Only My Hairdresser Knows For Sure

Did I ever tell you my hair color horror story?  I was in such a state of shock for several weeks, that I don’t believe I could bring myself to write about it.   While the most devastating effects have now faded from my memory (and thankfully from my hair!) the ramifications continue in other ways.

Here’s what happened…

ist2_7887712-applying-hair-colour1On December 4, 2008, I made an appointment for my regular hair cut/color session.  I’ve been coloring my hair for a while, first getting highlights, but recently having an all-over color just to brighten my dark brown hair and cover the isolated gray hair that cropped up now and again.  I’ve had the same stylist for a couple of years, and I love her dearly.   My heart goes out to her in many ways – she has an interesting life, but that’s for another post.

Anyway, she puts the color on as usual, checking her little notebook for the formula.  She comes back with her dish of color, and starts brushing it on. 

“Wait a minute,” she says.  “Let me just check that formula again.”  She grabs the notebook and runs her index finger down the page.   “Yes, okay,”  she says.  “That’s what I did.  Okay, then.”

She continues painting away, and we talk – about my plans for the night which include attending my husband’s big Christmas concert at U of M’s Hill Auditorium, about all my friends who are going, about my boss and her husband and their friends who are going for the first time, about how I will see some of my former high school students in the Michigan Men’s Glee Club, who are guest performers at the concert.  How excited I.  How much fun it will be.

And then I sit for 30 minutes while the color “takes.”

And then she unwraps the towel from my head and says the words no woman wants to hear from her hairdresser.

“Oh, no.”

“What?” I said warily, rearing up from the shampoo bowl.

“Oh, Becky,” she said in a whisper.  “You hair is not the right color.”

“What do you mean?” I yelped. ” What color is it?”

“It’s too…red,” she replied, pushing my shoulder down into the crux of the shampoo bowl.  “Here, let me see if I can rinse some of this out.”

“How red is it?” I asked as she scrubbed my head.  “I mean, is it bright red? Or auburn? Or orange? What color red?”

“It’s not orange-red, it’s –  well, it’s more purple,” she answered.


It’s 3:00 p.m., I’m leaving for Ann Arbor in 2 hours, and I have purple hair.

I caught a glimpse of it once, in between rinses and clarifiers and all kinds of other treatments.  At one point, four stylists were clustered around me, conferring like a bunch of surgeons over an ungainly and inoperable tumor.  My hair was that cranberry color some of the younger girls are wearing now.  It was unbelievably horrible. 

I swallowed hard.  “My God,” was all I could say.  Finally, I had to call a halt. 

“I have to leave,” I told them.  “You’ve got to make it as presentable as possible.” 

“Presentable” turned out to be almost equally terrifying shade of black – the dark black some of the other younger girls are wearing, the girls they call “Goths.”

Believe me when I tell you there were days I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror.  I have always had dark brown hair, but this was jet black – like my daughter in laws beautiful Asian locks, but looking absolutely ridiculous on this fair skinned, middle aged Caucasian woman.

And so I swore up and down I would never color my hair again.  I was desperate to see my “real” hair, longed to see my own brown, wavy hair, the color I was born with.  I ached with regret for covering it up, for being so vain as to want a new color.  “If my real hair is under here,” I begged, “I’ll never cover it up again.”

It’s been four months now, four months of daily washes with clarifying shampoo (for a while I was washing my hair in Tide with bleach, trying to strip out the color faster).  The horrible black has faded to a quite presentable chestnut brown.  And there is new hair growing in daily, new hair that is apparently the natural color I was so longing to see once again.

Except it isn’t.  Because all my new hair growth is gray.

 I’ve never been terribly vain about my appearance. I don’t wear tons of makeup, and I’ve  never even considered having cosmetic surgery.  But I am finding it difficult to accept the idea of seeing my hair entirely gray.  I’ve always been fond of my hair – even though it’s occasionally unruly in humid weather, it’s thick and wavy, it lies beautifully when cut well, and is extremely easy to style with 10 minutes and blow dryer.  And it was a rich, chocolate brown, with natural auburn highlights. 

My mother had beautiful dark brown hair too, just like mine.  Her hair turned gray when she was in her late 30’s.  Back in those days, she colored her hair with a technique called “frosting,” which was similar to highlighting now.  Once, having just returned from the salon with a fresh “salt and pepper” look, my great grandmother took one look at her and said with her usual candor, “Honey, I don’t know why you don’t let your hair go back to its natural color.”

My mother laughed.  “Grandma, I sure wish I could!” she replied.

Ah yes, so do I.

How about you? Do you have a hair color horror story?  Do you color you hair, or go au naturel?  Or does only your hairdresser know for sure?


