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How I Went From Strawberry to Neutral Blonde

Bye-bye, red! The how and the why of my journey to a neutral—but not quite ashy—blonde hair colour.

Early on in our hair-relationship, my longtime stylist, Bill Angst (who y'all now know from the reader consultations) told me: "Play with your colour, because you can't really play with your cut."

And he was right. I've long ceased fighting Mother Nature, who gifted me with fine, straight hair that works best if I just let it hang there—no layers, no curls, no styling products, nothing. (You may wish to heed this advice, too, if you have a similar hair type.)

But I did take Bill up on the colour thing. Over the years, I've done highlights, I've done solid colour, I've done highlights with solid colour, and in a range of shades from chocolatey brown right up to platinum blonde. For the last few years, I settled on what I thought was my "Life Colour," a strawberry blonde (created by my other hair guy, Tony Chaar, colourist extraordinaire). Aside from Ye Olde Burgundy Hair Dye Disaster, which happened the one time I stepped away from the safety of Tony's hair colour reservation, I was pretty thrilled with the red. Even though I'm a recovering blonderexic, I thought it was so much more flattering with my skin tone compared to the light blonde that previous colourists always gave me.

Lately, my hair's been growing mega-fast. Things started going downhill for the red when I had a moment in a store dressing room—underneath that semi-frightening lighting—and noticed a full half-inch of roots, even though it was only a couple weeks since I'd seen Tony. (Usually he touches me up every three, three and a half weeks.)

The contrast of the reddish lengths with a strip of my natural mousy hue just started to bug me, big time. What's more, I wondered if the pink undertones in my skin mightn't look better with a cooler, not golden colour. At that point, I knew a new shade would be on the horizon. And since I like to keep you guys up to date on my hair colour changes, here's what happened next.

My ash-toned hair-spiration

Before I went in to see Tony, I found myself compelled to search out and pin photo after photo of girls with ashy hair colours. Ash brown, ash blonde, I was all about ash. I reasoned that an ash blonde would match my natural hair colour, just lighter, and therefore roots would be no prob.

I started to compile my findings in my Hairstyles folder. Yes, I have a digital folder for these things—don't you? Use Dropbox and you can whip out your pics on your phone, pre-colour application, to make sure you and your person are on the same page. It's a hair-planning essential.

The thing about ashy colours

As my hair colour files grew, I realized something. I was starting to almost exclusively collect photos of runway models. And alas, I am not a runway model. Or any kind of model.

You can see how great ashy hair looks on genetically blessed people like Frida Gustavsson:

The Skincare Edit Recommends

Or my favourite, Lindsey Wixson:

But it dawned on me. Do you have to look like a model to be able to pull off an ashy hair colour?

The right way to do "ash"

I asked Tony what he thought while we flicked through that handy Hairstyles folder. His answer?

Nobody, not even these models, looks best in ash. I mean, yes, of course they are stupidly beautiful no matter what. But ash tends to drain all the colour from your face, and I think you can see that with Frida and Natalia. (Lindsey is wearing too much makeup to tell.) According to Tony, if you wear ash, you need to know that every blemish, every spot, every bit of redness or pigmentation, will be magnified. You have to be pretty naturally perfect, or prepared to compensate a lot with makeup, in order to successfully go ash.

I said no thank you, as any rational person would. But then we came across this shot of Behati Prinsloo, also a model with that dark blondish colour. Except she has some warmness to it.

BAM! This was the one. Tony agreed. Thank you Behati! He went on to explain that everyone is flattered by a little warmth in their hair. It isn't about matching a cool skin with a cool hair colour, or vice versa. Instead, he pays attention to the skin and eyes, and picks colours that will bring them out, instead of the hair being the thing you notice first. Warm tones tend to give us all a glow, no matter what your undertone.

To achieve my new look, Tony got to work lifting my roots as usual, to match the rest of my hair, before toning down the red at the sink. The key with toning, he says, is to watch it like a hawk. (Same idea as the bleach bath he used before to get rid of the awful burgundy.) He stayed at the sink, watching the colour so that it neutralized to just the right hue. Even a minute longer and it would turn to mud, apparently!

Ready to see? We took pictures because like I said, he was having a serious hair-gasm over this look. ("Great idea Mich!" We do have fun.)

I've concluded that it's better than ash. It's a neutral blondey/brondey, only slightly golden colour. Tony describes it as a "sand." I actually didn't think it would be possible to get it in one go, since colour adjustments usually need to happen over time. But that's what a colour genius Tony Chaar is—definitely go see him if you're in Toronto. (His salon info is here.)

Now excuse me while I go wash my hair with a purple shampoo to keep the brassiness at bay. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think!

Are you, too, drawn to these model-esque ashy tones?

Do you follow any "colour rules"?

Who has the hair colour of your dreams?

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