A Brief History of Colorful Hair


As the trend of creating sunsets and vibrant abstract art on your head has slowly begun to fade, I was a bit reminiscent of the movement, and how as a teen, looking “like a parrot had shit on my head” (as my dad so lovingly told me when I was 13) was part of my identity. It reminded me of an article a friend and client had sent me not long before coloring their own hair.

The refinery29 piece focused heavily on celebrity use and the psychology of colorful hair. How blue had become the “ultimate beauty middle finger…” To start with just the first paragraph- they list the obsession with blue hair coming with Clementine’s character in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” 

Image result for clementine eternal sunshine

and how teens saw themselves in her- starting the trend, and while this did play a part in setting the stage for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s of Zach Braff’s dreams, it was not the starting point nor the only inspiration put into the celebrity dome or into Millennials’ minds to start coloring their hair as of late. Of course this article also focused specifically on the color blue, where as I’m going to look at colorful hair overall.


According to the article, the last two years have been seeing a large increase in women coloring their hair blue, which while true, has a much longer and richer history than the article went into and honestly includes not just the color blue. However I did feel that they did quite a comprehensive job of the history that blue had in society-

The history of the color blue begins as one that is demure and humble. According to Anne Varichon, an anthropologist specializing in the field of color and author of Colors: What They Mean And How To Make Them, blue held no real significance until the Middle Ages, when the color came to be associated with the Virgin Mary and was then eagerly adopted by the monied upper class as a signifier of wealth.

Since those early days, blue has gone through a multitude of iterations and associations, but the big turning point for the color’s modern representation was the creation of jeans in the middle of the 19th century. “It created an association between blue and work. But in the 1930s, jeans became synonymous with leisure and; in 1960, rebellion, with the hippie movement; and finally, youth, leading the color blue to become more and more significant,” says Varichon.

Because of how commonplace the color became, it evolved from a hue of decadence to one of conformity. “Today, the color blue, which has become consensual color: The color of the flags of international organizations and the one that any person who does not wish to be noticed wears — since, indeed, everyone wears it.” But Varichon notes that this conventional color gets decidedly unconventional when seen on the lips or hair.

(Megan McIntyre, November 14th, 2015)

This article while really interesting, left me feeling like there was a gap in the information about the history of colorful hair. I also felt when I looked up other articles that throughout there was a surprising lack of acknowledgement for the role that women of color played in the trend, I mean, how could you forget moment’s like Lil Kim’s VMAS wig? Here’s to history- and specifically how we came to this point where having “unicorn hair” is more widely acceptable.

It’s generally accepted that coloring hair began with the Egyptians, they would use henna, tumeric, red ochre, and a slew of other plant derived dyes to color their hair. Synthetic dyes and eventually color was invented in 1907 by Eugène Schueller- who founded L’Oreal. As it evolved through the ages bright colors made their first real debut with the punk movement in the 70s.

The Sex Pistols, who evolved in dismal early seventies Britain, debuted the signature 

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Johnny Rotten aka John Lyndon

bright colored punk hair when they brought on front man John Lyndon, who was described by Jones as “[Coming] in with green hair… I liked his look. He had his ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ T-shirt on, and it was held together with safety pins” (Lydon, John, Rotten, p. 74.)

The Sex Pistols later hit the world stage debuting Lyndon’s signature colored hair- which changed frequently. And while they didn’t produce much music, they impacted a whole generation and changed the course of both music and hair trends without even knowing it. Along with Lyndon was Jordon (Pamela Rooke- held largely responsible for essentially creating the London Punk look) who sported a platinum blonde bouffant, and Soo Catwoman who’s avant garde and shamelessly amazing do’ was often times colored bright shades with the “ears” of her remaining hair that signature contrasting black. At the time, these looks were not accepted by anyone who was not apart of the emerging punk scene. As said by Jordan herself- “I commuted for about two years. I had some real bad dos on the train. I had tourists trying to pay me for my

Jordan in front of portrait of herself by Simon Barker

photo…worse than that, mothers saying that I’m upsetting their children and debauching them and how dare I get on a train looking like that.” (Colegrave & Sullivan, Punk: A Life Apart, Cassell & Co, 2004, p.127.)

