My Hair Color, My Self

Amy Astley

“I haven’t colored my hair in 18 months. I quit cold turkey. I think I stopped because I began to see pictures of myself with the flash where I thought, ‘When did I turn into one shade of white blond? I don’t like it at all.’ It also had to do with my age; I don’t want to be an older woman with super fake hair. I don’t have a fake face, I don’t have a fake body—I’ve totally rejected all of that. And I was very, very inspired by a quote I read last May, at the Prada exhibit at the Met—I still have it somewhere—where Mrs. Prada said, in regards to aging, that as women get older, they try to tame themselves, when they should be more wild. I kept thinking about that quote, and about Mrs. Prada’s look and the look of women whom I find interesting and whom I think have integrity. I was just feeling like, ‘Yeah, I don’t need to have bright, fake, blond hair. That’s it!’

I’d actually never colored my hair until I was 25 years old—until I went to work for Vogue, this was the color. I’d worked at House & Garden before that, but when I landed at Vogue [as a Beauty Associate], there was no way I was going to last long without coloring my hair, because as soon as I started meeting those colorists, they were not going to let my hair alone. I remember exactly when I colored my hair: It was during that Carolyn Bessette moment, and I met Brad Johns, her colorist. And, of course, I was obsessed with Carolyn Bessette. Every single girl in New York was obsessed with Carolyn Bessette! I could never look like Carolyn Bessette, but I could have her hair color. And I did! And that was it. It was blond.

So, I colored my hair for the next 20 years—highlighting it every 12 weeks or so, changing it all the time. It never occurred to me to not highlight my hair. Sometimes it was darker and more natural, because I went to Art Luna in LA for a long time—he’s my favorite colorist. He’s old-school, and he has a light, light touch. But anyway, I like my hair now, darker—it’s more natural. I’d kind of just forgotten what my own natural tone was. It’s really, really dark, the same color as my two girls’.  And it’s amazing to me how many people say I look younger with my hair like this! I love not going to the salon—it’s enough to have to cut my bangs every few weeks.

My haircut is back to an exact style I had in my twenties at Vogue. I’ve had a bang always—I just like a bang. A little something to hide behind. And I don’t think I’d look good without it. In fact, I grew my bangs out during my Carolyn Bessette phase, and none other than Garren said to me, ‘You know what? This is a mistake. You gotta cut your bangs.’ So, I cut them, and I never tried to grow them out after that. Plus this style is easy—you can blow it out, or not. You can leave it messy. Whatever.

I don’t think ‘feminine’ is about hair, at all—or high heels, or lipstick. It’s all in your brain. My husband loves my hair long, only because he thinks it looks corporate shorter. I just think there’s that point in your life where suddenly you’re not young anymore, but you’re not old, and you have to reassess. I did that years ago, and my hair was the last piece of the puzzle. When I look different in 10 years, then I’ll have to reassess again. There could come a time when I’m truly an old lady and I say, ‘It’s time to have short hair!’ But not yet; I don’t want to be corporate.

I don’t like that society says, ‘Oh, you’re old, you can’t have long hair.’ Of course you can have long hair! Instead of taming yourself, Mrs. Prada said, be wilder. With women, everything is about you trying to tame your look: how thin can you be, how tiny, how muscular, and seeking so much outside intervention for your hair and your face—taming it. Makeup is taming it, too. If you look at someone like [Miuccia Prada], what makeup is on her face? None. Maybe lip balm… Actually, I still have those little mini Prada lip balms. Amazing. That’s all you need— lip balm, Aleve, and a ponytail holder and you’re set.

I will go to Art Luna again—I’m not saying that I hate hair color, I just am never going to do that kind of highlighting again, where it almost becomes like a single-process and you keep getting lighter and lighter. I’ll be in LA in August and September, and I’ll definitely go see Art in his Santa Monica bungalow—he does two pieces here, two pieces there, another two pieces, and that’s it.

But for now, I have such a serious job, and my natural hair makes me feel a little bit more low-key. And I have a little more free time!”

—as told to ITG

Amy Astley photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on March 21, 2013.

