Trend for coloured hair takes its inspiration from childhood toys

Not for the first time, the latest hair trend requires you to dig deep into your past: welcome to the rise of My Little Pony hair. Inspired by the colourful manes of the little plastic toys, rainbow hair has become the go-to hair trend for young women.

Bleach salon, which recently branched out from east London to Soho, arguably pioneered the trend for extreme hair colour which has seen pink, dip dye (where the ends are “dipped” in a contrasting colour) and even premature grey become trend fixtures.

Georgia May Jagger has opted for multicoloured hair.

According to Bleach founder Alex Brownsell, rainbow-coloured hair is the next logical step in hair colour.

She said: “Hair trends tend to move in 10-year cycles. Over eight years ago, we did our first dip dye but now, almost a decade later, it’s sort of everywhere. The young kids don’t want dip dyes anymore, they feel it’s too mainstream.”

The trend, she explains, stems partly from rebellion and partly from nostalgia. “We all dyed our hair when we were kids to rebel, and there’s something about the attention that you got from it which felt addictive.”

She says the rise of extreme colours references the 80s and 90s punk scene. The main difference now is that the focus is primarily on colour not cut.

“It’s inspired by punks and cyber kids but the cuts now tend to be long and feminine, that soft 1970s look. This look is far more feminine. In fact, if someone came in with a punky haircut, I’d advise them against getting multicoloured hair. It’s moved on from that.”

Like most trends, rainbow hair has trickled down from the catwalk. Bright hair appeared on the AW15 Louis Vuitton catwalk and on models such as Soo Joo Park.

Danish model Chloe Norgaard has become an alternative poster girl for rainbow-coloured hair. “I was fed up with having to fit into what my agencies were saying I had to look like,” she says. “It was an act of rebellion, I was like, screw this, I’m going blue and once I did I felt great.”

Britney Spears and Katy Perry also went rainbow this summer. Brownsell dyed the hair of model Georgia May Jagger, in part, as a last hurrah. “A lot of models get it done now so it’ll fade out in time for fashion week when she’ll have to fit what the client wants.”

Natalia McDonald, from Premier models, which represents Norgaard, says: “If a designer’s inspiration for a season is based on subcultures, tattoos and piercings could enhance that and, therefore, the casting director is more likely to use models with those attributes.”

Instagram also plays a role. There are almost 200,000 rainbowhair hashtags on social media, throwing up a variety of looks.

“Models now share all the details of their lives with their followers,” says McDonald. “So rather than it being a new trend, I would say the development of technology has moved us into this era.”

According to Brownsell, hair colour is becoming more important than haircuts: “Multicoloured hair could be seen as this generation’s ‘Rachel’ [the long layered cut popularised by Jennifer Aniston’s character in TV series Friends]. I think for people our age, 20s at least, the look is very much about not cutting your hair into ‘a cut’.”

Even men are embracing extreme colour. “Green hair is a big trend on young men – One Direction’s Zayn Malik; Jared Leto, who got it done for his role as The Joker.”

Could rainbow hair be next? “I don’t see why not, I think it’s natural progress,” says Brownsell.

Wallflowers need not be too unsettled by the trend. “It’s actually an extension of what’s happening in hair colour in general. I have multicoloured blonde hair, multicoloured balayage [a dye-application technique] is also a thing, browns and red blended together. Even L’Oreal are talking about bronde [a blend of brown and blonde]. It’s less extreme than it sounds and actually, as a trend, almost mainstream.”

Black hair: why it’s time to stop politicising it

For nearly a century, black men’s and women’s hair has been a political declaration, a cultural statement, a social media moment – and sometimes all three.

Think Angela Davis, fist raised at a 1960s Black Panther rally; Pam Grier, “the baddest one-chick hit-squad” in the 1970s movie Coffy; Erykah Badu looking skyward on the cover of her 2003 album Worldwide Underground, Solange Knowles holding court in a white cape at her 2014 wedding, and, most recently, Lineisy Montero being named fashion’s breakout model of the year.

