You're planning to meet someone in person for the first time and they ask, "How will I know you?" If you're like most women whether you're meeting a prospective client or blind date you start your description with your hair color.

"I'm a redhead…" , "My hair is golden blonde…" , "Look for a brunette with…"

In an age when it's possible to tint your tresses any color of the rainbow, hair color plays a uniquely important role in our personal identity. Perhaps more than almost any other physical feature, our hair shapes the way we see ourselves and, as researchers have discovered, the way others see us.

How Hair Color Defines You

Recent studies have proven that we often use hair colors as the basis for a whole series of assumptions about the personalities of the people we meet, instantly categorizing those we encounter as bubbly blondes, feisty redheads, sophisticated brunettes, or black-haired exotics with just a glance. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that some of these snap judgments are often rooted in reality.

This is not to suggest that every blonde is a giggling coquette, or that all redheads have volatile temperaments to match their fiery locks. But like many age-old truisms, some common hair-color stereotypes do seem to be based on a kernel of truth. Recent studies have shown that hair color not only impacts the way others see us, but that it may also shape our self-image, and thus, the way we think, act, and relate to the world around us.

Although studies have confirmed some aspects of the hair color-personality connection, it's a classic chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. It's nearly impossible to determine whether these tendencies are the result of genetic traits, or whether they simply reflect our shared cultural assumptions. But because many of these associations also seem to hold true for those with dyed, highlighted, or otherwise altered hair, most scientists believe that these links are likely the result of culture, rather than nature.

It's clear that our shared beliefs about hair color and personality are powerful and pervasive. Regardless of how these stereotypes came into origin, the undeniable fact is that they do exist. If you enter your favorite salon with a dull shade of mousy brown hair and emerge a few hours later as a blonde bombshell or a redheaded femme fatale, the change will be more than merely cosmetic. It's not just a coincidence that so many actors and actresses rely on hair color changes to help them embody the personality tics and idiosyncrasies of a new character. Your hair color, to a large extent, makes you who are.

How a New Hue Can Change Your Life

It's no surprise, then, that humans have been trying to take matters into their own hands for millennia. Anthropologists have gathered evidence suggesting that our earliest ancestors sought to harness the life-changing power of hair color using plants, herbs, metallic compounds, and minerals.

Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Hebrews, Asians, and Indo-Europeans all devised ingenious methods of enhancing or altering the hair hue bestowed upon them by Mother Nature. Today, advances in the art and science of hair color have granted us easy access to a rainbow of tints and shades. Once the exclusive province of the affluent upper classes, the transformative power of a new hair color is now available at the corner drugstore.

But I'll caution you that hair color decisions shouldn't be made lightly. To look your best, it's vital that your hair color is compatible with your skin tone, style, and facial features. But perhaps even more importantly, whether your hair hue came from your mother's side of the family or your favorite salon, make sure your color suits your personality, your outlook, your attitude — and the image you want to project out into the world. Let's take a look at how history's most famous beauties have lived their colors — and some hints that will help you pull off your hair color with flair

Eye-Catching Blondes Capture the Imagination

If I've only one life, let me live it as a blonde! – 1965 Clairol ad

From the earliest traceable origins of the gene responsible for blondeness, this hair color has held a powerful allure. Scientists now believe that what initially emerged as a rare genetic quirk spread quickly because our earliest ancestors had a strong attraction to this hair color (apparently, both gentlemen and cavemen prefer blondes). By the Renaissance period, the genes for blonde hair had spread throughout Europe, and the color came to be prized as a cultural symbol of angelic purity and innocence.

In the twentieth century, blonde hair gradually attained a more sultry connotation. Although many of the earliest known attempts to alter hair color were lightening agents — naturally swarthy ancient Greeks, for example, used saffron to achieve a paler hue — it was not until the late 1880s that peroxide was first applied as a hair dye.

This breakthrough allowed the bold platinum shade that is naturally rare among adults to gain widespread popularity. After 1920s flappers introduced short bobbed hair, many opted to take their bold styles a step further with bleached blonde tresses. 1930s screen legends such as Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich furthered the association between blonde hair and sultry sex appeal.

However, many of these early twentieth century blonde stars affected an air of cool sophistication that would fade into the background with the remarkable popularity of Marilyn Monroe, who in the 1950s and 1960s took on a lovably ditzy persona for comedic effect in her most popular film roles.

This contributed to the spread of the "dumb blonde" slur that persists decades later, although smart, determined blondes like Reese Witherspoon, Jamie Presley, Kirsten Dunst, and Madonna have clearly transcended this stereotype. Even today, blondes' intelligence is often underestimated.

Still, this color is not easy to pull off if you're the shy, reserved type. Blonde is one of the most eye-catching hues, and people often expect blondes to have the outgoing personality to match. If you're more of a homebody or a wallflower who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, you may feel more comfortable with a toned-down look.

Brunettes Make a Comeback

Gentlemen prefer blondes, but marry brunettes.Anita Loos

With all of the attention that has historically been focused on blondes, it can be easy to forget that the majority of the world's population is naturally dark-haired. Although their blonde and redheaded counterparts are typically credited with having more vibrant personalities, brunette is making a strong comeback, with stylists now reporting that many previously-blonde women are returning to their roots, so to speak. With the wide range of lowlights, highlights, multi-dimensional colors, and other options now available to lend richness and depth to brown hair, brunettes are finally breaking free of the "mousy" label that they've long been stuck with.

It's long been assumed that brunettes are smarter and more staid than their blonde counterparts. This hair color telegraphs a sense of stability and poise that can often elude those with lighter-toned locks. For decades, women striving for the highest echelons of achievement — whether in the corporate boardroom or in the public sphere — often opted for brown hair as a means of conveying gravitas.

Brunettes are also often seen as possessing an unparalleled degree of sophistication; it's virtually impossible to imagine style icons such as Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Halle Berry, and Catherine Zeta Jones with anything but brown hair. In recent years, stars like Sandra Bullock, Audrey Tatou, and Katie Holmes have brought a fresh new dimension to the color, calling into question the age-old adage that blondes have more fun.

If you crave the aura of poise, sophistication, and intelligence that brown hair offers, there's never been a better time to go brunette. The flexibility of this range of colors means that brown hair will work with almost any complexion; it works especially well for those with olive skin tones. Today's hair color options offer brunettes a virtually unlimited array of rich, gorgeous choices, so brown doesn't have to be boring.

Redheads Gain in Numbers

Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead. – Lucille Ball

In spite of the fact that less than two percent of the human population has naturally red hair, this color has long been a favorite among those craving a bold new look. For thousands of years, humans have tried to redden their tresses by virtually any means possible; ancient Egyptians and North Africans, for example, used henna, mineral compounds, and other natural materials to go red thousands of years before Hollywood bombshell Rita Hayworth famously made the hue attractive to large Western audiences.

Scientists believe that eye-catching hair colors such as blonde and red are more attractive to potential partners on a primitive level, which may explain the persistent popularity of these shades. Just as birds with the most magnificent plumage often attract the most sought-after mates, people seem to be naturally drawn to rare hair colors. However, although women with blonde or red hair are regarded as highly attractive, recent studies have found that most women prefer dark-haired men over their lighter-haired counterparts.

Indeed, although red hair is now highly prized and sought-after, this was not always the case. In some primitive cultures, red hair was regarded as a curse or as a sign of vulnerability to demonic possession. During the infamous witch-hunts of the early modern period, red hair was often interpreted as a sure sign that a person dabbled in the dark arts. When this rare recessive gene made an appearance in regions populated primarily by dark-haired people, such as Africa or Asia, red-haired individuals were often shunned.

While it's undeniable that red hair has a special allure, the strong tones — and connotations — of this color make it a tricky match for some. Rightly or not, redheads are often expected to be the life of the party, and this kind of social pressure can be exhausting if you don't have the personality or stamina to match. Also, few people have the right skin tone to pull off a true red; it may be best to try out an auburn shade or reddish highlights.

