As Marcia Kester Doyle was raising her four children and running a small business with her husband, she kept her hair simple; a shoulder length, sprayed-in-place ’do that required little fussing.
“But as I became an empty nester, I looked at myself and I realized I was bored with my appearance,” said the 58-year-old Pompano Beach, Fla. resident who blogs as Menopausal Mother. “I thought: ‘I’m sassier than I look. This should be my time to express myself and do something unique and creative with my hair.’”
Inspired by her daughter, who had adopted pink streaks while in high school, Doyle decided to follow her lead. In 2014, Doyle asked her longtime hair stylist to dye the bottom third of her blonde hair a candy-apple red.
“Right away, I saw that I could get away with it. I got so many looks and compliments. Strangers would come up to tell me they loved it,” Doyle said. “I was going to one of my first writers’ conferences and I wanted to stand out so people I met would remember me. It worked; when I got callbacks later, editors said, ‘You’re the one with the fun hair.’”
A Rainbow of Hair Color Choices
Hair in rainbow colors — from pale pastels to vibrant shades of neon— has been growing in popularity over the past decade or so, and it started with tweens, teens and college-age women. They were following style trends set by pop stars including Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and, of course, P!nk, who all sported technicolor tresses.
Today, the cotton-candy pinks, purples and brilliant blues that would have once been worn only at Halloween are being adopted as a daily look by more women in middle- and later age. The headcount of those who are dying to embrace the playful palette is adding up, with many Facebook and Instagram posts displaying newly-colored locks.
Vibrant Role Models
Colorful streaks, tips, ombres or all-over coverage are showing up among high-profile boomer women as well.
Singer-songwriter Cyndi Lauper, 64, is still rocking colorful hair: not only sporting her bubble-gum colored hair on stage, she also wears it in ads serving as a spokesperson for a prescription psoriasis medication. Pundit Danielle Pletka, 54, vice-president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, appears on Meet the Press with bold blue streaks and tips peeking through her blonde hairstyle. And in a Walgreens commercial, two silver-haired girlfriends who go to the pharmacy for medication wind up buying DIY dye before dancing the night away at their class reunion, resplendent in purple highlights to honor their high school colors.
Emphasizing Their Personal Brand
Choosing a hairstyle that is outside the box is consistent with how some boomers want to curate their image.
“The generation before us honored the aging process and wanted to age gracefully, in a dignified way. Boomers are just not making that choice,” said Amy Lynch, 65, president of Generational Edge, a Tennessee company that consults with businesses on generational differences. “Boomers have always valued individuality.”
While some women buy the eye-catching dye when they retire and no longer need to conform to office dress code and appearance standards, others use the Easter egg colors to emphasize their personal brand in the workplace.
“It’s important for baby boomers not to appear aged or dated at work. The bright colors can signify youthfulness,” Lynch said. “Of course, it depends on the industry; you wouldn’t see this among senior bankers or law partners. I live in Nashville and in the music or video industry, no one would think twice. The color says, ‘I’m adventurous, I’m lighthearted, I’m open to what’s new.’”
Lynch compares the acceptance of blue or orange hair to tattoos, a trend that started on the margins and has since moved to the mainstream. And like tattoos, there are indicators that bright hair color is more than a passing fad.
“The category is still growing. More manufacturers are entering the market and investing in new and improved products. Coloring services are an important revenue driver for salons,” said Aura Mae, who serves on the board of directors for the American Board of Certified Haircolorists. Mae, 51, has worked as a traveling educator for major hair color manufacturers, training hairdressers on the application of the rainbow hues.
And Mae practices what she teaches. Her salon in Tacoma, Wash. has attracted a devoted following of women choosing colors not found in nature. Mae’s own curls are currently an arresting shade of teal; she proudly declares that she has tried most of the on-trend color concoctions that are commercially available.
“I do great-grandmothers who like the look,” she said. “Bright colors are not a great choice for someone who wants to blend in and doesn’t want strangers commenting on her hair. This is for women who want to make a statement and stand out in a crowded room or marketplace. It’s assertive.”
Worth the Commitment
Mae notes tresses that are naturally gray work as an effective canvas for the palette of unconventional hues. She sees more of her silvery-haired clients feeling emboldened to try a surprising style.
“We can place these creative colors within the natural salt and pepper. I like to add in pieces of baby blue for dimension; with the white and gray it looks like your favorite pair of blue jeans,” Mae said. “Skin tone naturally loses some of its luster in later years, so a bright color is a great accessory. You can’t feel drab with crazy crayon-colored hair.”
Maintaining the lavender, orange or cerulean shades can require both time and money, with frequent visits to the drugstore to buy over-the-counter tints for those who dye by their own hand, or regular appointments in a colorist’s chair for those who schedule the multi-process work of a salon professional.
For Doyle, it’s well worth the commitment.
“It’s three hours, every four weeks for me,” she confessed. “For some women, it’s mani-pedis or a massage. My hair is my luxury and I look forward to getting it done. It looks so beautiful when it’s finished.”
Two years ago, Doyle switched from red to fuchsia, and she continues to enjoy compliments from friends and strangers.
As for her daughter whose unorthodox color inspired her, she’s now a special education teacher who has reverted to her natural blonde color.
“She wants to play it straight and be taken seriously by her colleagues and when she meets with parents,” Doyle said. “I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
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