Afro hair has been the stuff of books, university courses and documentaries, its history too long and heady to be expounded here. But as the sight of black hair in its unpermed, unstraightened state becomes ever more common in fashion and the media, one thing has become clear: it’s time to stop making black hair a thing.

I say this after Taraji P Henson – the actor who plays Cookie Lyon in Empire, the hip-hop answer to Dynasty – made headlines for choosing to pose for a magazine without a wig or weave, instead opting for the cornrows she typically wears underneath them. Really?

Henson rightfully deserves a round of applause for celebrating and showing off her natural beauty, but we don’t need to dissect it every time a woman chooses to do so.

Model Lineisy Montero on the Rochas Spring/Summer 2016 catwalk.

The power of the natural hair movement lies in the fact that black women the world over are rejecting the damaging chemicals of hair-straightening perms and embracing the natural beauty of their kinks and curls. When Bruce Weber saw her intricately braided hair and suggested he shoot her like that, Henson told CR Fashion Book: “Part of me was like, ‘No, no, no, NO!’ This is the hair no one is supposed to see. This is like behind-closed-doors hair. I feel naked. I feel like a plucked chicken … or a wet one. A baby chicken! But Bruce says to me: ‘It’s not about the hair, it’s your face.’”

When she posted an image from the shoot on Instagram, she wrote: “I decided not to block art and just let it be free.”

“Let it be free” are the key words here. In the same way that curls look best when they haven’t been weighed down with too much product, the natural hair movement has its biggest impact when it’s simply able to exist without any qualifiers.

In his latest book, Between the World and Me, the much-lauded cultural critic Ta-Nehisi Coates described the changes the world has seen from his childhood to his son’s boyhood: “Your life is so very different from my own. I don’t know what it means to grow up with a black president, social networks, omnipresent media and black women everywhere in their natural hair.”

As a woman who has grown up in and around the discussion and unpacking of the cultural meaning of black hair, I can’t help but think that in a year in which we watched actress Zendaya Coleman shamefully ridiculed for wearing dreadlocks to the Academy Awards or Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg criticised for defending the history of cornrows, the most progressive thing we can do would be to stop politicising it all.

I’m an American who lives in London. Many of my friends on both sides of the Atlantic are women, and many of them are black, and many of them wear their hair in its natural state. But I can’t say that their decisions to do so are the same as each others’, or the same as those of the women who rejected the pressing comb in past decades. It’s not always a reaction against anything, but rather an act of self-care and joy. The millions of natural hair blogs, vlogs and communities that have sprung up around this idea – celebrating the sheer fun, transformative power and singular beauty of hair – prove my point.

Society evolves, and the way we fashion ourselves advances with it. When I interviewed Lineisy Montero for this newspaper after her breakout appearance in the Prada show in March, her reason for wearing her hair curly was simple: “I love it. I feel very comfortable,” she said. And, as Henson’s experience proves, sometimes it’s as simple as that.

Denim hair: what does it mean?

Denim hair is the latest online hair trend, and became more than simply a hashtag when Kylie Jenner did it last week. Like rainbow hair, it is less about what you look like IRL and more about what looks good on Instagram.

This internetification of our physical appearance means we are bound by the logic of the web: the bigger the wow factor, the bigger the impact.

The rise of the selfie also means the focus is now on your shoulders and your head – “portraiting”. In this context, individual features (your lips, your eyes) become more important – and your hair becomes the ultimate accessory.

Kylie Jenner

It also helps that it looks really good: the way the shades fall within the locks of hair is positively Rubenesque. Plus, it looks even better under the Instagram filters Ludwig and Mayfair. “The colour now commonly recognised as Denim Blue – a dusty grey/blue, has been popular in our salon for a while now,” explains Alex Brownsell of Bleach. “The colour denim is being seen as high fashion for the first time, featuring a lot on the catwalk by super modern brands such as Vetements.”

