Long before Charlotte Free, the of-the-moment fashion model, became known for her brightly colored hair, which ranges from pale to neon pink, women in New York City were dousing their manes in Crayola hues. The coloring process has not changed much since the days of ’80s punk rockers and ’90s grunge enthusiasts (jars of Manic Panic dye are still a popular way to get the look), but the patterns, placement and mood of these “shock locks” have evolved.
Some women are even wearing them to the office, as does Numidas Prasarn, 26, who works at the visitor center at the Brooklyn Museum. She keeps her purple hair long and simply styled.
“It is a conscious effort to address how I feel every day,” Ms. Prasarn said of the coordination her coif requires. “Do I feel like going with this color or fighting against it?”
Ms. Prasarn’s hair is monochromatic, but Sally Hershberger, a celebrity hairstylist with salons in New York and Los Angeles, cited “cascading tips” as one way of incorporating brightness that “feels fresh now.” (Ombré — a gradation of color — and tie-dye effects have also become popular.)
“Because of them, a lot of the hip chicks want their hair done like that,” she said. Coloring extensions has become popular, she said. “And they’re also doing pink fading into purple.”
The trend gained traction after the spring 2010 runway shows and reappeared in the 2011 shows. Julia Wideman, assistant manager, editorial and production in the corporate offices of Bumble and bumble, whose chestnut hair is lavender and green at the ends, said she was influenced partly by styles shown at the Proenza Schouler show.
“I also pulled a whole bunch of inspiration, from My Little Pony to old women who frost their hair,” said Ms. Wideman, who first dyed her hair pink, then purple after seeing a picture of hot-pink locks on a friend’s blog.
It might not be surprising that Ms. Wideman, or Dani Stahl, the style director at Nylon magazine (a trendsetter first with her brown and blond ombré bob, who later added pink to the mix), have taken to shock locks. But Olivia Goyrn, a Web content manager at an advertising company in Manhattan, is a less likely candidate.
Before Ms. Goyrn, 26, dyed her shoulder-length hair neon pink, she warned her employers, she said, and was happily surprised to find that they were fine with her new ’do.
“Generally, I try to walk the line between grown-up goth and professional,” she said. “So far it’s working.”
Conscious of the adolescent mood that brightly colored hair projects, many women above drinking age take pains to match it with conservative attire.
“You expect to see somebody who listens to Nirvana and never showers and lives that kind of grungy lifestyle,” Ms. Wideman said of the impression her hair risks leaving. “I like to do the exact opposite with my clothing. In order to balance it out, I wear cleaner lines and crisper colors, more monochromatic and more neutral. I’ll either do another pastel or I’ll wear a red lip because I think that it looks neat together.” (Ms. Prasarn said: “I can’t wear certain kinds of reds with this hair.”)
Andrea Praet, the senior trend director at Stylesight, which collects data on fashion and beauty trends, said, “There is definitely a D.I.Y. element, but it’s sophisticated” because women are wearing their bright hair with Chanel clothing. “This isn’t a flannel-and-torn-everything look,” she said.
And while one might expect to see shock locks done in a jagged cut, increasingly they are wound into a chignon, for a whimsical effect that Ms. Praet described as the “twisted lady.”
“It’s about granny chic,” she said…
Tavi Gevinson, a teenage fashion blogger, has had that look with subtle white, violet or blue tones in her hair. “This is the advanced style,” Ms. Praet said. “It’s taking it and doing it in an ironic way. It’s really about the style and the attitude when it comes to pulling off these hair trends.”
But swagger alone is not enough to pull off bright hair. Whether done in a home bathtub or in a salon, the right technique, which can involve stripping all of the hair’s natural color with bleach for maximum saturation, is crucial. Women fearful of causing damage or just nervous have many noncommittal options, like clay and henna, which are available at health-food stores; Manic Panic’s new colored styling gel; and clip-on tracks in Rainbow Brite colors, like those made by Paul’s Hair and Beauty World or Sally Beauty.
Rebecca Faye, a former stylist with Patricia Field who now owns two salons, Hello Beautiful and Glamour Garage in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, prides herself on being able to paint any pattern, including leopard print, into hair. She prefers to use products from Special Effects because they last longer and fade better, she said.
But Manic Panic is still the go-to brand for many seeking shock locks; its New York founders, Eileen and Tish Bellomo, who are sisters, said that 2010 sales were 15 percent higher than in 2009. In the first quarter of this year, they increased 45 percent, the sisters said.
Brightly colored hair is becoming “more accepted into the mainstream,” Eileen Bellomo said. “It’s also a low-cost way to feel happy.”
Ms. Praet agreed. “This isn’t like the ’90s,” she said. “There is a more optimistic undertone to this look.”
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