Let's Talk About Hair!
Hair colour; it’s a conundrum. To embrace grey or not, to enter (and remain on) that hair dye treadmill or not, to choose a single colour for life or to embrace every hair trend from lowlights to balayage?
And when you factor in colourful clothes, those questions multiply - suddenly there feels like much more to think about, harmonise, and match! But don’t give in to temptation to sink back into those ‘safe’ neutrals (and as you’ll learn when you begin to explore the world of colour, even choosing the right neutrals can put a new spring in your step!).
Instead, why not discover the answers to every question you’ve ever had about how hair colour relates the colours you wear, and whether that changes when your hair colour does?
Whether your questions are about going grey, colouring your hair, matching your hair to your colour palette (or vice versa), or how to wear colour that harmonises with your hair,, we’ve answered them all here so you can get back to the important work of wearing colour with confidence, joy and panache, knowing that you look every bit as fabulous as you feel!
Before you start: this article is a truly in depth look at hair colour and going grey. We recommend you make yourself comfortable and settle in for a good read! If you’re in a hurry, you might prefer to click on one of these links to go straight to one of the questions we answer:
Before we get stuck into changes to hair colour, it’s important to consider the role your hair colour plays in the palette of colours that best suits you.
Put simply, each of us has a palette of colours that belongs to us. Your own palette is made up of colours that reflect the natural level of warmth, vibrancy and contrast that you carry, and when you wear it (either as clothes, make or, yes, hair colour!) will make you feel more alive, put together, in harmony and confident, and that, as an extra bonus, mix and match endlessly to make beautiful outfits, giving you a harder working wardrobe and all but eliminating mistake purchases.
Here at Kettlewell, to help you find the right colours for you, we divide colours up into four distinct palettes, each one named after a season. It’s possible to get even more specific about which colours are best for you than simply a quarter of all colours, but this is a really good starting point for most people, and you can choose whether or not to dive further into the kaleidoscopic rabbit hole of colour once you’ve been introduced to your own seasonal palette.
The group of colours that belongs to you - which will be named after one of the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter - is defined by your natural colouring. This means not only your skintone, but also your eye colour, lip colour and, you guessed it, natural hair colour. At a basic genetic level, these elements have been created in the harmony that Mother Nature so excels at, from a cohesive palette of colours that comes together to make the miracle that is you!
Whenever you add additional colours to your natural look, either through the act of wearing clothes or through adding colour with make up or hair dye, this has an impact on that natural harmony in one of two ways:
1. It enhances it. Your eyes become brighter, your skin glows and, most importantly of all, you feel better, wearing clothes that naturally belong to you and enhancing everything that makes you you.
2. It detracts from it. Your skin looks excessively pale, flushed or sallow, your eye colour appears less bright, and you feel flat, underwhelmed and invisible.
Obviously, we believe that the former is far preferable to the latter, and we believe that everyone should feel confident and boosted, not diminished, by their clothing and colour choices. This just as, if not more, important when it comes to hair colour - after all, your hair is the one thing you wear every day!
Remember, your hair will naturally always harmonise with your palette (we’ll discuss the impact going grey might have further through this article), but let’s consider for a moment the impact of dyeing your hair, whether that’s to cover grey or not.
Above: Eileen discovered that her warm red hair was less flattering against her cool skin tone than her natural dark brown.
Once you understand that the colours you add to your look impact on how good you feel (and look!), the impact of changing your hair colour is suddenly highlighted. So does changing your hair colour (whether that’s covering grey or not) affect the colours that best suit you, and how should you balance hair and clothing colours?
The short answer is that your palette is your palette. Changing your hair colour won’t alter everything else about you - skintone, eyes, brows, lips etc - so your overall palette will remain the same. However, that new hair colour might throw an additional colour into the mix that you now need to consider when choosing which colours to wear on your body.
Here at Kettlewell we think life in colour (and even in neutrals!) is easier when you choose your hair colours to harmonise with your seasonal colour palette. This means that not only will there will never be a battle between the hair colour you’ve chosen and your seasonal colour palette, but your hair colour will actually support and even enhance your natural colouring, making you look and feel as amazing as wearing your favourite colour clothing does.
So what does that actually mean? The first step is obviously to discover which seasonal palette belongs to you. If you don’t know this, now might be a good moment to head over to our clever Colour Quiz and discover your palette, then come back here to discover the hair colours that will work for you. A good colourist will work with your natural colouring anyway, but having some language to communicate with them about the best colours for you can ensure that you are all on the same page when it comes to the all important task of colouring your hair.
