Blue Hair

bluehair57It might be a trick of the Kodachrome film, but it looks like the woman in this 1957 snapshot has dyed her hair to match her suit.  Perhaps she is dressed up for Easter Sunday, her tailored outfit embellished by a wide fur piece.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, many older women dyed their hair blue.  When did this custom start?  And why has it ended? The first reference I have to blue hair is from Vogue in 1910, where the anonymous author praises women who add indigo to their rinse water.  “It imparts just the necessary tinge of color to the gray lifeless hair that is distinctly essential.”  By the mid-1920s, the decorator and trend setter Elsie de Wolfe dyed her white hair a violet-blue—no subtle rinse for her.  According to several sources, she was inspired by her Parisian hairdresser, who had experimented with novel dyes on his dog.

These days it is rare to see a head of blue hair on an older woman, at least here in Southern California. Most women who dye their hair try to recreate their original color.  When they decide on alternatives, they go blond or, like me, red.  Perhaps that is because “blue hair” has become an unflattering term for old lady.  Or maybe older women dropped this style when it was taken over by young people sporting bright blue hair.

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8 Responses to Blue Hair

  1. Some women used the same laundry bluing — you put it into the rinse water in the washing machine –that they used on their sheets to get them sparkling white instead of dingy yellow. If you look up Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing, you’ll probably find cautions NOT to use it on humans. I decided to switch from dyed to white hair last year, and found that my natural old lady hair color is not silver, which looks good, but a faintly yellowish tint — not so good. My hairdresser applied a “toner’ that said it was silver, but it made my hair distinctly light blue. Argh! I rushed home and washed it several times to get it out. There are special shampoos for white hair on the market — one is called Malva Blue. (The idea is to counteract yellowness with a faint lavender tone.) So I sympathize with the very blue-haired old lady in your photo! She may have been the unhappy wearer of a hairdresser’s bluing mistake, and was stuck with it until it washed out. At least Clairol and Aveda offer safer ways to “get the yellow out” now than were available in the 1950s.

  2. Rhoda K says:

    I remember a woman from my high school days that had bluish hair. I never cared for it but now with all the hair colors out there, wow! I stopped coloring my hair years ago and it’s white with a dark hairline in back but hubby’s hair does have a tendency to get yellowish tinge. My hairdresser suggested a shampoo for it and it worked beautifully – no other color showing. It’s especially good after swimming in a chlorinated pool. Sadly I don’t recall the brand, but I’m sure a good hairdresser would know.

  3. eimear says:

    yup – I remember seeing those blue and pink tinted setting lotions in chemists as a child, but not extreme blue hair. I am currently transitioning out of dyed hair and 80percent there and reading up on all these ‘silvering’ products… just when I thought I was getting rid of these dilemmas! (the other confusing thing is what goes with grey hair so waiting till its fully grown for a wardrobe review!)

    • Another thing I learned about white hair: if you don’t shampoo every day, the build-up from your hairspray can make your hair look yellow. I found a special spray for silver hair at a beauty supply shop. Life is a learning experience….

  4. Fabrickated says:

    My Grandma (who was born in about 1885) always used a “blue rinse” on her grey hair to stop it looking yellowed. Personally I don’t really like those funky colours such as green or purple – for example Helen Mirren with pink hair – I prefer natural every time. I actually find natural grey less aging than some of the flat colours (especially the darker or brassy blonde versions).

  5. Lizzie says:

    I had no idea blue hair for the grey set was such a thing. My Aunt Adore used a blue rinse and we thought it was just her being crazy!

  6. Jann Gumbiner says:

    Hmmm. Are you sure they intentionally dyed their hair blue? I thought that was a byproduct of a poor dye job.

  7. Pingback: Cloche Hats from Paris Illustrated by Dynevor Rhys, April 1928 | witness2fashion

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