In New York where the punk scene flourished, sisters Tish and Snooky Bellomo started their own business and opened up Manic Panic in 1977- a boutique in the East Village serving out both vintage fashion and punk clothes designed by Tish. After performing in the scene for awhile and introducing both fans and friends to wild colors in hair through their own hair, they began to sell the dye out of their store- making it one of the first consumer available products to create the bright rainbow hair colors so intertwined in the punk community.

Tina Turner

Enter the 80’s, as punk gets watered down into glam metal and pop music, the rebellion of crazy hair hit a peak. Artists like Cyndi Lauper came out to play with bright orange hair and her signature yellow streak- she became a beacon for women trying to break the bonds of the conservative image. Tina Turner also surged, changing the look from the perfectly groomed and smooth do’s of the Supreme’s to bright highlights and hair that reached the heavens. If there was ever someone to describe the big hair and energy of the 80s, it was Turner.

As the 90’s rolled in, punk went into hiding, and the signature abrasively bright colors became more common. As many underground movements go from nothing to the celebrities choice fashion, as did punk. Kurt Cobain appeared with his ripe tomato hair, and the term grunge became a household term. I think it’s important to note here, that while the punk movement moved from a scene that no one “respectable” wanted anything to do with, too a look surrounded by consumerism, it became more common place for teens of this era to branch out of their expected norms and into more creative outlets. Many of their parents had been through the punk era in the

Image result for lil kim purple wig
Lil Kim at the 1999 VMAS

70s, and kids took note- still to this day there are people coloring their hair with kool aid. Manic Panic was worn by models on runways, celebrities, and before we knew it hair moved from big and permed to flat and straight. Lil Kim stepped out at the VMAS with her vibrantly purple wig and T-Boz’s signature blonde do’ kept everyone’s eyes on them, while Claire Danes appeared with her bob and signature red hair that became the uniform of indie girls everywhere.


As waif and natural became more and more popular so did the birth of the scene kids. Made popular through myspace, the skunk tail colors of horizontal stripes and big goofy layered hair made a comeback in an interesting meld of 90s and 80s looks. It involved stick straight hair teased into a rats nest akin to Amy Winehouse, with the cut being so layered, the bottom half would become thin and maybe 1/4 of the size of the top. The look wouldn’t be complete without some kind of bow or other accessory donning the top of head- just in case the size of the hair isn’t noticed. This was the early 2000’s version of a punk movement- disgruntled, angsty teens rebelling with heavy inspiration from 80’s.

The company Hot Topic made a large profit off of this- and still do. They carried clip in bright extensions for those who didn’t want to go the full route of coloring their 

Image result for early 2000s myspace scene kid
“Myspace Scene Kid”

hair- wether that was due to parents not allowing them too, being scared to do itthemselves, or just loving the idea of being able to change the color every day without damaging their hair. They also picked up lines like Manic Panic and Arctic Fox which became a staple for any kid doing their hair at home.

For a minute the trend of colored hair faded into the background as the ombre came into popularity in the late 2000s. An easy way for women strapped for cash to have a beautiful look but little to no maintenance, dip dying became an easy DIY and a common practice amongst women in their 20s-30s. However not much long afterward Nicki Minaj graced our lives with her signature absurdly beautiful and bright wigs. From pink to blue to every color and style you could think 

Image result for nicki minaj super bass
Nicki Minaj in her Super Bass video

of it, and not far behind was Rihanna with her perfectly on fire red locks. The resurgence of bright colors on women of color hadn’t been seen in pop culture since Lil Kim and it was impossible to ignore. While the trend had taken a slope downward, having these two powerhouses in the entertainment industry represent the ability for natural hair girls to wear whatever color they wanted was sounexpected that it shot the trend to popularity, and even the media didn’t quite know what to do with it.

So here we are in 2017, with sunset hair and mermaid hair falling into the back burner and balayage who’s presence had been building and growing since 2010 finally taking over as one of the most requested color services we do. Of course being

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Sarah Helwig // Hair color by Pamela Vigil

 from the Bay Area we are never short on beautiful colorful haired heads, and it’s becoming widely more accepted in the workplace to have colorful hair. I don’t 
personally think the colors have gone out of fashion, though you’ll notice with celebrities like Katy Perry and Halsey chopping off their hair the platinum blonde pixie has made a large comeback as well. But all of these styles are and trends can be traced back to one thing- the need/want to visibly rebel. So with that I leave you- keep rebelling, keep “giving the ultimate beauty middle finger” and do whatever makes you happy.

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