Black Hair Everywhere

I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright, Who art as black as hell, as dark as night. – William Shakespeare

Black hair is the predominant hair color among humans. Two of the most heavily populated continents, Asia and Africa, have indigenous populations among whom black hair is the standard. But because this hair color appears so rarely in much of the West, it has taken on connotations of mystery and glamour in our culture. Those with very dark brown or black hair — whether natural or artificial — are often regarded as having a uniquely exotic beauty.

The dramatic, romantic connotations of black hair begin with the ancient Egyptian ruler Cleopatra, who is believed to have enhanced the starkly black tint of her hair with tinctures of henna and indigo. In the Renaissance era, Shakespeare immortalized the captivating beauty of black hair with a series of tortured love poems addressed to a mysterious "Dark Lady" whose true identity has never been revealed.

In the twentieth century, film icon Elizabeth Taylor's preternatural appeal came from the sharp contrast between her black hair, porcelain complexion, and famously violet eyes. In the second half of the twentieth century, minorities and men and women of color gained more prominence in the public eye, prompting greater appreciation of the unique beauty of ethnic black hair.

Today, artificially colored black hair has seen resurgence, particularly among counter-culture teens who crave an edgy look. However, for those seeking more natural appeal, black hair can be difficult to pull off. Most stylists recommend dark brown over true black for people whose natural hair color is lighter. However, for olive-skinned people with naturally dark hair, a soft black can add a dimension of romance, mystery, glamour, and exotic appeal.

Show Your True Colors

With all of the options available to both women and men today, you don't have to be limited by a natural color that you feel doesn't fully reflect your personality. Whether you're a natural redhead who wants to step out of the limelight or a brunette who wants to live it up as a platinum blonde, the only limit is your imagination. But don't let the latest fashion trends dictate your decision — do some soul-searching before you commit to a new color. Your hair color broadcasts a lot about your personality and attitude to the world. Let the your hair color be a gorgeous reflection of your personality sending the right message before you decide to make a change.

Feature Image Credits: Sean KongPrince AkachiTyler McRobertJacob Postuma - all on Unsplash

Read Time: 8 min
author avatar
Kate Smith
Kate Smith is an optimistic, expressive, artist, designer, writer and color fanatic. With her warm and witty style, Kate teaches you to clearly see, understand and be inspired by color. Then she guides you step-by-step to develop your own unique color sense-ability and achieve results you never dreamed possible.
  • Alexa says:

    There’s a lot to learn about colors

  • Hannah says:

    i think this article is very cool i have black hair and i am white it makes me feel proud to wear it now that i know what my hair color says about me now.

  • Kate Clark says:

    Would you please add a segment on salt-and-pepper, gray and silver hair? These colors are becoming more accepted. The attention of a good colorist will maximize their appeal. Highlights and lowlights can make these colors especially beautiful. Younger women whose hair has already changed may look dramatic. Mature women may look lovelier as the paler shades bring light to the face. Think of Carmen Dell’Orefice. As for men, these colors coupled with a good haircut make them look even better. Think of Cary Grant. Thank you for your excellent website.

    • Kate Smith says:

      Salt and pepper would be a good addition. I’m not sure how soon I’ll be able to focus on that but I have added to my writing list. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Monica says:

    Hi Kate,
    Your article is great, quick question.
    I have a natural red hair its a faded coppery kinda. I love it and and it does fit my personlity. But I want to experiment a tad with ruining it. I was thinking of possibly some naturally highlighted tips maybe some subtle golds into a strawberry blond I have longer pretty curly hair so just something that would match but give an oomph. Any little tips? What do you think.
    Can’t wait to hear back. Thanks a ton

  • Shelby says:

    Thanks for including Black hair. Very interesting article. I will pass this one on!

  • Cady says:

    My hair is currently the Pantone color of 2015, how exciting!

  • Jacquie says:

    Aaaah, you’ve given me inspiration to reconsider the color on my own tresses. Many thanks! It’s good to recognize the stereotypes, and your explanations are powerful.

    • Kate Smith says:

      It is fun to consider all of the options for color and know a bit about the history and impressions of the color.

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