A few weeks ago, I was startled out of a Facebook-browsing trance when I noticed that a particularly chic friend had replaced her longstanding profile photo with one in which her blond hair appeared to be dyed a dusty, rosy pink. The friend in question is a former fashion director at CondeNast, a thirty-something who is always impeccably dressed, walking the perfect line between trend and sophistication. What in the world was she doing with pink hair? Could this possibly be a “thing”? The answer, Google quickly informed me, is yes.
If you haven’t been following the fashion press for the past year or two, you may not have noticed that pink hair has left the realm of the super weird and migrated to the realm of the fashion forward. (Perhaps you are also thinking that this distinction is rather slight.) For the Spring 2011 shows last September, designers like Zac Posen and Giles sent models down the runway with cherry-colored streaks and salmon-y highlights. By the Fall 2011 shows this February, Harper’s Bazaar noticed pink heads of hair on the runways of Richard Chai, United Bamboo, and Prabal Gurung. It was officially a trend. The poster girl for the style is Charlotte Free , an 18-year-old model who has been compared to Kate Moss ; she set herself apart during the Fall season with tresses colored, for different shows, several varying shades of pink. (The Telegraph has a slideshow of Free’s multiple hues, which also illustrates the trend as worn by musicians Nicki Minaj, Ellie Goulding, Avril Lavigne, and, oddly, John Cale.) At the intersection of high fashion and high weird, Vogue’ s March cover featured Lady Gaga wearing a pale pink bobbed wig that looked one part Jazz Age flapper, one part Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element (only pinker).
The color of the moment is less neon than cotton candy — a muted, dreamy pastel that mirrors in intensity the blue tinge of an elderly lady’s perm, and in shade the liquid amoxicillin you had to choke down for ear infections in the ‘80s. Though fashion’s current embrace of pink hair may seem daringly nouveau, a quick look at newspapers from the past century reveals that, long before the birth of punk , and long before the birth of Pink , the industry was fascinated by blush-colored hair — not because pink was rock ‘n roll, but because it was pretty.
United States, 1914 and 1915
A writer named Margaret Mason was an early advocate of the pink hair trend. In florid, punny prose, she wrote about the joys of pink hair in a January 2, 1914 piece for the United Press titled “Mad Rush of Color Extends to the Hair.” “If you are simply dyeing to be fashionable,” wrote Mason, “then choose a bright shade of cerise, for pink hair is the pink of fashionable perfection.” A year later, in the Milwaukee Sentinel , Mason extolled the virtues of henna dye. “Haste then and hie you to the henna if you are a wise woman,” she declared. “Begin to red up immediately. If you would be the pink of perfection, you certainly must have pink hair.”
New York, 1937
Some twenty years later, the A.P. reported that hair “tinted ‘a tender, tender rose’ is the great new thing in women’s styles.” This was according to a European hair stylist named Leo of Vienna, who was in New York to present at the Austria booth of the world fair. “Pink hair,” claimed Leo, “is perfect for evening, ‘because women, at evening, should always look flower-like.’” Leo, whose clients included the Duchess of Windsor (who, incidentally, did not dye her hair pink), also maintained that women should change their hairstyles at least 10 to 12 times per year, “because many men are completely sick of the way their wives do their hair.”
London and Hollywood, 1940
In World War II-era London, the U.P. reported, blondes who found that their hair clashed with their khaki uniforms began clamoring for a pink tint. “Blondes are going to turn pink because they have found out that their soldier boy friends prefer brunettes or chestnuts-or pinks,” wrote the U.P. in September, 1940. Across the pond in Hollywood, the A.P. reported that Max Factor Jr., makeup artist to the stars (and, apparently, conspiracy theorist), believed that a new, naturally pink-haired breed of humans might one day threaten the viability of blonds and brunettes. Intermarriage between blonds and brunettes, Factor maintained, would eventually lead to a crop of “brownets”, or pink-haired people. But don’t worry, the U.P. wrote. “Factor believes we won’t be in the pink for 300 years, at the soonest.”
In 1948, an article printed in the Toledo Blade declared that the “fabulous style center” of Paris “not only dictates what color dresses a woman will wear, but it even tells her what color hair she must have if she wants to be up to the minute.” At a meeting of the High Fashion Coiffeurs Union — an organization that, sadly, seems to be now defunct — three new hair shades were promoted as the next big thing. The “most startling” was one called “hermine rose.” “No hair could possibly come that way and it is a safe guess that it would be awfully hard to keep it that way,” the reporter asserted. “But it’s highly decorative, startling and brand new.”
Wisbech, England, 1960
Though pink hair trends are generally geared toward the fairer sex (John Cale and Dennis Rodman notwithstanding), a November 1960 bit from the A.P. declared that in at least one Cambridgeshire town, “A boy without pink hair is a boy without a girl friend.” An eighteen-year-old named David Grange told the newspaper, “At first the girls laughed but now they won’t go out with any boy who hasn’t got pink hair…It makes you stand out in a crowd.” The trend unfairly favored blond boys, though, as “on chaps with dark hair the solution tends to turn their hair scarlet.”
Photograph courtesy of Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for TRESemme.