I always hoped that, in the event of a global catastrophe, I could rely on my girl friends to focus on the important things. They did not disappoint.
“My hair!” wailed one bottle-blonde of my acquaintance. “My roots! What is going to become of me if I can’t get to the hairdresser for three months?”
Another called, apparently in the grip of a full-blown identity crisis. “Without streaky blond highlights, who am I?” she said. “I’ve no idea what my natural colour is. Nor do I want to find out. I self-identify strongly as a blonde.”
“You’re a lunatic,” I told her.
“You’re a brunette,” she replied. “You don’t get it.”
One friend presciently begged her hairdresser for an appointment a fortnight ago, long before they were all ordered this week to close, and is now insufferably smug.
“I’ve been getting my streaks done every 10 weeks since I was 16,” she said. “If you’re a brunette, you can order a packet online and do it yourself at home. It’s not ideal, but it does the job. We blondes have to get our streaks done at the hairdresser. There is no alternative. And what if underneath I turn out to be grey? I’m only 45! I’m way too young to be OK with grey.”
“Not many of my clients will be wanting to go back to their natural colour,” agrees the sought-after hairdresser Michael van Clarke. “One has been getting training on how to use a tint brush, so she knows how to apply it. She said she’ll probably make a mess, but she’ll have a go.”
“I’ve no idea what my natural colour is. Nor do I want to find out. I self-identify strongly as a blonde.”
Now, obviously there are worse fates than going grey and more important things to worry about than hair. But equally, everyone’s talking about the mental, as well as physical, health implications of enforced isolation and inactivity. Take me: since I’ve been deprived of all forms of exercise except walking, a psychologist would probably describe my mental health as somewhere between bananas and batshit crazy.
For others, it’s the bad hair that can get you down. It’s trivial, but it’s true.
Brunette Is the New Blond
I know this, and I sympathise with my panicky bottle-blonde friends, because for my entire adult life, until ten years ago, I too was a bottle-blonde. I am living proof that there is life beyond peroxide, however little you might look forward to it at present. I adopted a somewhat dramatic solution to my hugely over-processed fine, brittle hair: I had to have chemotherapy, so it all fell out, but honestly, it was for the best. I’d been dyeing it since I was 16 and it had taken its toll.
The real shock, the one that came out of nowhere, was the hair that grew back. New Hair — as I still refer to it — wasn’t the nondescript mousey colour of my youth, but a proper, dark brunette with extraordinary amounts of ginger and no grey at all. (Still — I have friends who simply don’t believe that, at my age, it isn’t dyed. They’re about to find out I’ve been telling the truth.)
For a very, very long time, I did a double-take when I saw my reflection. A friend pointed out that dogs can’t recognise their own reflection either. “What does that make me?” I asked him incredulously. “A pug?”
Every time I had looked in the mirror, a blonde had looked back at me. Suddenly who was this woman with brown hair? Did this affect what clothes I should wear, what make-up?
However, there are upsides. You’ll save yourself a fortune, for a start. Even ten years ago, I was paying well into three figures at a good London salon for a full head of highlights, and oh, the boredom of having to spend the whole afternoon there having it done. Then having to go back two or three months later to have it all done again.
And think how much better your blondeness will be once this is over and you can go back to the hairdresser. If it has all grown out, he’ll be able to start afresh, instead of layering colour on colour on colour. I reckon blondeness is a bit like plastic surgery: you don’t realise yourself when you’ve had too much, and if you’ve been dyeing your hair blond for 20 or 30 years without a break, you probably have.
“Without streaky blond highlights, who am I?”
This is scant consolation for one self-isolating friend. “If I catch my reflection, and I try very hard not to, my first thought is, ‘Shit — how long will my highlights last? And will my husband still recognise me when we’re out the other side?’ ”
“I think it’s important for self-esteem to look after yourself,” Van Clarke says. “If you’re locked up at home, then feeling good about yourself is even more important, because the stresses are very real. But don’t try highlighting your hair at home. It’s probably the most skilled process for hair technicians. Use a touch-up pencil for your roots — they’re very good to tide people over.” In other words, treat it as an opportunity, like one naturally dark thirtysomething colleague of mine. Having dyed her hair blond for years, she assumed she was doomed to be blond for ever.
“I actually prefer it dark, because I think it suits me better,” she says, “but the thought of growing the blond out has always been too daunting. But a pandemic is the perfect cover — 12 weeks of isolation and I can emerge, butterfly-like and brunette!”
Van Clarke agrees. “Think of this is an opportunity for your hair to recover and become much healthier,” he says. And if all else fails, just stop looking in the mirror.