Spring hair colours
Opt for warm tones, filled with lightness and radiance. Sunkissed, golden, honey, caramel and champagne colours are often excellent, and browns stay warm and golden feeling, never too dark. Strawberry blonde and red can also work well. Greys stay warm, more like a pale gold than anything remotely blue.
Summer hair colours
Choose cool tones, with tonal blends of colour - highlights, balayage and other techniques for layering colour all work really well. Ash brown, icy blonde, mushroom tones, and even inky bluish tints to grey can work well. The key is to avoid anything brassy, although interestingly a red colour can sometimes work - never go too warm with this, instead opting for tints of burgundy or cherry. Grey is always cool, from steel grey through to white, and is can be supported with dye or simply a shampoo designed to eliminate blonde or brassy tones.
Autumn hair colours
Your best colours are warm tones, filled with depth and layers of colour. Again, balayage and deep lowlights can be really effective to get that feeling of layered up colours. Chocolate, deep caramel and toffee, rich auburn reds and deep blonde tones all work, but try to avoid going too light or insipid feeling with colours. Grey is usually naturally warm, and it’s usually best to embrace and even enhance this rather than trying to cool things down with blue tones.
Winter hair colours
Choose cool tones, with a clear, definite look - no layers of gently textured highlights here, but rather block colour or definite ‘slices’ of colour through the hair, rather than tiny slivers of several shades. Think clear, crisp and defined when it comes to colours. Extremes like darkest brown or black, or ash blonde through to icy peroxide, can work well, but don’t feel the need to change mid-tone hair if that’s where you naturally sit. Grey is steel through to crisp blue-toned white.
All this is well and good, but there might be times when, intentionally or otherwise, your hair simply doesn’t harmonise with your seasonal palette. Maybe you or your hairdresser chose a slightly different tone to usual, maybe you simply fancied a change, maybe the sun or your shampoo has shifted the tone of your hair and pulled it ‘out’ of your palette. What happens then?
The key here is to remember that every other aspect of your colouring - your skintone, eyes and lips - still sit within your palette, it’s only your hair that will be altered when you colour it. So the core components of your colouring haven’t changed; it’s simply that we’ve introduced an additional shade that needs to be allowed for when choosing colours for outfits, in order to ensure you still feel like the truest version of you.
Shifting the colours you choose might be as simple as, say, playing up different tones within your palette to harmonise with your new hair colour without sacrificing your best colours. For instance, if you’re a Spring who usually opts for warm Honey and Corn Yellow in clothing, who then has a blue (cool) tint added to grey hair, you might find that you can honour that simply by slipping into the blues from your palette, like Aqua, Cornflower and Bright Navy, rather than by diving into super cool toned French Blue, Sapphire or Indigo.
Let’s be clear here: dyeing your hair is always optional. Nobody has the right to tell you that you ‘shouldn’t’ be grey (or brown, or blonde, or red) at any age or stage of life.
Added to this, your best palette will always work with your natural hair colour. Which isn’t to say that adding a splash of colour can’t make you enjoy both your hair and your colours even more (we’re definitely not anti-dye here!), but remember that your natural hair colour, whether it’s as true and vibrant as it was in your teenage years or has faded to almost white, is always going to be in harmony with your palette. That harmony might mean a slight shift within your palette - read on to find out how that might work for you.
Aside from going grey, you might feel that your natural hair, even if not grey, isn’t ‘right’ for your season (sandy haired Winters and red headed Summers, for instance, are often concerned that they need to dye their hair to match their season). But it’s exactly the same story; nature will always create your own natural palette to be in harmony, and your natural palette will always work with your colours.
Hair goes grey. It’s a fact of life, but one that the entire beauty industry would like to pretend happens only to an unlucky few, and should therefore be hidden from sight as far as possible, lest someone realise that we are no longer 23! Of course, this is entirely untrue, but it is a societal mindset that is only now beginning to shift, largely after the pandemic forced many of us to forego trips to the hairdresser for months on end.
But before you worry about whether or not you should be doing anything about that grey hair, and how to go about doing it in a way that will make you feel fabulous rather than fake, let’s first consider whether embracing that natural grey hair means that your best colours will suddenly shift dramatically, or whether you can continue to wear exactly the same clothes as before.
The good news is that your hair is not, after a lifetime of service, suddenly going to turn against you and your natural palette, simply because you’ve gone grey. It is just not how our natural colouring works. As we go grey, we lose some pigment from our hair (and also from our eyes, lips and cheeks - the brightness of youth comes so much from that extra pigment!), but the pigment that remains doesn’t suddenly shift from being warm toned to being cool, or vice versa.
