Is blonde hair... cheugy?

Viral TikTok and hair trends indicate the fall of bleached blonde might be upon us.

by Laura Pitcher
27 October 2021, 10:02am

As temperatures drop and winter approaches, it’s not uncommon for us all — like clockwork — to start switching out our light hair for warmer or darker colors. We’ve seen this all before. Dubbed the “mousy brown hair boring girl aesthetic”, fall and being brunette go together like the season’s ubiquitous plaid prints, pumpkin spice lattes and chunky leather boots. However, the timing and the rate with which celebrities have abandoned their bleached blonde locks this year — from Gigi Hadid to Hailey Bieber — begs the question, is being blonde still in fashion? Or is it, dare we say it, “cheugy”?

Last month, a viral TikTok questioned whether blonde hair — dyed or natural — is considered “cheugy”, a term used to describe the out-of-date millennial aesthetic, brought to mainstream popularity by copywriter Hallie Cain. In the video, host of GirlBossTown Robyn DelMonte says that “every celebrity and cool girl is going dark”. She then asked TikTok users if she should keep her hair blonde. The comments were divided. “If being a cool girl means not being blonde, I don’t want to be a cool girl,” one person commented. “Poorly tanned skin and unnatural platinum blonde is very cheugy,” wrote another.

There’s no denying that blonde hair trends have been changing in recent years. Instead of the silver platinum finish we were asking for a year ago, more 90s, golden yellow tones have come back to life — as seen in Billie Eilish’s iconic new hair reveal earlier this year. But are adaptations and new trends enough to keep blonde relevant?

“Recently, to update blondes after they've been really bright, we're adding depth into the hair with the barcode technique,” Carla Salceda, colour director at Sassoon Academy says. This high contrast look is part of the Y2K highlight revival, where blonde and brunette tones are weaved in chunky highlights or even horizontal patterns. It’s almost as if the more nostalgic blonde looks with their edgy undertones are a more acceptable and on trend iteration of blonde today, with few wanting to choose the bright shade unironically (adding in bleached eyebrows or a buzz cut to mix it up).

Another shift that Carla is seeing is that clients are wanting to look like they’ve box-bleached their hair at home, meaning they seek more subtle toning. “They don't want to look like they just came from their hairdresser; instead they want a raw blonde, something more believable.” Many people are also now avoiding bleach altogether, as a result of people over-bleaching their hair at home over lockdown. “I think people want things more toned down now and adding darker colours represents that.” After all, only 2% of the world's population has naturally blonde hair, so for most people this means returning to their natural hair colour.

Michael Nolte, creative director at Beautystreams, believes the trend towards darker hair has timed with a continuing shift towards more diverse beauty ideals. “Thanks to the growing representation of diversity in the media, embracing natural hair colour and texture has become a way to affirm one’s personal background and culture,” he says. “It is a way to take a stance against an imposed white beauty ideal.” With this in mind, he clarifies that being blonde itself isn’t out of style, but the idea of it being the ultimate American beauty standard and representative of high glam (think Old Hollywood sex symbols Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and Jayne Mansfield) is over.

Michael also notes that an interest in eco-conscious beauty and body products, as well as increased awareness about hair health drives people away from bleach. “As bleaching hair constitutes an aggression to scalp and hair, Gen Z and young millennials avoid turning blonde at all costs.” Instead, he says, more people are opting to dye their hair within a few shades of their natural colour. A recent Beautystreams hair colour trend study found that Black customers also prefer caramel blonde shades rather than platinum, as extreme bleach can alter natural hair texture.

As with all trends, there will always be people willing to risk their hair health to achieve that platinum Britney Spears blonde, especially considering we’re in the middle of a seemingly never-ending 00s revival, where hair breakage can be written off as the era’s popular piecey layers. For many, however, going blonde is no longer interesting enough on its own, or worth the damage. The colour will never be entirely out of fashion, but our relationship to blonde has changed indefinitely.

If you’re still wearing silver-toned blonde, your hair might very well be considered “cheugy”. Whether that matters to you is a different story. Because let’s not forget that the most “cheugy” thing of all is asking if something is cheugy. So wear blonde all you want, even if dark hair currently reigns supreme. Whether or not we’ve put down the bleach for good — or just for winter — still remains to be seen.

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