I think everyone should go blonde at least once. Whether or not blondes have more fun is a moot point compared to all the extra attention—an experience worth experiencing. But while going blonde the first time feels like stepping into a foreign land where the shampoo’s always purple and the drinks are always free, going blonde a second time is more like an icy cold rinse. You know the discomfort you’re getting yourself into (long, expensive salon sessions and frizz), but it’s worth it, for the extra shimmer.
I knew I’d never go pure white platinum again, like I did my first time around. I actually didn’t think I’d ever go blonde again, until I saw Margot Robbie on the cover of August’s Vogue. Her hair color was… well, I wasn’t totally sure how to describe it. Bronde? Sandy? Golden? It was perfect. So while everyone around me started creeping deeper and redder for fall, I quietly nursed an obsession: on commutes I saved photos of Sharon Tate, Peggy Lipton, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Uma Thurman. Early in the morning, before my alarm started buzzing, I screenshotted Olsens, Hailey Bieber, Magdalena Frackowiak, and Facebook photos of dirty blonde girls from my highschool. I zoomed in on Lily-Rose Depp. I paused on one surprisingly compelling shot of Dylan Sprouse. None of them were not the same shade of blonde, and none of them quite reflected Robbie’s hue either. But something about them was similar? I couldn’t quite place it, but had faith that a professional could. After I had amassed my dossier, I reached out to colorist Lucille Javier.
I met Lucille when she worked at Sally Hershberger, an old-school editor watering bowl. After cutting her teeth there under notorious blonde-maker Aura Friedman, Lucille took her 15 years of experience to Mark Ryan Salon, a brand new Chelsea space with big, sunny windows and luxe teak accents. I showed up at my appointment with way too many images. (Showing one reference picture to your colorist = helpful, 20 pictures = muddling.) But Lucille was up for the challenge. The through line, it seemed, was that everyone I saved was just… a natural blonde. Their hair already grew out of their heads pretty light, and instead of being bright, beachy, and streaky, it was even and a little bit anemic. In other words, not what most people asked for from their colorist. Which isn’t to say it couldn’t be replicated. Lucille just took an extra second to think before mixing up a concoction.
The next few hours were a chemically-scented blur. As I dug into my bag of pre-packed snacks, slammed on my laptop keyboard, and slurped up iced coffee, Lucille slapped acrid white paste on my hair confidently and quickly. An Edward Scissorhands of bleach! Midway through, after giving my stinging scalp a rinse and satisfying scrub, Lucille showed me what’s essentially a colorist’s underpainting. My hair was not Khaleesi white—actually, it was a little orange, which she explained was kind of the point. She knew if she bleached me further, she’d just have to add in warm tones later; instead, she left some warmth from the bleaching process and worked with it as a base. And that helped her maintain my hair’s integrity, too. If she had left the bleach on for longer, damage was inevitable, and my hair would veer more punk than towhead. Natural hair is glossy; frizzled bleached hair is not.
The next step was adding dimension. Instead of using highlights, Lucille did it with glosses. The tone itself was something she called “wheat.” It was buttery but muted, warm but not brassy, and the exact same contrast level as my skin tone. This was surprisingly flattering: far from washing me out, it made my blue-and-yellow eyes instantly brighter and replaced the redness in my skin with a creamy, milky glow. My roots and ends ended up being slightly darker than the swath of hair from temple to temple, which sounds a bit funny until you remember that’s exactly where the sun hits. And though I’m not sure if anyone would believe I’m a natural blonde, no one would question how perfectly normal it is against my complexion. It doesn’t look like any of the photos I had saved, but it does for me what those shades did for them.
Is that all there is to an autumn blonde, then? Shine, warmth, embracing a little neither-here-nor-thereness. After I posted a photo, my Instagram DMs blew up with messages from women saying that whatever this tone is, it’s making them consider a dunk in bleach for the very first time.
Which brings me back to my original point: you’ve got to go blonde at some point in your life. Season be damned; now’s as good a time as ever.
Photo via ITG