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The Hair Apparent

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Written by ERIN WHITTY   

We may think we don't judge a book by it's cover , but do we judge a look by it's colour? 

When it comes to first impressions your locks say a lot. Waiting in line for my caffeine fix on a damp Saturday morning, my eyes wander to the barista. She looks flustered; her black hair is pinned off her face with a haphazard collection of 10 or more bobby pins.

She didn't have much time to get ready this morning and she's clearly struggling for time now, with a cafe full of patrons and only two staff.
 
I pay for my order and stand back to observe the room while I wait for my coffee. Two women share a long bench. One is about 25 years old with long, blonde, wavy locks. She looks as if she's spent endless afternoons at the beach, with her sunkissed skin and relaxed cotton dress. 
 
Opposite her is a woman in a sleek, black blazer, purposefully attacking her raisin toast. Her brunette hair is scraped back into a tight ponytail. She's a woman on a mission, perhaps an estate agent preparing herself for a day of hard selling.
 
A petite Asian girl approaches the counter. Her black hair is cropped short with long, electric-red pieces dangling down each side of her face. She looks like an art student. It's amazing how much hair says about the person underneath it. And it turns out I'm not the only one to have realised this.
 
"Hair is one of the first things you notice about a person," says celebrity hairdresser Steve Terry. "If you were to describe someone, you might say they're 'tall with long, dark hair'. It's an important thing that helps convey who they are."
 
Terry, 41, grew up in Manly, NSW, and traded a life by the beach for a high-profile job in Swedish television, styling hair for shows such as Swedish Idol, Sweden's Next Top Model and So You Think You Can Dance Scandinavia. 
 
He's worked with such stars as Duran Duran, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
 
"I'm a bit of a celebrity over there, myself," he says casually. With his dark, silver-tipped shoulder length hair, and black shirt, skinny jeans and boots, he could be Mick Jagger's brother.
 
"I think it's important for an artist to have the right hair. When people are voting on Idol or for a top model, they're buying into the package of the person. They're not just saying, 'Wow, that person sings well,' or 'Wow, that person looks good in photos,' they're buying into their whole image and they feel a connection to the artist.
 
"Sometimes the contestants know how they're supposed to look. Some kids come in and we think, OK, let's not touch your style. For others, it's a bigger discussion with the record labels and the people around them."
 
Terry recalls when Markus Fagervall, the 2006 winner of Swedish Idol, first sat in his styling chair.
"Straightaway, without hearing a note, I thought, this guy's going to win it."
 
Fagervall had a lot of self-confidence and real star-quality, but his look needed some roughing up. He wore his hair long and loaded with styling products. Terry sliced into it to loosen it up and give a cooler, 
 
I-don't-care-about-my-hair rock'n'roll edge.
 
"I don't know if the hair itself helped him win but, for all the idols and the top models, it's important their hairstyle fits them and comes across as modern. It needs to feel believable and real."
 
Dr Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, 55, makes her living by 'reading' people. From her LA base, she analyses those in the public eye, such as presidential candidates, and has spent the past 18 years predicting the actions of witnesses, judges, and juries in court, based on their appearance and body language. She won't sum up a person based on their hair or any other characteristic alone, but she does take colour and cut into account.
 
When it comes to celebrities, Dimitrius looks past the physical traits because they have stylists to tell them what suits them best, so they're not necessarily representing their true selves. But for the rest of us, she believes something such as hair colour can be indicative of personality.
 
"I do believe those hair colour stereotypes still exist, even though I tell my clients not to pay attention to them. Blondes do have more fun, are more free-spirited and have more energy versus brunettes, who are more driven and aggressive, or redheads, who are considered zany."
 
What does it mean when a woman leaves her hair grey? In her book, Reading People, which explains how to understand and predict people's behaviour, Dimitrius explains that women with grey hair are usually confident with their age and with themselves as women. When cut in a fashionable way, it can produce a strong look.
 
But it's important to remember that if it's not flattering, it can work to a woman's disadvantage.
 
"I was at a program for female accountants when a woman with grey hair asked me if I thought she should dye it. She said, 'I've been going to a lot of job interviews and I'm getting the feeling there's something wrong.' She had mousy brown hair, streaked with grey - it wasn't an attractive colour around her face. 
 
It made her look drab. She also had a fair complexion and wasn't wearing any make-up, either. So I said, 'If you can afford it, definitely have your hair coloured because, unfortunately, another person might not think you're energetic simply because of the grey.' She called me a week later and thanked me profusely. She'd dyed her hair and said, not only had she found a job, but it also made a tremendous difference to her personal life."
 
Another common mistake women make, says Dimitrius, is to think long hair is always sexier and will keep them looking younger. If the ends are straggly, the hair is thin, and particularly if it's grey, it can make a person look older.
 
"These women are caught in a time warp and still think of themselves as teenagers or students rather than grown-ups," she says. "They feel that, because of their age, they're above current styles and know better. It's a dangerous road to take.
 
We can never rest on something that used to be because, as time goes on, everything changes. " She also points out that people who do strange things to their hair are generally making a nonconformist statement. Whether it's dyed or styled into a mohawk, it suggests they have no regard for authority. (Although, of course, they may simply be conforming to their own sub-culture.)
 
The key to wearing your hair well, no matter the style, is to be comfortable with it. This is imperative when trying to make a good impression.
 
"The best look for a date is relaxed," Dimitrius explains. "If you're used to wearing your hair back, you could wear part of it back but have some tendrils coming down. You don't want to do something completely different before you go on a date; you'll find you either fiddle with it because it's hanging in your face or because it feels new.
 
Playing with your hair can project a feeling of uncertainty and discomfort - not a message you want to deliver, least of all in court.
 
"We tell this to witnesses if they're going to testify.
 
If they're going to have their hair cut, we advise them to do it at least two to three weeks before taking the stand. We don't want them doing something different with their hair because they're not used to it."
Dimitrius suggests women ask their female friends for advice as to what suits them best.
 
An objective opinion is always helpful, and if you know other people think your hair looks great, you're going to have the confidence to pull it off.
 
Terry agrees. "Interpret the trends and adapt them to suit you. Someone who's comfortable in their hair will look comfortable. You have to wear your hair. Your hair shouldn't wear you." SM Reading People (Random House, $30.95) can be ordered through most book stores.

CONDITIONED THINKING

In 2007, Clairol polled 1000 American women about the personality traits they linked to blonde, red and brunette hair colour. Predictably, 57 per cent of the respondents associated blondes with being the most funloving, 56 per cent considered brunettes to have the most confidence and 76 per cent said brunettes were also the most serious.
 
When women were asked who they'd hire if they were a company CEO and their decision had to be based on hair colour, 67 per cent picked a brunette. As for redheads, 44 per cent considered them to be the most intimidating. 
 
Last Updated on Saturday, 22 May 2010 11:17