For Kim Kardashian’s turn at the Met Gala in May, the dress may have been (to a great many people’s chagrin) borrowed, but the platinum blonde hair was her own. Attaining it wasn’t easy; it reportedly took hairstylist Chris Appleton fourteen hours to transform Kardashian’s waist-length chocolate brown hair into an Elsa-in-Frozen icy white-blonde. That she would embrace such a time-consuming process for the sake of a “look” comes as no surprise—this is the same woman who proudly fessed up to crash-dieting to lose 16 pounds so she could squeeze into the aforementioned dress—but when it comes to being in tune with prevailing hair trends, Kardashian couldn’t have been farther off.
People are looking for more depth and adding shades red, strawberry blonde, or golden blonde.
“The pandemic changed people’s ability to maintain heavily highlighted or ultra-blonde platinum hair color,” says Laurie Daniel, a colorist who specializes in blondes at New York’s Marie Robinson Salon. When salons reopened and people got back to their previously scheduled beauty programming, the appetite for super blonde had waned for many. Grace Clarke, founder of Grace Clarke Consulting, who splits her time between New York and France, spent years booking repeat appointments for foils or balayage to achieve her bright blonde. Her recent de-blonding journey has been, she says, physical, but also emotional. “I am making under my style,” says Clarke of her new rooty, wheat blonde, courtesy of Abby Haliti at Julien Farel. “I want everything I do to give me time back but also make me feel sexy, confident and polished. Whatever I can do to feel like my strongest self informs how I behave.” And less blonde has been crucial for her process. “Isolation and extended time at home let us all reevaluate our beauty routines and what may or may not continue to serve us, both physically and economically,” adds Patti O’Gara, a colorist at The Blackstone’s Collective in New York’s East Village.
While people are still lightening up, many are gravitating to colors that don’t read high maintenance. “People prefer to have less upkeep, not to mention the improvement in hair texture from not over-processing,” says Daniel. Strawberry and copper blonde are at the top of her request list. “Lots of people are looking for more depth and adding red, strawberry blonde, or golden blonde, which gives the hair a rich shine and reflection,” adds Mariah Joseph, a colorist at New York’s Suite Caroline. “This looks luxurious in comparison to some lighter tones that can sometimes feel washed out and dull.” It also adds life and vibrancy to the skin, adds Daniel. Her ultra-highlighted clients are taking it down a notch to a more, in her words, dimensional blond; she’ll keep well-placed pops of brightness especially around the face. “This brings down the maintenance and often looks softer and more youthful,” Daniel explains. For O’Gara’s platinum blondes who suddenly wanted less upkeep she transitioned them to a more lived-in, deeper blonde. “She can still feel like herself, but now she can come less often and her hair gets more time to chill between appointments,” she says.
Lightening only around the face brings down the maintenance and looks softer and more youthful.
These toned-down and strawberry and wheaty blondes do require some upkeep. Joseph advises using gentle, color-maintaining cleansers (like Oribe Cleansing Cream and Christophe Robin’s Cleansing Mask with Lemon) as shampoo alternatives or at least in rotation with a traditional shampoo. “These gentle cleansers will extend the life of your color as a no-suds crème cleanses without stripping,” she says. Most important: less heat styling and more deep conditioning. Daniels recommends Milbon’s Inphenom Treatment and, particularly in the summer months, Shu Uemura’s Absolue Nourishing Protective Hair Oil—“It’s great for throwing in your beach bag,” she adds. And O’Gara tells her clients, for the best color pay-off, to pre-treat before their appointments with Olaplex #3 and to also consider swapping to a filtered shower head. “Most water contains hard minerals that create long-term build-up and warp our hair color,” she says. “Filtering the water creates a clean and gentle environment so our hair color and texture too can flourish.”
If our hair color is to be a reflection of the times, then this wave of darker and low-key blondes will likely stick around. Says Joseph: “People are craving clean, fresh, and simple amidst all the chaos in the world right now.”
Fiorella Valdesolo is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor, and the co-founder of Gather Journal.