WHY IS IT that so many first-years at Harvard dye their hair? Maybe it's the urge to rebel against years of studious restraint. Or against the monotony of Harvard style, replete with J. Crew corduroys, Urban Outfitter sweaters and dirty-white Cornell Lacrosse baseball caps. Whatever it is, the Yard abounds with colorful coiffures.
Naima Workman '98 arrived in Cambridge with long black hair. Several months later, she got a crew cut, bleached--in dyeing circles 'stripped'--her abbreviated 'do, and colored it a radiant purple. She says, "Long hair is a real commitment, but since it is so short now, dyeing is not such a big deal. And I have always wanted purple hair." Tera Hong '98, who at home had only highlighted her hair, dyed it pink at Harvard. When asked what motivated her to dye, she replied that "It was something interesting to do. I did not do it at home mostly because of my parents." Ah, the freedom that pours forth from a bottle of peroxide!
Hair-dyeing is more than an experiment in new-found freedom, though. Many people think it adds color (punintended) to their daily lives. Just imagine how many more wardrobe combinations a head of yellow hair allows: Now the green sweater and the orange pants will not clash because the vivid yellow distributes the outfit across the color spectrum more evenly. Sure, why not?
First-year Katherine Brown, who normally sports jet-black hair but at Harvard has gone red, blonde and auburn, says, "Hair-dyeing is a seasonal thing. I get bored of the way I look and want a change. Then I can shape my wardrobe along with the color of my hair. I guess I am just pursuing my best look, and to find it I constantly revamp it. Besides, it's less permanent than a boob job."
The most experienced hair-dyer I found was Lauralee Summer '98.
Within the past five years, it has been 14 different colors, including apple green, poppy red, honey blonde, Atlantic blue and flamingo pink. She changes her color about every six weeks, and she says her color choice often reflects her mood. "If I feel I am becoming a more serious person, it doesn't make sense to look in the mirror and see pink or yellow, so I dye my hair black or dark brown. But sometimes I just dye it to emphasize nature's colors. I usually dye some shade of blue in the summer, because then it doesn't seem so hot. In the fall, I go for a fire-red or orange to match the leaves." Appropriately, Summer's hair is now green.
Sometimes hair-dyeing rescues what might otherwise be a boring Saturday night. I mean, c'mon, once you slap on the rubber gloves and start stroking that cold, gooey Manic Panic into your best friend's hair, there's no other place you would rather be. Brown had her initial dyeing experience during high school, when her sister returned home from college for the first time. "It was a great bonding moment," she recalls. Here at school, hair-dyeing continues to be relatively spontaneous. Brown continues, "You have the feeling that you want to dye building up for a few days, and then at the spur of the moment, you just do it."
While rubber gloves and gooey cream may bring fellow dyers closer together, viewing a pink head of hair does not inspire quite the same enthusiasm in the average brown-haired Joe. Out of the corner of their eyes, our dyers often catch sight of open-mouthed gapes and wide-eyed stares. "No stranger ever says anything," Brown says. "They just stare." Workman adds that "little kids can't keep their eyes off my hair." Of course, these enraptured spectators can hardly be blamed for their violation of Ms. Vanderbilt's no-staring rule. The novelty of blue hair is justification enough for these bad manners.
Not only does dyed hair garnish stares; it also invites judgments.
"It's the first thing that people see and a major way they form judgments or opinions of you... If people don't judge you by it, that's a really good sign," says Summer. "Older and more traditional people perceive of people with dyed hair as the druggie-rebel type, not the smart type, so you have to prove yourself above and beyond to them." Summer does not believe her unconventional colors always shed negative light on her character, though, and Workman agrees. "My hair has served as an ice-breaker in many situations. It makes for very friendly conversations," she claims.
While new acquaintances may be shocked by these adventurers' artificially colored locks, the dyers themselves seem to make the transition fairly smoothly. According to Brown, "The first day [after dyeing] is filled with utter glee and excitement. The second day is when you meet all those nagging doubts and you start to second-guess yourself. By the third day, though, you're used to it."