Rose-Coloured Tresses: Pink Hair for Dark Times

Every February, like clockwork, I am struck with the sudden urge to dye my hair pink.  The desire is almost inexplicable. Perhaps by this point it is a force of habit or evidence of my desire to blend in with saccharine Valentine’s Day decor, but it also feels like a small act of rebellion against the onslaught of bitter, grey days that blur together in late winter. This season it seems that I am not alone in this desire. Teen Vogue has deemed pink hair to be the ‘defining aesthetic’ of the Covid-19 pandemic. This statement is supported by Alex Brownsell, founder of the hair salon Bleach known for its wild colours (and, for the record, producer of this author’s favourite at-home pink dye kit), who told The Guardian that her company has sold one pink hair product every 30 seconds in the past year – which makes for nearly 2,880 people buying bubblegum hues each day since the pandemic began.

While the exact number of Londoners sporting pink hair in lockdown remains difficult to calculate, the reasons the trend has spiked so much this year seem quite simple. Lockdown has felt like an endless late winter slump, each dreary day blending into the next and the familiar walls of our homes beginning to feel, well, too familiar. The visual equivalent of candyfloss made to top your head has the effect of a jolt of sugar to the system – an instant mood booster. Additionally, with screens limiting our outward appearance to the shoulders up, pink hair seems an easy way to set oneself apart from the crowd in an onslaught of endless Zoom calls. (I’ve also found that I receive many more smiles on the street with pink hair – proof perhaps that it’s not just my mood that the colour brightens).

Using blush hair as a distraction from dark times, however, is by no means a contemporary phenomenon. As long ago as Rococo France, men and women tinted their hair pink with powder, a trend which, in hindsight, may have been one of the more minor frivolous diversions from their festering societal problems. Several centuries later, pink hair took on a more practical purpose in cheering up citizens of a war-stricken nation. A 1940 issue of St. Joseph’s News Press proclaims a new fashion for pink hair, writing that across London: ‘Blondes are going to turn pink…for khaki and blonde don’t go together too well. The new pink fashion is becoming especially popular among women in uniform. The new pink tint is the invention of a West End hairstylist, who said that uniforms are playing a big part in hair fashions’.

As Pat Kirkham establishes in ‘Keeping Up the Home Front Morale: “Beauty and Duty” in Wartime Britain,’ hairstyling and beauty products were essential to the identity of women enlisted in the British military, who were encouraged to maintain traditionally feminine appearances both to differentiate themselves from male soldiers and to project a polished, confident image of unified nationalism. Women not enlisted in the military were similarly encouraged to adhere to their usual beauty routines or enhance them even further, as means of offering comfort to themselves and their families that all was well on the home front. In light of this, unnaturally pink hair seems to be a choice motivated by much more than the fact that blonde hair clashed with khaki uniforms. It seems more likely, perhaps, that a coif of pink hair poked out from a sea of khaki like a beacon of optimism, offering brief respite from the drabness of wartime rationing and imposed service. In occupied Paris, cosmetics took on an air of rebellion, signifying a refusal to adhere to the plainness essential to Nazi standards of femininity. Just four years after the liberation of Paris, the High Fashion Coiffeurs Union showed a shade of pale pink called ‘hermine rose’ as the hair colour of the season, which reads as a jubilant celebration of the full potential of beauty products.

Luminex hair dye ad shown in L’Officiel, late 1930s-early 1940s.

The trend for rosy locks was widespread enough to necessitate options for women who were not ready to take the plunge into permanently colouring their hair. A 1947 piece in Women’s Wear Daily describes how women could purchase pink nylon hair from British designer Bianca Mosca to mix with their own hair, creating a style that coordinated with their pastel evening gowns. A 1942 issue of Harper’s Bazaar praises socialite Mrs. Arturo Lopez-Willshaw for her ‘immaculate and lovely’ hair styles, braided creations that were festooned with pink velvet bows and pearls.

Lapinal hair colour chart, late 1950s, image via Etsy, https://www.etsy.com/listing/894710740/vintage-lapinal-hair-color-chart-poster.

Just ten years later, a brochure for Lapinal hair colour offered no fewer than four shades of pink available to women dyeing their hair at home. In 1964, famed costume designer Edith Head brought pink hair to the silver screen in the movie What a Way to Go! with Shirley MacLaine in a Pepto-Bismol hued bouffant and a fur coat to match. In a London where we are blessedly free from military draft and enemy occupation, pink hair seems a bit less shocking – these days it’s been seen on everyone from Kate Moss to Kylie Jenner. The sentiment behind the style, however, remains unchanged: when the going gets tough, it helps to look at the world with rose-coloured tresses.

