Go Bold or Go Home: Hair Color Tips From My Adorably Misspent Youth

I was a teenager in the mid-’80s. How was it, you may ask?
Amazing. It was amazing.

All of the “‘80s fashion” that’s revived periodically? Yeah, if you were there, you wouldn’t have dressed like that. Most of the stuff that gets revived, the “fashion,” was pretty terrible, but the “street”— the stuff that was considered mildly transgressive at the time— was fantastic, and a lot of that just got absorbed into the perennial “now” that anymore just gets called “style.”

Loose tops over narrow bottoms, head to toe black, opaque tights, vintage: these were big statements in 1985. The vintage itself was incredible, and oh so terribly cheap as it trembled on the edge of becoming a mainstream option (my very well dressed father was just shocked that I would even consider used, “out of style” clothes). I cannot, in retrospect, begin to stop kicking myself at the beautiful ’30s suits, ’20s gatsby-esque shirts, and beaded sweater girl knits that I short-sightedly deemed overpriced at $15.

That’s the thing about the conditions of your teens, you’re somehow certain they’ll last forever.

Gracious! And the amazing, frequently soon-to-be-famous bands that just kept showing up en masse for a $5 all ages cover on Thursday nights! Apparently, looking back, all of those photocopied concert fliers were  the sort of contemporary ephemera I really should have thought to archive. If there were digital cameras then instead of only a petulant, vintage Pentax K-1000 loaded with black and white film, the pictures would have been spectacular. Since getting a digital, I’ve found that the best pictures are the ones you might never have hazarded taking if you had to justify every shot in units of 24.

Anyone familiar with the EXCELLENT ’80’s comic “Love and Rockets” (and let me super recommend it right here if you’re not), especially Jaime’s work in the earlier issues?

We looked exactly like this.

We looked exactly like this.

It was just like that. Only it took place in a very nice, safe, and distinctly charming New England hippy college town.

In addition to the many other things I learned extra-curricularly while I was in high school, that’s also when I learned how to give passable haircuts and dye jobs— back when any disasters could be conveniently shaved away, or, HELL, worn with pride. And as I notice that easter egg hair colors seem to be currently acquiring real momentum, I thought someone out there reading might benefit from some of my very hard-won expertise in dying my hair blue.

And orange, chartreuse, and fire engine red. And one exceedingly ill-advised fuchsia that lasted exactly one day.

#1) Take some time to consider what shade you’d like.

This is the color I like best in my hair.

Think about not just your favorite color, but your favorite color to wear: What contrasts or harmonizes best with it? The thick alizarin crimson streaks I put in my hair senior year changed the colors I wore because it really looked most vibrant with colors that were not too close to it on a color wheel.

What color do you think is going to be best next to your face for a semi-permanent amount of time? The younger, strawberry blond sister of a friend of mine had a spectacularly gorgeous streak from her part in lime green. That aforementioned fuchsia? It made my completion appear to be incredibly greenish. And there was an otherwise very cute punk girl in college, who’s one hair color iteration happened to exactly match any blemish she had. Visually, it was actually kind of stunning, but not everyone will desire this.

And placement: do you want this to be visible all of the time (perhaps cosider where you work…)? At one semi-“real” but fairly tolerant job in my 20s, I had a two inch turquoise streak above my ear that could be easily covered by the hair over it, and a matching Holly Go Lightly streak underneath (only visible in a chignon). I mostly wore my hair half back to maximize the larger streak, but I was comforted by the unused possibility of stealth.

#2) How dark is this color choice, and how dark is your hair?

It sounds obvious: most colors will work on the very light blond, but for everyone else, good color saturation requires some color lifting in the places you want the color to be most visible. In my punkass experience, the bright vegetable dye will make your hair feel a little less damaged anyway, so feel free to push your personal limit more towards the “Debbie Harry” end of the time you leave the lightener on your hair. You’ll also get better color.

#3) Bleach your hair.

This is the best spot in the process to get help, if you think you at all might need it. Any of those bleach kits make a huge mess. And they really  trample unkindly all over your hair’s feelings. Even if you think “Oh, I got this,” I strongly urge that you keep the free 800 number that they all provide nearby and perhaps on speed dial.

That said, my own attitude has always been more of the “We don’t need your stinking patch test” variety.

