From Gen Z to boomers, more women find less restrictions for hair color

Hair says a lot about women — athletic, corporate, artistic, perhaps a combination of all these traits? It’s messaging, or rather perception, that the individual under that shiny crown of locks doesn’t really have control of.

But maybe the message for once and for all should be what really matters is what the individual woman — or the man, or any nonconforming beauty looking in the mirror right now — thinks of themselves?

Hair is freedom. Freedom of expression. Freedom to make change. Freedom to reclaim one’s identity from what society, itself always in flux, may impose. With more of Gen Z moving into the workforce, and with income to spend, the ability to wear any color, any style on your head, and especially to know that hair choice won’t hold you back socially and professionally, matters more than ever.

That’s the driver behind home-color brand Clairol’s global campaign, It’s So Me, the first such launch by the Wella Company line in five years. The program takes the sensibilities of Gen Z’s promotion of individuality, but wants to assure individuals across the age, ethnicity and socioeconomic spectrum that they can go for it with hair color. The campaign says individuals don’t have to embrace the color they were born with, rather the color they were meant to be.

And they’re trying to prove it with a series of “real people” influencers already prominent on TikTok and Instagram
That includes a multigenerational mother-daughter duo, a teacher who goes from the classroom by day to a lifestyle content creator by night, as well as artists and physicians alike.

The campaign also marks the embrace of more do-it-yourself beauty and self-expression that especially picked up when consumers were stuck at home during the worst of COVID-19, unable to book at salons and more closely watching their budgets. For sure, the TikTok generation is growing accustomed to seeing more hair and makeup tutorials from nonprofessionals, and the age of experimentation is strong.

Clairol is banking on their research showing a shift toward a more inclusive and diverse definition of “beautiful” hair color. In the past, they say, hair color beauty was often equated to socio-economic status and expensive in-salon services. But as evidenced by trending videos on TikTok and Instagram, DIY beauty is being elevated and celebrated, the company says. 

“40% of Gen Z chooses to regularly change hair color as a form of self-expression. It’s sort of the nature of who they are and that is the future of the workforce,” said Lori Pantel, chief marketing officer, North America, at Wella Company, speaking to MarketWatch.

“What’s more, 73% of Gen Z actually believes that we all need more power of self-expression to live happy and healthy lives. The more we can bring our true selves to work, which is everything from demographics, to how you dress, your hair, your sexuality, all of it is going to be important to be happy, thriving, healthy adults in the community,” Pantel said.

And, she said, surveys show that Gen Z especially, as a reflection of social media sharing, prefers experimenting with hair color with a friend along to help, a finding that boosts Clairol’s belief that at-home hair color always has a place alongside professional salon sales.

Clairol, which says it was the first home-color kit to hit grocery shelves in the middle of the last century, has been trying to capture how consumers experiment with hair color for decades. The company aimed to empower women to color their hair, if they chose to, at a time when it was still taboo to do so. The “Does She or Doesn’t She” campaign in the 1950s and 60s championed the elimination of hair-coloring stigma many women faced at the time. Why the stigma? Arguably because a patriarchal society wanted women to go from looking like what many perceived as sensible, conservative mothers to the sensible, conservative grandmothers of storybooks without any time for self-identity along the way.

Clairol also notably partnered with Tracey Norman, the first Black trans woman model, who in 1975 was the face and hair of the packaging for No. 512, Dark Auburn.

Pantel said the campaign includes education about safely coloring hair, including frequency of touch-ups and being mindful of hair’s texture, which may, for instance, determine whether a customer opts for shorter-lasting or longer-lasting dye.

April Kae, a musician, model and activist, is a TikTok influencer helping to promote the “It’s So Me” campaign. Kae, with natural curls, has described her hair journey as “challenging,” but says texture doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a color change.

Gym Tan, known on TikTok for her fashion and workout videos that suggest leaving the gym clothes for the gym, wanted low-maintenance hair, keeping her natural color with some coverage of grays. She joins the Clairol campaign with her daughter Mya Miller, who only wanted to boost her current color, but with the shine that a product can add.

For some women and men, embracing their gray is the new color they’re all about.

The Hollywood Beauty Awards earlier this year honored 64-year-old actress Andie MacDowell with their “Timeless Beauty Award,” which MacDowell accepted sporting the long, curly gray locks that have scored her a handful of magazine covers in recent months. The actress said lockdown during the pandemic led to a transition back to gray, she told Entertainment Tonight following the ceremony.

MacDowell told the publication she’s “really comfortable” rocking her gray, adding, “It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a while.”

Beyond Hollywood, several movements have pushed for representation in advertising of mature women, not confined to doddering “old” age, but reflective of fitness, fashion, career advancement and all that women 50 and older care about.

Read: Beyond ‘Where’s the beef?’ Older people, especially women, have economic power.

Clairol’s Pantel agrees that “It’s So Me” for some people might truly be about embracing the gray, or silver, as she likes to call it. And doing so might include products that cut the brassiness that can make blonde or silver hair less brilliant.

“I think we have many opportunities to think about how we embrace and support the vast array of hair identities that exist out there,” she said. “And if you choose to go au naturel then I think there are definitely tricks and tips and tools to maintain that beautiful silver hair.”

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