My Hair Color, My Self

Amy Astley
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.