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How to find the most flattering hair colour for you

Julia Roberts and Elizabeth Debicki both pull off striking hair colours
Julia Roberts and Elizabeth Debicki both pull off striking hair colours - Getty

The ability to switch up our hair colour is one of the most transformative tools we have at our disposal, yet it’s easy to get wrong - and tricky to correct when you do. I don’t mean to put you off, but you shouldn’t make a big change without plenty of planning and consulting a trusted expert.

Ideally, you will have access to a talented colourist who will put honesty before creativity. Senior colourist Cetera Lamb from John Frieda’s Mayfair salon has both qualities in equal measure. I know this because I paid handsomely for Lamb to rescue my teenage daughter’s dalliance with a cheap bottle of black hair dye, gently returning her to mid-brown locks without destroying its condition in the process. Having had my own war with a bad bleach job in the past, it was worth every penny.

The blonde brigade: Margot Robbie, Rosamund Pike and Emerald Fennell
The blonde brigade: Margot Robbie, Rosamund Pike and Emerald Fennell - Getty

Before changing your hair colour, you need to know where you sit on the colour spectrum, taking into consideration your natural shade alongside your complexion, eye colour - and, perhaps most crucially - the level of maintenance you’re prepared to invest in.

As it happens, there’s a palpable shift towards bolder hair hues of late, as seen on a number of famous heads, including Dua Lipa, Julia Roberts and the Princess of Wales. Thus the time feels right to flesh out the possibilities should you be considering a departure from the status quo.

From “pearly” blonde to glossy brunette and all the nuanced  hues in between, these are the colours you might want to opt for now:

Try a flash of copper

There are natural redheads such as Julianne Moore, then there are the ones who made it so, such as Dua Lipa and Kristin Stewart. The latest red tone having a moment is copper, which, Lamb says, is generally tolerated by many skin tones as it has a youthful pinkish thread running through it.

Dua Lipa opts for plum - a purple toned red
Dua Lipa opts for plum - a purple toned red - Getty

Whereas Lipa’s tone of red is reminiscent of an early Nineties plum, which Lamb says is less forgiving (but will suit olive complexions, such as Lipa’s, best), Julianne Moore’s milky skin lights up with a red that’s steeped in orange and golden undertones, suggests Lamb. Whereas deeper skin tones, she says, look good with both ends of the red spectrum, especially vivid shades.

Julianne Moore’s milky skin lights up with a red that’s steeped in orange and golden undertones
Julianne Moore’s milky skin lights up with a red that’s steeped in orange and golden undertones - Emma McIntyre/WireImage

Kristin Stewart has highlighted her hair in copper, which Lamb recommends, as it’s a clever way to dip your toe into the trend without forsaking a full head of hair to the chemical process. “To go from dark to copper you would need to tint the hair light first, then apply the colour,” she explains, adding: “A base of dark hair with flashes of copper tends to be a more flattering and modern way to work in such a bright colour.”

Kristin Stewart is a fan of copper highlights
Kristin Stewart is a fan of copper highlights - Getty

If you’re toying with a full head of copper, then take inspiration from actress Julia Roberts, who graces the cover of Vogue this month with a blanket of supersized copper curls. Roberts, 56, of course is an outlier, but nonetheless a shining example of how warming up a brown-haired base can boost a winter complexion.

Will “pearly” blonde work for you?

If I were to pick a shade of blonde that best epitomises the 2024 take on the colour, it would be Daenerys Targaryen’s long pearly mane in Game of Thrones, variations of which were seen on Elizabeth Debicki and Julia Garner at the recent Golden Globes ceremony. If your roots are lightish - and this includes grey - then you can experiment with pearlescent tones like Debicki’s that most likely, says Lamb, involve an application of cool pearlescent toner at the end of the colouring process to counteract brassiness and amplify reflection.

