, but we can choose to look like them.”
In truth, I don’t like to think I came over all My Little Pony because I saw celebrities with it, but there’s no denying exposure normalises it.
However ReeRee believes it will return to the sidelines again. “Alternative hair colours will never disappear, but no doubt they'll eventually fade from mainstream fashion for a while again. No trend stays current forever.
“For instance, one way to have these shades is with a dark contrasting root. I'd expect dark roots to become less fashionable when our economy starts to improve.”
There’s also the whole reaction-to-a-life-event thing, something ReeRee has often observed: “Women often make big hair changes when they want to seize control again. This explains the classic break-up haircut, or losing your job chop. You want to feel that you can be whoever you want to be, and hair can be such a critical element of how we create ourselves.”
Ingrid agrees. “People who undergo a big change can be doing it for a confidence boost, but it also serves as a punctuation milestone.
“When people meet someone new, go through a break up, have a baby, all sorts of things, changing their hair gives them a little morale boost. And nobody looks or feels as wonderful as when they first step out of a salon!”
“I have definitely lopped my hair off and dyed it pink straight after a break up on more than one occasion,” says Sarah. “The pixie cut came after finishing uni and wanting to go bold with something new. I went bright turquoise at the start of 2014, which was when I started beer vlogging.
“Often though, it’s just a result of boredom!”
“I like to think it’s an extension of my personality”
Both our case studies also muse that hair is like an accessory, something I’ve long felt about my own. “I hate to say it goes with my image, but I do have tattoos and piercings, so I guess being creative with the way I look is just something I’ve always enjoyed doing,” says Caroline. “I like to think it’s an extension of my personality.”
As Ingrid says, “There's a whole host of reasons as to why someone colours their hair a certain way, not least sometimes just because it’s fun and a bit silly.”
My motto is JFDI: it’s only hair.
Words: Amy Swales
Step away from the dye! If you've been inspired to try something new, don't even think about giving it a go without reading these expert tips from Bleach's Alex Brownsell.
- Get an extra mirror so you can position it to see the back of your hair
- Wear gloves! Otherwise you'll trash your manicure
- Cheap perfume sprayed onto cotton wool is a great stain remover if you get it on your skin
- When you're doing your roots, overlapping bleach or tint onto the mid-lengths and ends when it’s not necessary is really bad for the condition. Bleach it will cause damage and breakage, and tint will build up colour that will be hard to budge when you want to change
- Use a protein based shampoo and conditioner to rehydrate and strengthen coloured hair. Also use a mask, like Reincarnation Mask, once a week to deeply condition
- Our Silver Shampoo and Rose Shampoo mixed together knock the blue tones out of grey hair and keep it looking fresh
And last, but not least - a tip from ReeRee (who's no stranger to a hair makeover or 20) on combating the dreaded fade...
“Washing hair fades bold colours, so it really pays to learn to wash your hair less. I wash mine every 5-7 days, which means my colour can be refreshed once every week or so. If you're washing your hair daily you'll have a lot of colour refreshing to do! Learn updos that work when your hair is dirtier, and try things like dry shampoo. Your hair will eventually learn to love it.”