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  • marije

    lovely post. i also quit highlighting my hair a few months ago and i like my own colour, it's strange but it does make me look younger (but maybe it's because my hair looks thicker & healthier because i don't dye it anymore)
    i find this post really inspiring and i agree with Mrs Prada, trying to tame yourself is boring and I think you miss out a lot of fun!!!!

  • Hildegerd Haugen

    I had to google who Carolyn Bessette was and she looked like an ordinary norwegian blond woman to me.

    • Joy

      The late CBK was a beauty icon of the 90s with beautiful hair.

    • beeswaxnoneofyour

      I think you had to have been aware of her at the time she was culturally significant to get the impact she had.

    • Guest

      America is obsessed with the rich, the thin, and the Kennedys. The late CBK hit the trifecta in that regard. Yes, she was pretty, but if, like me, you are dark-haired and of color, then the notion that the "buttery blonde" or the "Bergdorf Blond" represents THE ideal American beauty is nothing less than laughable.

      I think all of that hype was put upon her by the media (with Vogue leading the charge) though. Carole Radziwill's depiction of Bessette Kennedy in her book "What Remains," shows a completely different woman. I think she probably hated all of the media attention that she got and would be horrified to find her hair color being discussed here.

      • kneelbeforetigers

        Errr... not all of America. I think she (CBK) was an "icon" for rich (or wannabe rich) women of a certain ilk and time.

    • equestrienne

      I had to Google her, too. Before my time. She reminds me of Sarah Jessica Parker, with straight hair.

      • Hildegerd Haugen

        I see your point. Sarah is quite special, though.

  • Heather P.

    Thanks for writing/posting this! I struggle sometimes with the idea of no longer coloring my hair, but at 29 years old, enough gray is creeping in that I now just try to keep it close to my "natural" hair color without the gray. Having the gray in my 20s makes me feel like it ages me (a few of my friends have let theirs grow in, and it did make them look a bit older...and who wants that?).

    • Lera

      Same here, I saw my first grey hairs at I can't really experiment with darker colors, the grey is too visible, so I do highlights.

  • mouse

    I like Prada's idea about taming's a good way to put it.

    After a 25 yr performing career I found myself on the cusp of something else, not sure what to do. I thought, ok, I can lie about my age, dye my hair more, have new airbrushed photos done, get a new manager, pretend I'm 30, blah blah blah. The usual expectations in a somewhat public career. (No, I'm not an actor)

    The thought made me feel so exhausted, so resistant, that I had to examine what I really wanted. And it was definitely NOT to tame myself anymore for public consumption. It just felt utterly false. Life has more meaning than trying to present yourself as constantly YOUNG. Although those of you who ARE young, enjoy it! Experiment! Color away!

    Now I teach, am greying and love it, and look like who I am.

    That's just my path though---every woman needs to do what she needs to do. But I hope many of you get to experience the sense of relief when you let go of deeply internalized ideas about self-presentation.

    • equestrienne

      I love this!

  • AVL

    I let my natural hair colour grow in over the last year, and was surprised at the colour. I'd been colouring my hair for 15 years and I'm only 30.

  • Sara

    I have never colored my hair, and I am very happy about it. My hair is very healthy, and I love natural hair color. So, this post, and the decision Carolyn made make me very happy as well. Well done, Carolyn! You are beautiful!

  • Sara

    Oops, I meant Amy!

  • Madeline

    This is so lovely. It's really nice to hear someone say that "you don't have to color your hair." Having your own natural colored hair is such a luxury. I can look forward to getting summer highlights from the sun, which I wouldn't give up for anything

  • Sasha

    So if you have crazy hair color, makeup, plastic surgery, you're "taming yourself" or something? Also don't be corporate? For someone who insists that the key to being "free" is to just be yourself, she sure has a lot of expectations on how women should live their lives when it comes to personal grooming!

    • Rachel @ Musings of an Inappro

      Hardly. I figured she was just talking about herself?

      • mamavalveeta03

        Totally agree with Rachel. It's her JOB to have opinions about beauty!