You might notice that if you are a warm toned season (Spring or Autumn) or dominant Warm, that as you go grey your hair retains a slightly warm, creamy tone. Whereas the cool toned seasons (Summer and Winter) and Cool dominants tend to naturally veer towards a much steelier grey, or pure white. Whichever you are, your hair will harmonise with your palette, although remember that your best colours within your palette might shift as your hair gets lighter.
Above: Colour Club members share photos from before they embraced the grey
If you’re going grey you might, however, feel like you’ve lost some of the ‘oomph’ from your colouring and thus your look, thanks to this drop in pigment. You might also find that colours that you’ve previously loved feel either overwhelming or, surprisingly, not ‘enough’ to brighten you up.
However, what we’ve found, over almost 20 years of working in the world of colour, is that it’s extremely unlikely that your actual seasonal palette will change - if you’ve hitherto suited the Spring palette you’re not going to suddenly become a Winter because you’ve gone grey, for all the reasons discussed above. However, it is possible your very best colours (often called your wow colours - most of us half half a dozen or so truly amazing colours) within that seasonal palette may well shift. You might need, say, brighter colours within your season, but it is almost certain (indeed, in our experience, guaranteed) that your broad palette will remain the same.
Let’s take a quick look at how the colours you need might change, depending on your seasonal palette. It’s impossible to predict exactly how your unique colouring will shift with age, but there are a few general guidelines which inform each palette, and probably make a good starting point if your hair colour has shifted and you feel your favourite colours are no longer looking quite as good.
Grey haired Springs - It is very possible that if you have generally been at the warmer end of the Spring palette (wearing camel, honey, tan and chocolate as your neutrals, and Spring’s Corn Yellow, Lime Green and Papaya as your brights), that you will shift towards the less warm end of the palette, meaning that your neutrals will become Bright Navy and Dove Grey, while your brights might become Confetti pink, Apple green and Aquarius. If you’ve previously suited the brightest colours in your palette, whether warmer or cooler, it’s possible that some of the softer Spring colours - Cornflower, Lemonade, Hyacinth - might now be better on you than those bold brights.
‘I was first typed as Spring back in the 1970’s when I was a golden blonde. My hair darkened after children to what I’d call dirty blonde. As my children became teens, my hair turned gray and now in my 70’s it is mainly white with some blonde tones. I was reclassified as a Light Spring in 2018.’ - Gail
As a romantic, I obviously call my hair silver sparkle not grey!’ - Helen
Grey haired Summers - If you’ve previously worn the deepest Summer colours, from Burgundy to Charcoal, you might find yourself needing at least a splash of lighter tones like Pink Ice or French Blue to lift outfits that previously worked well. If you’ve always worn the softest, palest Summer colours, you might, counter-intuitively, find that brighter Summer colours like Cornflower and Azalea Pink now bring you more to life.
‘I was very nervous about growing out my grey to start with and friends were a bit negative, but now it's done I've never had so many compliments and my "negative” friends are converted.’ - Jennifer
‘Since going grey, I tend to choose lighter versions of my Summer palette, and often combine them with cool grey shades, which I never wore previously. My natural silver-grey hair is now in harmony with my cool skin and eyes.’ - Sue
Grey haired Autumns - Many Autumns, regardless of their original type, find that they need softer colours within the palette as they go grey. Whether you suit the warmer soft colours - Hazelnut and Coral Haze, for instance - or less warm Heliotrope and Lizard Grey, is a matter for discovery! However, some Autumns do find that they suddenly need the lightest, brightest Autumn colours, like Coral and Lime, to feel their glowing best.
‘‘Do I regret all those years of colouring my hair? No. Do I regret my decision now to go grey? No. I think you know when you are ready. It isn’t for everyone and I never thought it would be me. I’m looking forward now to continuing to wear my colours from my bright autumn palette (and, no, I haven't changed to a cool season because my hair is grey).’ - Sue
'I embraced my gray at age 43 (six years ago). I have not regretted it — I get compliments on it daily about how shiny & healthy it looks — especially now that I know what colors to wear!'- Cindi
Grey haired Winters - the most common shift for Winters is that the old faithful neutrals of Black and White stop working so well, and gentler Navy and Silver (or Ice Blue) work better. You might also find that where you used to suit the deepest, most intense Winter colours like Pine, Deep Claret and Indigo, you now need much fresh, clearer alternatives like Emerald and Scarlet. You might also find that previously unloved, and less cool, light Winter colours like Acid Yellow, Limeade and Aquarius, are suddenly invaluable for giving you back your brightness and zing!
