Rainbow children: how the dip-dye trend has gone from shocking to mainstream

Rainbow children: how the dip-dye trend has gone from shocking to mainstream

Ten years is a long time for any trend to stay relevant, not least a hairstyle. But this year it will be a full decade since the “dip-dye” caught on with a certain type of fashion-conscious woman – think models such as Charlotte Free or the singer M.I.A. However, now that Kim Kardashian has adopted the two-tone look, it seems set to become one of the defining hairstyles of the age.

A dip-dye involves leaving the roots undyed, or dark, and the ends bleached or coloured. “That whole two-tone look has evolved quite a bit,” explains Alex Brownsell, founder of the London salon Bleach, who arguably invented the dip-dye as we know it. “The first five years we did it, it was shocking. Now it’s fashion-conscious, but it’s not a trend any more.” Her comments may be damning on one level, but are perhaps more indicative of the way the undyed-roots/dyed-ends look has moved firmly into the mainstream. Zoella, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga have all dabbled in the trend.

For the past few years dyeing has trumped cuts as the cheaper, less permanent way to change your look, says Brownsell – pink hair (very 2008), grey hair (2010, and now resurgent among men) and multi-coloured hair (thanks last year to model Georgia May Jagger) have all had their moments.

Rebel Wilson sporting the dip-dyed look.

But perhaps in reaction to that proliferation of dyed hair, Brownsell thinks that “the cut is coming back among young women. Dip-dyes have become mainstream in the sense that they’re national. It used to be a London thing; now it’s everywhere,” she says. “That said, I don’t think we’ve had anything that has come close to trumping it, and I can’t see it happening for a while.”

Samantha Cusick, a colourist at Taylor Taylor in Shoreditch, east London, says she has seen a shift in the past five years from dip-dyes to balayage, a subtler, more natural take on two-tone colour that derives from the French word to sweep or paint. Its popularity has grown, she thinks, because it lends itself to more bespoke styles. Bleach’s Instagram, which acts as a sort of stylebook of colour trends, has more than 250,000 followers. Cusick’s own has almost 25,000. “It is mainstream, but that isn’t a bad thing,” she says.

With its undyed roots and washed-out ends, the dip-dye look suggests fashion has reverted to that done/undone look that mirrors that other hipster-turned-mainstream favourite, the beard.

But why has the dip-dye, undeniable fashion shorthand for the female hipster, not met with the same level of derision as the beard? Aesthetically speaking, they are poles apart, but both looks suggest a lax approach to vanity, even though both are high-maintenance. Two years ago, researchers declared that “peak beard” had been reached. “It appears that beards gain an advantage when rare, but when they are in fashion and common they are declared ‘trendy’ and that attractiveness is over,” researcher Robert Brooks says. Yet the dip-dye has become mainstream while remaining an acceptable fashion statement.

Perhaps it is because of the tendency to fixate on men when talking about the much-derided notion of hipster fashion. “When you write hipster, everyone immediately knows what – or who – you’re talking about. And it’s always, always a man,” says culture journalist Leonie Cooper. “Men still have such a limited pool to draw from when it comes to fashion. Women have always had permission to be more extravagant and outlandish.” Cooper thinks it’s down to the range of trends available to women: “There’s so much women can draw from in terms of style, hair included.

“But if a man suddenly decides to start wearing a 1940s three-piece suit or a James Dean white T-shirt and trousers, he’s suddenly doing ‘a look’ and opening himself up to ridicule. I don’t think men are as open to chatting about their style as women are presumed to be.”

But if the fate of the beard is anything to go by, the dip-dye hairstyle may soon move into the realms of parody, with Kardashian’s belated adoption ringing its death knell.