This article originally appeared on VICE UK. In the late 2000s, something happened with full-on beards. Bon Iver released an album, and, shortly after, everyone lost their boyfriends and sons to craft booze fetishism, raw denim, and barber shops with old-school tattoo-style branding. And we—people who like men—got a little twinge. Oooh, we thought, beards.
Arriving off the back of indie's five-matchsticks-in-a-pea-coat look, beards signaled a great return to "real man aesthetics," but with a sensitivity fitting the new millennial man. This was a woodcutter who would take you roughly in a field and talk about his relationship with your mom afterward. Suddenly, we were forced to look at men with fresh eyes. Those we had not previously payed attention to became alluring; those who were already hot became hotter. It was new, exciting.
It was also a trick.
After a few months, it became apparent that nine times out of ten, the beard was just a substitute for a personality, like berets or being really into weed. As the curtain dropped, so too did the mass sexual appeal of the beard.
We are sad to report that the same phenomenon is taking place now, but with bleached hair.
What Is It?
Let’s be clear: We're not talking about, for example, Troye Sivan's recent transformation into a full Botticellian cherub. We're not talking about anybody who successfully dyes their hair and also looks after it. We're talking about men who have never heard of toner box-bleaching their hair to appear somewhere between Boris Johnson and Billie Joe Armstrong circa 1995. On the Dulux color chart, it places somewhere between "Citron Sunrise" and "That Alarmingly Bright Shade of Yellow Mom Painted the Kitchen While Menopausal."
Where Did It Come From?
It’s difficult to get to the patchy roots of the trend’s beginnings, but generally, it seems to be a convolution of several things.
I) Ryan Gosling doing some skids on a motorcycle and walking around, swole, in a ripped Metallica T-shirt in The Place Beyond the Pines.
II) Yet another recurring symptom of 90s nostalgia. Remember how everyone from Justin Timberlake to Brad Pitt had peroxide hair with the roots coming through, and it made sense at the time because the general dress code was "CBA + something denim?" It's a throwback to that from the neck up, adopted by men wearing hundreds of dollars worth of streetwear. This is where the true insult comes in, really: If you have £500 [about $700] to drop on a full resale Palace tracksuit, you can have your hair done in a salon by a professional. It is yet another example of (mostly) straight guys shooting for something objectively good and absolutely fucking it by doing the bare minimum. See also: men who claim to be into skincare because they own precisely one (one.) tube of Bulldog moisturizer.
III) Bleach London.
Who's Doing It?
This trend has enjoyed much recent longevity within the megalomaniac community—think, Donald Trump, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Julian Assange—which suggests a definite undercurrent of status symbolism involved. It’s a simple way of sticking out, good or bad reasons be fucked.
Recent perpetrators include: Zayn Malik in what was a truly astonishing take on HypeBeast-era Colonel Sanders, Adam Levine, Professor Green, every single Soundcloud rapper, uncelebrated VICE journalist Emma Garland, and tons of other people in our office (sorry, guys).
Athletes began, in greater numbers, to join the Goslings, Biebers, and Kanyes of the world around 2015 and 2016, thus elevating bleach from "bold or subversive fashion statement" to "go-to option for anyone who doesn’t know what to do with their hair."
This is the only characteristic most embracers of the trend have in common. Like, if the Vans Old Skools meme panned up, it would reveal three boys with bleached hair and also probably some type of nose piercing. Just as the full beard before it went mainstream, and in doing so shed all indicators to do with interests or personality, bleached hair now says very little about someone besides: would describe themselves as "fashionable," possibly going gray.
"My wife loves it!" – Adam Levine, 2018
Approximate Date Until We're All Over It
This trend—as with all trends—can survive only through the will of the thirsty. Ultimately, it's only a thing because enough of us have validated it, so it stands to reason that only we can change the tide. Thirst giveth and thirst taketh away.
We suspect that summer, 2018, will be a turning point. Every park or village green will be, like a French Impressionist painting, dotted with varying shades of blond crops. By the end of the year, every publishing house in London will be commissioning hardback editions called stuff like Bleach Boys, Bleach of London, and London Bleach Style, full of the same guys standing against colored roller shutters in black or white T-shirts, with little fact files. In years to come, fashion archives will declare that post-2000 fashion became a kaleidoscope, a free for all, a liberal pick 'n’ mix from any decade, but for one uniform hair color.
So convinced of this are we that we contacted WGSN, the trend forecasting and analysis site, to test the theory. "Short, shaved, curtains, even dreads; any style goes, and the adoption of the color has segued from a casual dip-dye to a full-head of bleach within a year, hinting that 2018 is set to be the year this look goes mainstream," replied Emma Grace Bailey, the WGSN Beauty Editor. Plot twist: They also think "blond is just the beginning" and that primary colors are coming. So, there's that to look forward to.
Did beards ever die, though? No, they did not. They did, however, return to being the sole interest of those who were predisposed to enjoying them in the first place. This will inevitably be the fate of bleached hair. Once the novelty wears off, bleached hair will revert once again to the confines of its core audience—horny idiots magnetically drawn to anything that connotes "anger problems" or "issues with mom" due to their own unexamined emotional problems. Us, basically.
Also, remember this: It's all over the second Liam Payne gets involved. Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily. Follow Hannah Ewens and Emma Garland on Twitter.