  • bacardi chaser

    I just died my hair my natural Color and I´ll stop from here on. I hated having to check my roots every week. :D

  • Rachel Wentworth

    I stopped coloring my hair about three years ago...not only is my wallet heavier, but I swear I get more compliments on my hair now then I ever did while I colored it. It's not because my hair is an amazing color or anything, but I think that the elements kind of do their thing and your natural color just comes alive. So I'm glad that I don't have to spend copious amounts of money to get the look I want. If only it were that simple when it came to my product addiction.

  • AVL

    I think being 'wilder' as you age doesn't have to mean statement hair and bold anything, often it can be just being yourself. It's hard to do that sometimes. I stopped filling in my blond eyebrows and everyone that knew me had something to say about it. Some people have a tougher time being ok with their look.

  • gustatori

    Great article! Coincidentally, I've saved that exact quote from Mrs. Prada as well. In conclusion, she also goes on to say, "Thinking about age all the time is the biggest prison women can make for themselves." This is what struck me the most actually.

  • Beth Ridings

    love this!!! i died my hair like crazy all through high school and college and now i am rocking the natural thing. i keep debating on highlights but you have inspired me to keep it natural and dark(ish). i also love the lipgloss and rock it look!

  • Madeline

    She has beautiful natural hair! I've been coloring my hair blonde for about 6 years, since I was 16 but I've recently decided to quit. I think these days natural is more en vogue anyway, not to mention constantly coloring is expensive and fries your hair. Thanks for the hairspiration, Amy!

  • nicolecontrol

    Yes! Yes, I love this. Love Amy Astley. Preach the gospel of Miuccia!

  • Mel

    Wow she is so incredibly beautiful. And love her message.

  • Nina

    Wow, she is beautiful! Great article, thanks. Actually her hair style is a lot like mine - and I'm gonna keep it long when I eventually hit my 40s as well! I hate the whole "adult women can't have long hair" thing. Oh and I've never been a fan of colored hair, it almost always looks fake.

  • andrea

    I love her philosophy. But what happens when she starts to go grey? Will she color it to camouflage the grey? And it's interesting that Miuccia Prada has cut her hair shorter and gone a bit blonder as of late. Maybe that's her idea of being wild.

  • Marci

    Great read. I used to dye my hair blonde to keep it how I grew up but my roots are getting darker and darker. I finally decided to utilize my root color and go brunette. I dye my own hair at home, not being a professional stylist or have any professional training, but it's cheap and it works for me. I love Wella Nutmeg color lately, brown with a slight reddish tint. I'm 32 but don't have grays yet, cross my fingers.

  • Brooke Searcy

    I love my hairs natural color so I haven't colored it really, the only coloring I have ever done is a fail ombre because my hair is so dark. But I have thought about it plenty of times I just won't take the plunge or spend the money.

  • mamavalveeta03

    To be honest, I think Amy looks "fresher" without the one-tone blond. I love it! And so honest.

  • mamavalveeta03

    I'm guessing for Amy, short hair equals bob, which equals "corporate." To me, a bob without life equals "soccer mom."

  • Ginger

    and THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is a REAL woman. Thank God there are people with values, such as Amy, especially in the fashion industry.

  • mamavalveeta03

    I don't see where she says she GETS highlights, but rather that if she DOES get highlights, she'll go to Art Luna for them.

  • Ms Luna

    Woman after my own heart! You go girl!!! You are beautiful.

  • MCat

    I never respond to comments and I feel I have to. As a Swedish-American, "thin" (I suppose by American standards), blonde and owning an apartment in Manhattan, I actually take offense to the "ordinary norwegian blonde". Really? Seems a little racist. Just imagine if we inserted another nationality.

    • equestrienne

      Yeah....that's not racist.

  • rae

    She's so beautiful, she looks like Julianne Moore! And her haircolor is awesome. I think highlighting is a little overrated.

  • equestrienne

    That's interesting! Dude definitely had a type. I love SJP.

  • Salon Invi

    Many people stop coloring their hair for a variety of reasons. I often see people do it because of skin irritations.

  • Jessica

    her natural hair color also suits her skintone so much better

  • Betsy

    Good for you Amy! It looks much better! Love to connect with you. Was in NYC a few weeks ago...will go again in the fall. Your friend from our bunhead days :)