You are looking at yourself in the mirror. Your forehead is smeared with hair dye, your face coloured with something between hopefulness and what you’re worried might already be the beginnings of regret. You rub your head with the towel one more time (it belongs to your fussiest housemate, and has, oh good, stained the colour of the middle traffic light), then you lift up your chin, to meet your own eyes in the glass properly now, and really take in what you have done. Your hair, previously some unremarkable shade of brown, is now bright orange.
You took this step because a) there’s a lockdown on, you were bored, and it was this or texting someone you met on Tinder in 2018; and b) orange hair – along with DIY fringes, bleach jobs, and head-shaving – has become one of the characteristic home-hairdressing trends of the current moment. High profile celebrities like Dua Lipa, Kristen Stewart, and Elle Fanning popularised the shade at the beginning of quarantine, which lead to Dazed Digital officially bestowing it with the esteemed title of “hot new hair trend.” As someone with an Instagram account and more free time than usual, you were, of course, powerless to resist.
As far as lockdown style goes, in practical terms at least, it could be a lot worse. Considering that hairdressers up and down the UK are currently not working, and also considering that bleached hair can have a tendency to turn bright orange before it’s been toned down or lightened for a second time, it’s fun that the shade that is usually deemed a mistake – and that might send you running for the nearest baseball cap and/or salon chair – is getting its own moment in the sun. Where once you might have been embarrassed to emerge from your room with hair the colour of a particularly healthy egg yolk, you can now tell your housemates, gawping at you over their cereal, “It’s called fashion, look it up,” before swooshing out of the room like the girl in the Julia Gillard TikTok.
If you are keen on the idea of a carrot top and want my two cents (I worked as a salon receptionist for a year and a half, and gave my boyfriend a lockdown haircut that has garnered such reviews as “quite good”), I’d suggest going a bit further than simply bleaching it and letting the chips fall where they may. Depending on how dark your hair is, you probably want a couple of rounds of bleach (with liberal application of a hair protein treatment between each), and then, once your hair is properly lightened, an actually orange dye, like Bleach London’s Tangerine Dream, for the best, brightest, and most even colour.
What’s more interesting to me than the "how" of orange hair, though, is the "why." It makes sense that during a period of enforced stasis, we would act out, make superficial changes in the tiny realms still within our control (essentially: our homes, our hair, and our hobbies), and try new things. Take me, for example. During the lockdown I have: learned to knit, dyed the two blonde streaks in the front of my hair pink, started doing 5K runs (??), watched upwards of five TV series in their entirety, baked both bread and cookies (seriously, who is she?), and had approximately two weeks where I was sincerely obsessed with The Sims.
I’ve done all of this stuff because, with social life as we know it cancelled for the foreseeable future – give or take one-on-one meet-ups in the park carried out at an appropriate distance, where you both just drink one beer and go “God, it’s weird isn’t it?” – I have more time, and I need to fill it, obviously. But it’s also fairly clear to me that in lockdown, I’m trying to recreate emotions that would come to me effortlessly, just as I went about my day, in the past, and attempting to administer to myself momentary thrills and achievements in an economy where it doesn’t feel like there’s very much to look forward to at all.
When you can’t experience the silly mix of excitement and trepidation of going on a first date, or the casual elation of laughing around a pub table with your friends, it figures that you’d try to manufacture these sensations for yourself, in small ways, as best you can within the walls of your flat, or the surrounding area. The bound-up psychic and physical releases of dancing late at night in a small, hot room become taking yourself out for a run, even though you’ve actually never really done that before, just to somehow expel some energy. The park dates are anaemic versions of socialisation, with none of the human richness – the knees brushing under an outdoor table, the cig sharing, the hug from an acquaintance you’d not seen in a while – of the real thing. Maybe we dye our hair orange, or any colour – despite being completely cognisant of the fact that it may well look a bit weird, that we may well regret it – just to experience the banal thrill of making an out-of-character decision.
We are occupying line-drawings of our lives before the pandemic hit. Our worlds have shrunk. Writing about the lockdown in New York Magazine recently, the art critic Jerry Saltz noted that right now, “Time turns staccato; little actions feel big; large ones aren’t taken lightly; everything comes with a residuum of doubt.”
I agree with him. On a day to day level, small things – cooking something new, running further than last time, dying your hair orange – and the little rushes of satisfaction, amusement, or whatever else they provoke, are really all we have. Who knows how long we will have to settle for these tiny surges of emotion. Who knows how much we will appreciate what we had when (if?) it is able to return.