Promotional image for What a Way to Go!, 1964, directed by J. Lee Thompson. 20th Century Fox.

By Ruby Redstone

Sources:

Bateman, Kristin. ‘How Pink Hair Came to Define the Aesthetic of Covid-19,’ Teen Vogue. 22 December 2020. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/pink-hair-aesthetic-covid-19.

Elan, Priya. ‘Why pink hair is the “statement-making” hair color trend of the pandemic,’ The Guardian. 8 January 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2021/jan/08/pink-hair-color-trend-pandemic.

Felsenthal, Julia. ‘Pink Hair is All the Rage – Just Like it Was in 1914,’ Slate. 12 May 2011. https://slate.com/culture/2011/05/pink-hair-is-all-the-rage-just-like-it-was-in-1914.html.

Kirkham, Pat, ‘Keeping up Home Front Morale: “Beauty and Duty” in Wartime Britain,’ in   Atkins, Jacqueline M. ed., Wearing Propaganda: Textiles on the Home Front in Japan, Britain, and the United States, 1931-45 (New Haven and London: BGC/Yale University Press, 2005), pp. 205-228

‘New Pink Hair Fashion’. St Joseph’s News Press. 14  September 1940. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=G4hkAAAAIBAJ&sjid=U3UNAAAAIBAJ&dq=pink%20hair%20history&pg=6185%2C2174950.

‘Paris Picks Pink Hair-Calls It “Hermine Rose”’. Toledo Blade. 2 December 1948. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=mNMpAAAAIBAJ&sjid=AgAEAAAAIBAJ&dq=pink%20hair%20history&pg=2723%2C5938092

“Pink Nylon Hair.” Women’s Wear Daily 75, no. 48 (Sep 08, 1947): 3. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/pink-nylon-hair/docview/1627474466/se-2?accountid=10277.

“SCRAPBOOK.” Harper’s Bazaar 76, no. 2772 (12, 1942): 58-59. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/scrapbook/docview/1832465226/se-2?accountid=10277.

“Shopping Bazaar.” Harper’s Bazaar 71, no. 2704 (01, 1938): 32-37. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/shopping-bazaar/docview/1832491061/se-2?accountid=10277.

Edgar Degas, Woman Adjusting her Hair, c.1884

Edgar Degas, Woman Adjusting her Hair, c.1884 Charcoal, chalk and pastel. 63 x 59.9cm The Courtauld Gallery

Edgar Degas, Woman Adjusting her Hair, c.1884
Charcoal, chalk and pastel. 63 x 59.9cm
The Courtauld Gallery

A woman arches her back, twisting elegantly to the side, as she daintily raises her hands to her head, forming neat, careful, mirrored triangles. Her form is made up of frantic, expressive strokes of black charcoal, singed onto the buff paper with latent energy. This overspills into colour: zingy bursts of sunburnt orange, and rich, luscious green echo her movements. As do further sweeps of charcoal surrounding her figure: the ghost of a previous outline, abandoned by the artist, whose continued presence lends a sense of animation. In the foreground, an indistinguishable flurry takes place – the back of a leg, or the swish of a skirt – and the woman in question seemingly turns towards it, as another part within a precisely synchronised whole. Yet while the piece is by Edgar Degas, notorious for his effervescent depictions of the changing life of the ballet, this window reveals the careful orchestration that also took place within everyday life: in this case, as contained within a milliner’s shop. Amidst the movement of Degas’s piece, rest and relief lies in the bottom right-hand corner, where graceful folds of cloth lie sculpturally. They are seemingly set apart from the rest of the composition, reverently bathed in light, which highlights their soft luminosity. This focus on dress connected to a shift that was concurrently occurring: fashion was beginning to gain the momentum that would lead it to where it is today. The world’s first department stores had only recently been set up, in Paris, and began to offer, for the first time, garments that could be bought off the shelf, with little to no need for alteration. This set in motion the path to mass-produced clothing and the fast fashion available today, and such changes captured the attention of contemporary artists and intellectuals. They corresponded in particular with the Impressionist penchant for the pursuit of the new, the capturing of the contemporary. Édouard Manet once declared: ‘the latest fashion is absolutely necessary for a painter. It is what matters most!’ Degas was no exception, and the careful, loving attention he paid to the materiality of dress, in what is by far the most fully worked section of the study, advocated fashion, its importance, and nodded towards its serious social implications, during the 1880s and today alike. A quiet moment of appreciation towards female finery, within a rushing whirlwind towards modernity as we know it.

Source:

Darragon, É. (1924) Manet, Paris.