'Going grey was a big thing for me, and once I’d done it I really felt like I’d ‘come home’ and was comfortable as a winter again. When I had my hair coloured, I looked like an autumn and wore a lot of autumn colours, but there was a terrible dissonance. Of course, for me, and probably for everyone else, the other important issue is to have a really good hair cut to show off the grey.’ - Alex
‘It was a big decision for me to let my hair go natural, and I needed advice along the way’ - Kellee
Side note: There are some analysis systems that will assign you an entirely new palette if you go grey or have any other significant hair colour change. In our experiences, this is because the initial palette they have assigned you is a more specific, narrower range of colours than a full seasonal palette (for instance, Colour Me Beautiful has 24 possible palettes, compared to the four seasonal ones), so it makes sense that a fresh palette might be required if colouring changes, as the original palette was more fine tuned to your colouring. We believe that there are pros and cons of both seasonal and 12, 16 and 24 palette systems, and it’s generally much more about finding a palette (and a stylist, if you use one) that you understand and that feels right for you, than it is about one system being ‘better’ than another.
If you are transitioning from dyed hair to grey, the options are broadly similar regardless of your seasonal palette:
1. Go cold turkey on the dye. You might want to get existing colour stripped out, but this can be quite harsh on your hair, and will do nothing to alter bleached hair. There will be an undeniably awkward phase as your dye grows out, but this is the most straightforward way to transition to grey, if you can plough through the awkward bit.
2. Have your hair dyed a similar shade of grey to your natural root colour. This will take some careful co-ordination with your hairdresser in order to select an appropriate shade, but it’s a one hit way of making the transition, and the delineation between your dyed grey and naturally grey hair should be far less awkward than option 1. It is, however, quite a sudden change to get your head around!
3. Go for a gradual approach. Gradually have a few lighter touches added to your colour, reducing the amount of tone in them at each appointment, to gradually blend your grey with your existing dye colour. Even for Winters, who tend not to suit blended, tonal colours, this can be the easiest, gentlest and least scary way to transition hair, although it also takes the longest.
Colour stylist Karina demonstrates the gradual approach to going grey
Whatever option you choose, a good hairdresser is invaluable to help you figure out your next steps and encourage you along the way. And a good cut, which feels like it belongs to you, can work wonders to boost your confidence while you’re getting used to a different look.
The one other question that seems to crop up is ‘will I look older if I leave my hair its natural shade’? Once upon a time, this definitely felt true – everyone dyed their hair, so leaving it to go grey made one stand out as an ‘older’ looking person. These days, there is such a mix of those who dye and those who go au naturel, and even younger people choosing to dye their hair grey, that such a definitive statement is no longer the case. I also believe (or hope!) that the world is somewhat less ‘age-phobic’ than it has been in the past – we are allowed to celebrate the wisdom and experience that age gives us, rather than trying to hide and reverse the process.
One final note on the hair itself – grey hair is often more coarse and more dry, and needs specific care – looking after your greys with appropriate haircare will give them a glow all of their own.
As we age, our skin loses not only elasticity, but also contrast and pigment in our lips, cheeks and eyes. This means that regardless of your hair colour, if you haven’t reassessed your make up for a few years, now might be a good time. Areas that you used to be able to skip without a problem - brows and cheeks, for instance - now need a little more attention, and darker colours that you used to wear with confidence might now feel a little heavy or strong.
This question really gets the same answer as the question about changing your clothing colours to suit grey hair. You might find that the make up colours that you used to wear now feel too strong, or too dark, but the best colours to replace them with will likely be softer, or perhaps lighter and clearer, versions of the same colours, sticking within your seasonal palette.
The best thing you can do for your colour confidence is to treat shifting your make up colours as an adventure in the same way as discovering your seasonal colour palette. You might want to check out Look Fabulous Forever - a range of makeup and skincare created specifically for older women by Tricia Cusden (who looks fabulous with her grey hair!). Her Youtube channel is full of helpful tips and tutorials.
Above: Tricia Cusden with some of her Look Fabulous Forever make-up range
I hope that this article has answered all of your questions, and that you feel encouraged you to see going grey as an adventure and a chance to explore and learn more about your best colours. This is the beginning of an era, not the end of one.
If you want more inspiration, or advice, from women going through the same journey as you, why not come and join our friendly Colour Club on Facebook? We’ve used member images to illustrate this article, and advice and support, whatever your colour journey and choices, is guaranteed!