If you’d asked me 10 years ago whether I would ever become a bottle blonde, I’d have laughed. For starters, I could hardly sit still long enough for a haircut and blowout, much less a three-hour blonding appointment. Nor did the time and money pressures of maintenance have any appeal. As for the fabled color itself?
I didn’t envy it. I fully embraced my brunette identity.
Fast-forward a decade. I sit here a honey blonde, my shower fully stocked with products for lightened locks. So what happened?
In terms of my new hair identity, I didn’t so much decide as slide. It started with my random grays; dealing with them had led me to a colorist, but the semipermanent brunette rinse she used was making my hair a little too dark. And a little too boring. I decided that if I was going to be even slightly tied down to a salon schedule, I needed to get more sizzle out of the experience. So I did.
First, a few auburn highlights. Then a few blonde ones. And then I toldmy colorist to just go for it. Becoming unabashedly blonde after more than 40 years as a brunette felt . . . huge. And other people agreed, judging from their immediate and emphatic responses. One friend said, “Eh. I liked you better as a brunette.” But coworkers, other friends and, most important, my husband gave the new color a big thumbs-up. “Studies show that women whoare brunette are perceived as more serious and competent, and women who are blonde are seen as youthful and more sexually attractive,” says Rebecca Curtis, PhD, professor of psychology at Adelphi University on New York’s Long Island. While I didn’t consciously choose sex appeal over seriousness, the response I’ve gotten does support the serious-versus-sexy theory.
Now, you may not have transitioned from medium brunette to honey blonde, and maybe you never will. But the odds are good that you’ll try a new color, even if you haven’t already: While fewer than 50 percent of women in their twenties color their hair, more than 64 percent of women over 35 do. Among women over 50, the number who go blonde rises significantly. “Coloring your hair is the least invasive thing you can do to look younger,” says Sharon Dorram, cofounder of Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger salon, whose clients include Kate Winslet and Renée Zellweger. “It’s not laser. It’s not Botox. It’s a simple thing you do every few months to look brighter and put the life back in your hair.”
Sounds wonderful. But going blonder isn’t a blanket cure for all the effects of aging. “Rather than ‘I’m getting older; I need to go lighter,’ the rule should be ‘I’m getting older; I need to go softer,’ ” says Ian Michael Black, North American color director for Aveda. “Softer, paler colors reflect more light, which brightens your complexion and obscures wrinkles. Very dark colors create too much contrast, emphasizing every line—or in the case of women with darker skin, any unevenness in tone.”
So how do you decide what your softer shade is? Keep reading.
Blonde Takes Ambition
“Blonder is best” may be the motto for the majority of women as they age, but it’s not the easiest hue to achieve or maintain. “Being blonde requires a much higher level of commitment for a graying brunette than for a natural-but-graying blonde,” says Jennifer J., a celebrity colorist for L’Oréal Professionnel whose clients have included Cate Blanchett. “If you’re going more than two levels lighter than your natural color, you’re in for more maintenance—and more risk of damage.” That’s why aiming for “blondish”—via highlights—is a better first step for most women. “I always say that we’ll start with the ‘teen schedule,’ ” says Dorram. “We place a few strategic highlights just to lighten the hair around the face—then you can come back in four months, not four weeks. If you love it, we can gradually add more lightness and brightness.”