In 1908, Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote about a girl who, in 1878, purchased a bottle of dye from a peddler and, hoping for “raven black,” accidentally turned her red hair green. While the punk-rock shade wasn’t exactly her intention, Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables became my first role model in terms of rebellious hair coloring.
More than a hundred years later, Angela Chase from My So-Called Life stared at her mirror reflection with a mix of terror and admiration after trading in her mousy shade in favor of “Crimson Glow” (suggested by her friend Rayanne, who told Angela that her hair was holding her back); and Enid Coleslaw, from the comic book and movie Ghost World, dyed her hair green to achieve what she described as “a 1977 original punk-rock look.”
A teenage girl’s dyeing her hair some oddball color is a trope in fiction because it’s a trope in real life. Many if not most of us feel the urge, at some point, to whip out the Manic Panic or the Kool-Aid and dunk our heads in the sink. It’s the idea that, by changing our outward appearance, maybe we’ll be able to express some inward stirring that doesn’t quite make sense yet, even to ourselves.
My first experience with unnatural hair coloring was in the eighth grade. I was being bullied in school, and with my mother’s permission (I wasn’t that rebellious) I made hot-pink strips in my nearly black hair. It started an obsession, and to this day I continue to externalize any internal tumult by cutting, bleaching, and dyeing my hair.
If you’re yearning for a drastic change, here are a few tips.
1. Be informed.
I’m not saying write a research paper on hair dye, but do a little Googling to find out what products are most likely to get you the results you’re looking for. Some advice from Marie Robinson, the brilliant and bananas-cool owner of the salon named after her in NYC: “For great crazy-color hair dyeing at home, Punky Colour, Adore, and Manic Panic are all great products. But there are so many other great brands out there to choose from. Kool-Aid also stains hair very well, but only if your hair is naturally pale blonde or has been previously lightened.”
2. Be prepared.
Get everything you’ll need before you begin. According to Marie, you’ll require: “(1) Vaseline to prevent your skin from staining; (2) old towels your parents don’t care about getting stains on, and also for covering the floor (or sink if it’s marble); (3) gloves; (4) hair clips to keep your hair sectioned so it’s easier to work with; (5) a comb or brush for detangling; (6) first-aid eye wash just in case anything gets in your eyes; and, last but not least, (7) your desired hair color!”
3. Be yourself.
This seems obvious, but always go with your gut when choosing a shade. If you’re unsure about dyeing your whole head, test things out by coloring a few small sections or just the ends.
4. Be patient.
If you have black hair, you’re probably not going to get baby-blue cotton-candy-hued hair in one step. A bleach kit, like Manic Panic’s Flash Lightning (under $12, manicpanic.biz) will have everything you need and help you get closer to your dream shade. Just follow the instructions, please.
5. Be careful.
If you’re bleaching your hair, or if your hair’s already been treated (dyed, highlighted or relaxed), do a patch test, at least, to make sure whatever you’re about to put on your hair doesn’t destroy it. At most, go to a professional. When should you absolutely leave it to a pro? Any time you’re “going from dark brown to light blonde or red to blonde,” says Marie. “After you achieve your desired color then ask if there is an at-home hair color formula to retouch your own roots.” Any nice and professional hair person should help you out here!
6. Make it last.
There are loads of products available to keep dye from fading. Invest in a great deep conditioner (like ColoristCure, $55 from Osyrium.com, or Clairol’s Nice ’n Easy ColorSeal, about $4, drugstores) to help with damage and keep your color bright. Or use your faded shade as an excuse to try a new one! It’s all up to you.
I wish you the best in your hair experimentations. Please send us photos of your coolest looks! ♦