JENNIFER MUNLEY IS pretty sure she’s the only mom with pink hair in the drop-off line at her kids’ New Jersey school. The 47-year-old, a project director at a media company, was blandly blonde when she moved her family from Brooklyn to the ’burbs in July. But as lockdown wore on, everything started to feel stale—her hair color included—so she recently enlivened her look with pale pink highlights. It was “a way to bring [life] and some creativity back,” she said. “It’s been hard to access that.”
Now that most cities have deemed hair appointments safe, women who have been barred from seeing their stylists since March are craving an update from a pro. And many, like Ms. Munley, are seizing the moment, opting for extreme hair transformations they might have skittishly shunned pre-Covid. Colorado accountant Catherina Lee made a salon appointment as soon as she felt comfortable. Sick of the “same old, same old” monotony of isolation, she quenched her thirst for newness by chopping nearly 12 inches off her hair. “I wanted a big change, something drastic,” said Ms. Lee, 32. She went from lengthy locks that hit her rib cage to a sharp, chin-length bob. “I felt so, so much better,” she said.
The fad has swept the celebrity and fashion circuits too. In June, brunette model Emily Ratajkowski briefly went peroxide blonde, and last month, actress Priyanka Chopra traded her layers for a piecey fringe. Hair guru Guido Palau framed the faces of models at Prada’s spring 2021 show by brutally lopping off sections of strands around their ears, and for Dries Van Noten’s spring lookbook, hairstylist Sam McKnight painted futuristic finger waves with streaks of emerald green or royal blue.
“ ‘Pink highlights were a way to bring [life] and creativity back. It’s been hard to access that.’ ”
Michael Angelo of Manhattan’s Wonderland Beauty Parlor said that since his salon has reopened, more than half of his clientele has opted for drastic ’dos. “My blondes are going pink, my longs are going short,” he said. Susy Oludele, the owner of Brooklyn braiding salon Hair by Susy, said that since she opened her business back up in late June, she’s seen a swarm of first-time clients. “Before quarantine…they just kept doing the same thing,” she said. During isolation, however, “people really took time to know themselves more.” Now, she said, they insist, “’Let me add purple. Let me do gray.’”
Such intense self-scrutiny led New York artist Alexis Graves, 27, to overhaul her hair. “I’ve spent months with myself… I don’t think too much anymore about trying to look a certain way to be appeasing,” she said. Craving a carefree look after months of feeling “stagnant,” she went for bohemian knotless box braids, a la Zoë Kravitz. “I wanted to express myself more,” she said.
If you haven’t conceived your dream hairstyle yet, schedule more mirror time. “Ask yourself, what part are you sick of?” advised Mr. Angelo. Then, take it one snip at a time. “Schedule two haircuts,” he suggested. Get accustomed to curtain bangs before taking them above your brows, or try one or two pastel accents instead of going full Lisa Frank. If a zany overall shade tempts you—Lady Gaga recently enlisted her stylist to make her mane a mermaid-inspired blue-green—Mr. Angelo recommends starting with soft highlights to create nuance and avoid dyer’s remorse.
Upheaval has inspired women to switch up their hairstyles before. Rachael Gibson, a London-based hair historian, sees similarities between today’s transformations and postwar beauty behavior. After WWI, newly independent women, who had entered the workforce en masse, rejected the long locks that convention commanded and rebelled with liberating bobs. Women of the post-WWII era wanted escapism and femininity; romantic Marilyn Monroe curls ensued. “There’s always a desire for a bit of glamour or a feel-good factor when something traumatic has happened,” Ms. Gibson said.
If you’re second-guessing a major change, consider that even the pros are taking risks with their own looks. After sampling “every hairstyle ever” before shaving her head three years ago, Ms. Oludele, the owner of the Brooklyn braiding salon, is now growing an Afro. And Mr. Angelo of Wonderland recently dyed his hair baby pink. “I was just so sick of following the rules and behaving,” he said. Even among buttoned-up professionals, an additional degree of expression is acceptable—and, in many cases, appreciated. The newly pink-haired Ms. Munley said her co-workers condone her new look. “People want to see fun and creativity and [liveliness], even through the screen,” she said.
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