If your planned streaks are small-ish, you can try baking tin-foil in place of the hair foil hairdressers use to separate out just the streaks you want to cover and keep them saturated in the bleach, other than that, follow scrupulously the manufacturer instructions.

If you’re more the wabi-sabi sort of fingerpainter, good luck can be had by using your fingers to streak mustache/facial bleach directly on your hair.

#4) For the actual color.

DEEP thoughts

DEEP thoughts.

Tish & Snookie  is the classic choice, and since my teens they have started to make a longer lasting (ultra) formula of some of the more intense colors, but I have heard that Pravana Chroma Silk Creme Hair color is more long lasting.

Only wear clothes you don’t especially love, or black.

And use a real paintbrush. I prefer just not getting the dye on my hands to wearing gloves, but you all know yourselves best. The 1/2 inch size natural bristle from the hardware store works nicely for streaks and is probably around $2.

Cover your ears and hairline with vaseline to prevent staining if you plan to get near skin at all. Only the petro-chemicals work for this, in my experience. Stand over a bleach able surface (because spraybleach is the only thing that will get these stains up, ever), and paint the color where you want it.

If you are doing streaks, ombre, or have hair too long to adhere to your head with dye, plastic sandwich bags that you elastic around your hair ends will keep the strand and the dye both together and isolated.

When you have finished applying the color, blow dry the dye for about 10 minutes (helps it adhere? This one, I’m not sure about, maybe this is just part of the ritual), and cover your head with a plastic grocery bag tied tight.


Cover that with a towel turban (slightly better), and leave it on as long as you can bear to. Seriously, it isn’t possible to leave this on too long. Shoot for at least 2 hours. Part of which I often use to bleach the sink where it looks like a smurficide has just taken place. Spraybleach is the only thing that works.

Sorry hippies, probably not the post for you anyway.

#5) The Rinsing.

One very important “pro tip”- rinse out most of the dye on your knees under the tub faucet, as close to the drain as possible. Rinsing under the shower will cause a LOT of brightly colored pernicious stains, splashed as far up as the ceiling. And one possibly completely ruined shower curtain.

And it fades pretty quickly, so wash your hair as little as you, personally, can get away with.

My inspiration shots:

Like dip dye.

above photo by Chanelle Leslie

Turquoise Tips And clove ciggies.

She’s reading a thank you note. Always send one.

Grey and Wisteria, and apparently not too much fun.

Recent knowledge Bonus round!

As I have only just learned, greys are tougher than regular hair and do not take color well at all. I have been thus far unsuccessful tracking down whatever product the Blue Haired Old Ladies of yore used in their coming to be called as such. The best method I’ve found only works if you’re all grey, or if you have very dark hair, as I do: spray Sun-in over the greys you want to cover and blow it dry. Sun-in roughens up your cuticle and damages your greys enough to take the color. If your hair is dark, a single application of sun in is enough to do this, but not enough to visibly lighten your hair.

Other than that, I have found myself wondering if that ridiculous pubic hair dye will work (the hair down there), just not enough to try it out.

Good look, but leave your cat alone.

Thank you all for the opportunity to so enjoy this fond reminiscence.


About K. Jai Raj

Art dealer ski-bum. I spend disproportionate amounts on borderline-unnecessary tools and gear.


  1. Brett

    Love this whole post, but especially the beginning. I’m always frustrated by 80s revivals, as they never capture what people were actually wearing–the cool kids anyway. You should do a post on just the clothes! Post pics of you and your friends? I’d love to see what you all were wearing….

  2. Graduated high school in 1986 and yes, being a teenager in the 80s was amazing. Why? Because you had to hunt for your fashion, and fight for your right to wear it, as it seemed so very transgressive at the time. Especially in Alabama & Tennessee, where I was at the time. It still amazes me that I found so many good people there, steering me in the direction of thrifting & great music. In the beginnings of my vintage adventures in 1984, I started wearing a lace doily I found at my grandmother’s house as a headscarf, wrapped around my bobbed- blonde-hair-with-teased-bangs. Someone told me I looked like Madonna & I said, “Who’s that?” True story.

IBC LOVES your brain, and we encourage thoughtful, lively discussion. We will, however, moderate comments that are abusive or disrespectful. Stay classy!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: