The first time my boyfriend Matt lobbed the “L” word in my direction, he was talking about my hair. “I love how it’s so you,” he said by way of explanation. I made some joke about “a thick blonde mess,” but was secretly pleased. I pride myself on my exceptionally low-maintenance hair. I use zero products, and I’ve lost count the number of stylists left quivering in horror when my response to “What kind of shampoo do you use?” is a shameful admission of, “Uh, whatever my gym stocks the showers with.”
I don’t deserve it, but despite my lack of effort or concern for its well-being, my “great” hair endures like some poor abuse victim.
That was until a red dye job ruined me.
Okay, I’m being dramatic. But in all sincerity, I felt betrayed. My hair was my identity manestay—who was I if it sucked? And did it really have to go rogue right now—after Matt confessed he’d been looking at engagement rings? When I asked Matt if he liked it, bless his heart, he said, “I don’t like that you don’t like it.” Then—half-laughing, half-crying—I told him, “You can’t propose until I fix this.”
Fast forward to my lost soul sitting in a black salon chair at NYC’s Bumble and Bumble for a corrective consultation. “We’ve seen worse,” soothes Sasha Deleon, equal parts colorist and therapist (a hairapist, if you will), as she runs her fingers through the crime scene atop my head. Deleon has specialized in color for the past 17 years, and actually loves cleaning up after someone else’s mess. “I like before-and-afters,” she explains. “It’s this whole project and you get to make someone happy at the end.”
"How do you guarantee a happy ending?" I asked Deleon, I—and all the women after me who will royally eff up their hair right before a bridal event—need to know what they should ask for and realistically expect when they go in for a color-correcting miracle.
Let’s begin with my favorite bit of her counseling: Go ahead and wig out.
No, I don’t mean buy wigs. I’m saying freak out a little! Then, move on. Deleon remembers just listening to a distraught bride who came into the studio, hiding her blue and green streaked hair under a hat. “I let them vent as much as they need,” she says. “Then, I ask them to explain what happened. That steers them away from the freak-out.”
Don’t let your righteous ringlet-rage persuade you to act rashly, though. Never try to color correct yourself.
“I get people trying to go the cheaper route,” says Deleon, acknowledging the budgeting pressures of a wedding, “but, a box color applied out of desperation is the worst thing you can do. Get professional help as soon as possible.” (If you’re pulling your hair out—please don’t—in the interim before your correction, Deleon suggests washing with clarifying shampoo, which should help release the tone.)
Pro-help starts with a consult. I cannot overhype the consultation.You (and I!) should’ve scheduled one before dunking a head in chemicals to start with, and definitely prior to round two. As prep, research online so you can bring in pictures and a thousand words.
“Multiple photos are the best communication,” says Deleon. “However, artists can see things differently, so we also need to know what’s in your mind. Be very specific telling us what you like or don’t like about each photo.” During your consultation, have colorists guide you through the language of what you like (“warm,” "cool,” "single-process," “highlights,” “contrast,” “dimension”), then ask for their educated opinion on what you maybe should like.
In most wedding cases, you want natural, or at least the appearance of natural.
Even when friends and coworkers swore my hair wasn’t a bonafide tragedy (“It’s edgy!” “Like a superhero!”), I couldn’t shake my sadness. Whether the hair was good or bad—it wasn’t me.
“I feel you shouldn’t do a complete change for a wedding,” says Deleon. “Some girls go for very spectacular hair, but it doesn’t even look like them. Don’t regret the photos later when you don’t recognize yourself.”
And there’s the equally alarming outcome that your fiancé won't recognize you either. “Why would brides want to do something so different that when they walk down the aisle, their grooms are confused?” Deleon asks.
Once you’ve talked, be willing to sit in a chair…all.damn.day.
“It’s hard to guarantee anything when you’re working with chemicals,” explains Deleon. “What if your hair doesn’t react? What if I don’t know what the previous person used? There are lots of factors going in.” Transitioning hair from cool to warm tones takes a watchful eye and super-reactive fingers. Hence, colorists can charge up to $100 an hour, depending on the scope of services.
I asked Deleon about the most difficult and expensive color correction. “This is pretty hard,” she said with a kind laugh. “Red and black are probably the hardest. That’s why I told you prepare to be here all day.” Sure enough, my process—which included toning down my roots, reestablishing the semblance of a natural hairline, and then addressing highlights throughout—lasted over eight hours. “That’s good for brides to know,” I mused. “If they’re time-constrained they should stay within the color family of their mess-up.”
But Deleon had other advice.
“I think they should take the time to sit here all day for whatever they want,” she said. “I mean, they are brides. They deserve it to be perfect. If you were getting married next week, I’d tell you, ‘How could you not be here all day? We'll stay here all night until we fix this.’”
That's another point: make sure you and your hairdresser are tight like that before entrusting him or her with your bridal hair. See a colorist for a whole year before asking him or her to color your hair for a wedding, Deleon recommends. “Correction is the last thing you want to run into,” she says. “This way, early on you’ve decided on an end goal, and you’ve built that trust. By the time your wedding comes around, you have no worries.”
If you and your hairapist go waaaay back, dye your hair at least two weeks before the wedding, advises Deleon. It takes about that long for things to settle. Just like everyone has a bad hair day, everyone is also entitled to a bad hair-doing day. Learn from Elle Woods; it falls on you to speak up when you’re unhappy with your results.
At the end of my all-day appointment, I’m left looking in the mirror, surrounded by Deleon and her team of fairies-in-training, with a stiff neck and misty eyes. But this time, the tears are happy. Admittedly, my “hair high” made me delirious (I think I promised to tag Deleon in my engagement social media post), but also very reflective. I’d been wrestling with guilt over how shallow my hair disaster seemingly revealed me to be. Was I seriously begging to postpone an event I’d been anticipating since my Disney-Princess days over something we’d laugh about in a few months? True love is supposed to be unconditional, right?
On the other (soon-to-be-ring-wearing?) hand, a proposal or a wedding is oftentimes a once-in-a-lifetime event. As Deleon pointed out earlier, how could I not recognize myself in a moment that could define the rest of my days? When Matt does decide to take a knee, shouldn’t I be my most perfect?
Ah. There’s the issue. At the mention of a ring, I immediately wanted to transform then-me, a dirty-blonde who ate ice cream for breakfast, into a “proposal-ready” version of me. Perhaps an effortlessly composed red-head? My wacko logic reasoned changing my hair, always a disproportionately large part of my identity, would change me into an improvement who merited a… is there a term for the in-between of “boyfriend” and “fiancé?” “Bíance?” That feels ill-advised. Anyhoo, chasing perfection—that was silly, but so is hating my reflection when I can do something about it. Loving your hair is kind of the whole point for client and hairapist. It makes them happy to make us happy.
The people we marry better be ready to say “til death, not dye, do us part," and we brides can’t confuse the two ourselves. “So many women come in thinking, ‘That’s it. My life is over,’ ” Deleon told me when she began painting my hair for the first time of many. “That’s not true. It’s just color.”