I can pinpoint my fascination with platinum hair to the year 1989, when I first watched Madonna gyrate across the TV screen in the video for “Express Yourself.” Her hair was the color of tapioca pudding. And, whether she was grabbing her crotch or chained to a bed, there was something so powerful and unapologetic about the look. There was no skirting the line of natural and man-made. It was blonde, and it was fake — and I was mesmerized.
Since that moment in time, my hair has seen its share of shades (including sewage-green — long story). But, for some reason, when it came to going platinum, I never felt quite daring enough to take the plunge, until it started popping up everywhere, from models to real girls on the street. Colorist Aura Friedman of Sally Hershberger Salon — who’s been #blondingbabes like crazy these days, cites a few different reasons for the trend.
“The '90s are definitely back in and they were big platinum years,” she says, “Plus, the technology for creating platinum shades has gotten better and there are so many new product lines out there. It’s easier to maintain the color now.” Riawna Capri, co-owner of the Los Angeles salon Nine Zero One, who created the short blonde looks of Jennifer Lawrence and Julianne Hough, cites the cyclical nature of fashion as one of the causes. “It’s been all about long, sun-kissed highlights for a while now. People are wanting to go short and platinum works really well on a short haircut,” she says. “Sometimes you get bored and you want to switch it up.”
Amen. My hair had been surfer-chick blonde for as long as I could remember, and I was starting to yawn at my own reflection. Like a pair of old sweatpants, the beachy look was cozy and comfortable, but it was time to move on. So, I paid a visit to Larry Raspanti, a co-owner of Whittemore House Salon in NYC's West Village and asked if he was up for the task.
“Sure,” he said nonchalantly, giving my super-fine, medium-length hair a once over. “Just keep in mind this is going to take some time. I nodded knowingly, but looking back, I was pretty naive. For one, I assumed going platinum would be easy breezy, seeing as I was already so blonde to begin with. I was sorely mistaken, of course, which I learned as soon as I settled into Larry’s chair.
“You have, um, a lot of different colors going on here,” he said.
I didn’t disagree with him, but how was that an issue, I wondered? Raspanti explained that highlights, particularly foil highlights that are “thin and tightly woven” like mine create a higher risk of damage and breakage. In fact, pretty much any type of dyed hair will pose a bit of a problem if you’re hoping to go platinum, because it’s just that much more damaged to begin with.
Darker shades such as black and red can be particularly challenging, which isn’t to say it’s impossible by any means. According to the hair guru himself, Raspanti says to just keep in mind that expectations should remain realistic. First, choose your stylist wisely (i.e., this is not the time to save pennies) and take the time to discuss your vision before making any crazy demands that might lead to regret. Factor in your skin tone — ruddy, red, and deep-olive tones should probably steer clear of this style — and leave it to the experts in the end. After all, the achieved look should be super-blonde, and not damaged. Or worse yet: bald.
“You shouldn’t try to achieve this look at all costs,” says Raspanti. “Platinum hair that is fried will not complement anyone’s skin tone or overall look.”
Once that was understood, we discussed what I should expect throughout the process, including several rounds of tingling bleach sitting right on my scalp as well as several rounds of toning. I was gently reprimanded when he discovered I’d washed my hair that morning, because apparently anyone going platinum should steer away from shampoo for several days beforehand. The reason being, the natural oils in the scalp need time to build up and provide protection against harsh chemicals. The greasier your hair, the happier your scalp will be when it’s time for round number three of bleach. Another factor to keep in mind is length. Raspanti wondered if I was open to cutting my hair a few inches shorter, so that it hit somewhere above the shoulders.
“There’s a fine line between cool and edgy and something that’s a bit more Playboy bunny with this shade,” he said, noting that anything in between short and “Khaleesi-length” skewed a bit cheesy. I agreed.
While I mulled over the concept of having short hair for the first time in years, he got to work, and the blonder I got, the more I realized he was right. If I was going to do this, I had to do it all the way. So, somewhere in between round one and two of the process, I announced I was down for a chop. “Good,” Raspanti said, calling a stylist over and explaining I needed to go shorter, a bit more “editorial.” Twenty minutes later, as I made my way over to the sink for the umpteenth time that day, I was sporting an angled bob.
I was so caught up in the magic that was happening — the game-time decisions and the confidence with which Raspanti kept watch over my baking head — that hours passed before I realized I’d been there for, well, hours. And, I should stress, that first visit to the salon is a huge commitment. I spent the entire day at Whittemore, from my consultation at 10 a.m. to my last blowdry around 6 p.m. That’s give or take an hour or so of downtime, but it was a haul. And, while the time varies by candidate, expect to be there for several hours at least on day one with (most likely) a return trip a week or so later to tone and perfect the color. Bring a few snacks and a book or some form of entertainment. Trust me. I forgot both, and while I was so amped up on adrenaline and toxic fumes I didn’t even realize I skipped lunch, I don’t recommend going the same route.
By the time it was all over, I was very blonde and very hungry. But — miraculously — every last piece of my hair was still intact, shiny, and amped with volume. Raspanti and his assistant were somewhat amazed, remarking at the strength of my (at first glance) wimpy-looking hair. That said, he stressed that there were new rules of care I’d have to become accustomed to, especially when it comes to daily upkeep. Before I left, he armed me with a laundry list of potions to add to my shower, including Sachajuan Color Save Shampoo, Davines Silver Alchemic Conditioner and Color Support, a weekly nourishing hair mask that helps keep the color from turning yellow.
Friedman of Sally Hershberger also suggests Nexxus Color Assure Pre-Wash Primer, a serum applied to the hair before cleansing to keep the color from losing tone, stressing that small changes like the way you towel dry your hair can make a big difference. “When you get out of the shower, gently pat your hair with the towel and never rub, because your hair is at its weakest at this point,” she says.
As for me, I couldn’t be happier with my decision, and I’m pretty sure my hair feels the same way. “She” just has a bit more spring in her step, you know? So, when Madonna said, “Express yourself, don’t repress yourself,” maybe she was talking about going platinum.