Julia Garner at the Golden Globe Awards
Julia Garner at the Golden Globe Awards - Axelle/Bauer-Griffin

This type of blonde is not for everyone and tends to suit those with blue eyes and pale skin best, because cool hair tones can wash out a warm complexion. “If you have very delicate hair that’s prone to breakage, then steer away from bleach and use gentler solutions that will lift the hair two or three shades without compromising on its condition,” stresses Lamb, who cites honey blonde Kate Winslet, one of her clients, as the perfect example of someone who prefers a subdued shade.

Hannah Waddingham's sunkissed skin complements her creamy blonde locks
Hannah Waddingham's sunkissed skin complements her creamy blonde locks - Getty

Fine, fragile hair is one reason to err on the side of caution when going lighter, but complexion is another. Take Ted Lasso actress Hannah Waddingham, whose green eyes and sunkissed skin complement her champagne highlights, or Sex Education star Gillian Anderson, who has admitted that she is not a natural redhead (she dyed her hair red for years on the set of The X-Files) but a ‘very boring mousy brown’. To liven up the mousiness, Anderson mixes warm and creamy tones that provide what colourists refer to as a “face halo”.

Florence Pugh and Carey Mulligan suit a mid-toned golden blonde
Florence Pugh and Carey Mulligan suit a mid-toned golden blonde - Getty

Whereas actresses Carey Mulligan and Florence Pugh, who both have brown eyes and a warm undertone to their complexions, better suit a mid-toned golden blonde, as does green-eyed Barbie actress Margot Robbie and Saltburn star Rosamund Pike.

Amber, the brunette’s blonde

Amber, the fiery pigment reflected in the stone or in runny treacle, is the brunette’s blonde. Richer and deeper than golden blonde but with the same skin-brightening outcome, amber gives life to brown hair, and is best mixed with one or two more shades, as proven on actresses Jane Seymour, Shailene Woodley, Rita Wilson and Penelope Cruz.

Shailene Woodley mixes different hair shades for beautiful results
Shailene Woodley mixes different hair shades for beautiful results - Getty

“Amber is usually achieved by tinting the hair brown first then using balayage to paint on lighter pieces where the sun would naturally shine,” Lamb explains. Amber, which is otherwise known as “bronde” (in between brown and blonde) suits Mediterranean and latina skin types beautifully - just think of Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lopez - as well as deeper skin tones. You want to avoid looking stripey, however, which Lamb suggests is done by applying a glaze at the end of the colouring process, to “bring the whole thing together”.

Rita Wilson
Rita Wilson attends the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' 14th Annual Governors Awards in January 2024 - WireImage
Jane Seymour
Jane Seymour at the American Ballet Theatre's Holiday Benefit at The Beverly Hilton in December 2023 - Getty

Glazes are a quick semi-permanent solution applied at the backwash that gives hair a glassy sheen and comes in a variety of shades, from clear to pastels, and warm tones like caramel or amber. Amber is also a great way for brunettes to cover greys, as silver roots blend with lighter tones seamlessly.

Expensive brunette

Despite the temptation to turn the brightness up a notch when the weather’s bleak, a block of deep brunette is increasingly being asked for in salons, says Lamb, who suspects the call for “expensive brunette” is inspired by the Princess of Wales. While the Princess has experimented with both copper and amber throughout the years, as her role has been elevated, so has her hair.

Lamb suspects the call for 'expensive brunette' is inspired by the Princess of Wales
Lamb suspects the call for 'expensive brunette' is inspired by the Princess of Wales - Getty

The key to Kate’s classic brunette, however, is down to the finish, says Lamb. “To make darker shades pop you want a high shine effect, otherwise it will appear flat,” she adds.

Classic brunette: Natalie Portman
Classic brunette: Natalie Portman - Emma McIntyre/WireImage

Nevertheless, the glassy look that is also seen on a number of actresses, including Natalie Portman and Juliette Binoche, is easily achieved. The secret, says Lamb, is simpler than one might assume. She recommends using conditioning hair masks once or twice a week at home to infuse moisturising properties deep into the hair shaft, and to have regular glazing treatments in the salon every six to eight weeks, making sure to blow dry hair in a sleek but buoyant way that will bounce the light beautifully.

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