But what does it mean? Well if the wearing of denim has connotations of being an outlaw when the colour is transported to your hair, that meaning is underlined. In this context, celebrities like Jenner and Joe Jonas dying their hair shades of grey and pink (shades that suggest a subversion of the norms), can be seen as the hair equivalent of raising a middle finger to the world. Online, your hair becomes a coded symbol of rebellion and freedom.

Zayn Malik, who has jumped around the hair colour spectrum since leaving One Direction, has vocalised this. “I … wanted to dye my hair when I was in the band, but I wasn’t allowed to,” he told Complex. No prizes for guessing which shade he will go for next …

Rainbow children: how the dip-dye trend has gone from shocking to mainstream

Ten years is a long time for any trend to stay relevant, not least a hairstyle. But this year it will be a full decade since the “dip-dye” caught on with a certain type of fashion-conscious woman – think models such as Charlotte Free or the singer M.I.A. However, now that Kim Kardashian has adopted the two-tone look, it seems set to become one of the defining hairstyles of the age.

A dip-dye involves leaving the roots undyed, or dark, and the ends bleached or coloured. “That whole two-tone look has evolved quite a bit,” explains Alex Brownsell, founder of the London salon Bleach, who arguably invented the dip-dye as we know it. “The first five years we did it, it was shocking. Now it’s fashion-conscious, but it’s not a trend any more.” Her comments may be damning on one level, but are perhaps more indicative of the way the undyed-roots/dyed-ends look has moved firmly into the mainstream. Zoella, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga have all dabbled in the trend.

For the past few years dyeing has trumped cuts as the cheaper, less permanent way to change your look, says Brownsell – pink hair (very 2008), grey hair (2010, and now resurgent among men) and multi-coloured hair (thanks last year to model Georgia May Jagger) have all had their moments.

Rebel Wilson sporting the dip-dyed look.

But perhaps in reaction to that proliferation of dyed hair, Brownsell thinks that “the cut is coming back among young women. Dip-dyes have become mainstream in the sense that they’re national. It used to be a London thing; now it’s everywhere,” she says. “That said, I don’t think we’ve had anything that has come close to trumping it, and I can’t see it happening for a while.”

Samantha Cusick, a colourist at Taylor Taylor in Shoreditch, east London, says she has seen a shift in the past five years from dip-dyes to balayage, a subtler, more natural take on two-tone colour that derives from the French word to sweep or paint. Its popularity has grown, she thinks, because it lends itself to more bespoke styles. Bleach’s Instagram, which acts as a sort of stylebook of colour trends, has more than 250,000 followers. Cusick’s own has almost 25,000. “It is mainstream, but that isn’t a bad thing,” she says.

With its undyed roots and washed-out ends, the dip-dye look suggests fashion has reverted to that done/undone look that mirrors that other hipster-turned-mainstream favourite, the beard.

But why has the dip-dye, undeniable fashion shorthand for the female hipster, not met with the same level of derision as the beard? Aesthetically speaking, they are poles apart, but both looks suggest a lax approach to vanity, even though both are high-maintenance. Two years ago, researchers declared that “peak beard” had been reached. “It appears that beards gain an advantage when rare, but when they are in fashion and common they are declared ‘trendy’ and that attractiveness is over,” researcher Robert Brooks says. Yet the dip-dye has become mainstream while remaining an acceptable fashion statement.

Perhaps it is because of the tendency to fixate on men when talking about the much-derided notion of hipster fashion. “When you write hipster, everyone immediately knows what – or who – you’re talking about. And it’s always, always a man,” says culture journalist Leonie Cooper. “Men still have such a limited pool to draw from when it comes to fashion. Women have always had permission to be more extravagant and outlandish.” Cooper thinks it’s down to the range of trends available to women: “There’s so much women can draw from in terms of style, hair included.

“But if a man suddenly decides to start wearing a 1940s three-piece suit or a James Dean white T-shirt and trousers, he’s suddenly doing ‘a look’ and opening himself up to ridicule. I don’t think men are as open to chatting about their style as women are presumed to be.”

But if the fate of the beard is anything to go by, the dip-dye hairstyle may soon move into the realms of parody, with Kardashian’s belated adoption ringing its death knell.