13 thoughts on “Only My Hairdresser Knows For Sure

  1. Your story made me laugh, but it must have felt awful; I remember months when I dreaded going out because I was growing out a cut where my hair was texturized beyond recognition.

    There’s plenty of gray in my hair — my stylist is kind and refers to it as “platinum” — but so far I haven’t gotten around to coloring it. Not out of any lack of desire; just too lazy to keep up with the maintenance.

    Your great grandmother’s question at the end of your story — Why don’t you let your hair go back to its natural color — also reminds me in some oblique way of the time after my daughter’s birth when I wondered when things would ever be “normal” again. The answer: never. But that wasn’t such a bad thing.

  2. I’ve been colouring my hair for a couple of years now, I think – nothing adventurous, just maintaining the fiction of my “natural” colour, which sounds much like yours – dark brown, and it’s thick and would be wavy if I didn’t blow-dry and straighten it. And yes, humidity does things to it, too. Luckily, I’ve never had a colour disaster, but I’m sure it can easily happen. It’s one reason why I always go to the same stylist, and now I see that’s no protection! Hope yours will be as you like it soon.

  3. Oh, Becca — you’re an amazing writer, because I was laughing and very nearly crying with you in the same sentence. So much there that I could relate to (including the frosted mother!).

    My hair (normal) was a nice brown till the gray started coming in — then it was a dull brown. So, I went the way of the colorist and so far, so good. I sometimes ask her “Can we try a little lighter?” or “How about something wild and reddish (not RED!)” and she says, “You know, I don’t really think you want to do that!” Which, while disappointing in some ways, I appreciate!

    So, I get my same color, wondering how old I’ll have to be till it looks stupid (although I saw a photo of Gloria Vanderbilt at 80-something in the NY Times this weekend and she looked great!). In the summer, I curse as my hair begins to expand with the humidity, and right now at Rick’s request, I’m letting it grow out. Maybe that’s my horror story… we’ll see!

  4. Oh- this was hilarious! Terrific dialogue Becca– I was cracking up (and gasping) the whole time. Bless your heart.

    I once did a henna rinse that turned my hair fire-engine red. But I had only myself to blame for that one.

    Again, this is so funny! You should send it off somewhere. Really. 🙂

  5. I used to color my own mousy brown hair just to perk it up a bit, and it worked fine for years. Until the week before my baby sister’s wedding, when I colored and it came out green. The color of our native Douglas fir. A trip to the salon helped strip out some of the color and I attended the wedding with brown with green highlights. In the light, it definitely had a green cast. To this day my nieces and nephews call me “Auntie Green Hair”..and that was 28 years ago. I never did it on my own again, and have had great luck with my current hairdresser. I’ve added some red, and love it, tho I’m tempted to let it go and let nature take over…which means gray hair. Tho my roots are a bright shiny silver…maybe it wouldnt be so bad. My hairdresser tells me that if I do that, I will need a dramatic haircut to offset the “boring” color….something like spikes, she said. Uh….60 years old with spiky hair? I’m not ready for that.

  6. I hear what you’re saying. My hair is going, going, gone quite gray. I still have a bit of my original color but very little. I keep toying with the idea of coloring it, but after your experience, I’m even less certain about it. Let us know if you decide to color it again.

  7. I’m just laughing away. I’ve never colored my hair, which now is a salt and pepper heading off to silvery gray, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I figure there are problems, and there are facts of life, and gray hair qualifies as a fact of life.

    On the other hand, there WAS that haircut – about 10 years ago, but still terrifying to contemplate. I went to one of “those” chain salons, because I just wanted a little trim. I came out looking like Sinead O’Connor, but with less hair. I cried for two days. And started cutting my own hair. And still do!

  8. Oh Becca!

    I know how you feel … except I did it to myself several years ago. I had been lightening my hair and had gone a bit too far; so, I decided to darken it back up & got an ash blonde (which apparently had the “wrong” base) … long story short, my hair turned a grayish-purple and I was horrified! I went to a salon the specialized in “restorative” hair coloring and almost two hundred dollars later I had normal hair again!

    I’ve never tried that again 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  9. Oh no! I would be soooo upset! My sister is my hairstylist… I do not know what I would do if she screwed it up that badly for me.

    Although my hair hasn’t gone gray, I still vainly think of it is as the beautiful white blond of childhood when in reality my natural color has faded to a mousy brown. I say bring on the color and try not to think about it!

  10. OMG Becca!! Traumitizing to say the least. I would like to see a picture of you with purple hair though…. or even the evil pure black! Hope you are feeling all better now. 😉

  11. Oh my! That must have been such an anxious evening for you! I have a couple of haircolour horror stories, but nothing to compare to yours. Are you still going to the same hairdresser??!! 🙂

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