Sunday, May 30, 2010

You rang? Last night I went to a "Book Week Parade" themed costume party dressed as Burglar Betty from the children's book Burglar Bill, by Janet and Alan Ahlberg. I felt rather crestfallen as this book was a major part of my childhood and I thought everyone was familiar with it, but hardly anyone I talk to has heard of it. This was also unhelpful because nobody could remind me of how Burglar Betty was meant to look, because I just could not find a picture of her online anywhere and I can't find my copy of the book.

Anyway, my Burglar Betty outfit consisted of me sewing a white lace edging to my black-and-white long-sleeved top, which I wore with my black puffy petticoat and black pleated skirt. I also made a black burglar mask out of cardboard and some hat elastic I found on my desk, and I wore black gloves. Betty might have worn a jaunty scarf and a little hat (the book looked as if it was set in the '40s or '50s), but I just couldn't remember.

And I dyed my hair red.

This is the fourth time I've dyed my hair red. I've always seen red hair as glamorous and exotic, and when I was a kid I longed for it. My genetic lottery was so unfair: my mother had strawberry blonde hair as a kid that darkened to auburn hair when she was my age; my dad's brother looked like Henry VIII; and my brother Lina was a genuine carrot-top. Whereas I was cursed with stupid blonde hair.

The first time I dyed it was in year 8, with Clairol Glints and Napro LiveColour. The result was a curious gradient effect: a deep cherry red at the roots down to a strawberry blonde at the tips. Does anyone else remember Glints? It's no longer on the market. The packet featured a white background with a model pic so ultra-contrasty that all you could see were the hair and the Mulligrubs-like eyes and mouth. I seem to recall they were about $3.50 a packet.

The second time I went red was in 1996. I was in first-year uni and wanted to be glamorous and sophisticated. As you can see, I was neither.

Oh god, check me out, all whey-faced in my favourite blue corduroy blazer, brandishing my vodka and orange! I still remember the day I dyed my hair; it was the day I went to see Independence Day at the Jam Factory.

My friend Roland took that photo and later put it on Facebook, but I have no digital evidence of the second time I went red, which was in 1999. This time, I went for a deep mahogany red, almost brown, with pinkish highlights. I remember it as an annoying colour that clashed with most of my clothes and meant I wore a lot of grey and black, which was not especially cheerful considering that I spent 1999 in a fog of depression. In my graduation photo, taken that year, I am wearing a black top and jacket with a grey stretch knit skirt.

My redhead phase ended when I got sick of it and applied a platinum blonde dye to it. Uncannily, the result was my natural hair colour; the regrowth was indistinguishable. Since then I've flirted with pale blonde highlights but have never done anything more radical… until now.

I used two different shades of LiveColour (which is now owned by Schwarzkopf): my teenage favourite "Aztec Copper" and a new variety, "Red Embers". Aztec Copper is a dark orange, whereas Red Embers is a cherry red. I would have bought only Aztec Copper but they must be trying to discontinue it; I looked in several shops and could only find one packet.

I mixed the two colours on a plastic takeaway lid, combed the resulting goo through my hair, making sure to put lots on the ends, and on the roots at the nape of my neck. However, the result was that I got Red Embers on my fringe and crown, and Aztec Copper on the rest of my hair.

According to Twitter advice from another bottle-redhead, I mixed a teaspoon of bicarb with my regular shampoo and applied it to my dry fringe and crown. It gave off an odd chemical whiff that made me anxious, so I washed it out then shampooed the rest of my hair vigorously under hot water.

The sad result is that I now have magenta hair with pink tips. When I showed my sorry head at North today, the nice lady said, "No, don't dye it again – I like it pink!"

The reason I went for semi-permanent hair colour in the first place was because I wanted this to be a temporary thing for the party, but now I am resigned to another extended phase of being a bottle redhead. With this in mind, I am going to try and find another packet of Aztec Copper (there was none in my local supermarket, but plenty of the dreadful Red Embers), because the colour I want is a light auburn with orange tones rather than pink ones.

I'm not a fan of the deliberately fake-looking red colours at the cherry end of the spectrum. I want to look as if this were plausibly my real hair. Ideally I'd like the same colour as Christina Hendricks, who isn't a natural redhead but has dyed her hair since she was a teenager. Her pale, pink-toned skin makes the colour look plausible on her.

My other redhead role models are Clare Bowditch and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Aw, Mel, you make me wanna be a redhead again. And I think yours looks lovely. (I've always regretted being such a dark brunette, primarily because it meant that I could never flirt with that fairy-floss pink that only blondes can achieve. Keep the pink! I am vicariously living the dream!)
I enjoyed book week parade so much! The costumes were every bit as excellent as I remember from my school days.

I particularly enjoyed how we 'paraded', punch-filled and marching around the house only to meet a dead end in the laundry.
Mel I *loved* Burglar Bill! One of my favourite picture books. I loved how it presented burglary in quite a mundane way- just another job option, like becoming a butcher. I will keep my eye out for a copy!
Your hair looks properly orangey-red in the photo, not pinky-magenta at all. I'd love to see it in person.

I quite enjoyed my period as a redhead (1999-2000), but it was a pain in the arse. I used one of the very bright red Fudge dyes (Red Corvette?) and while it was vivid and pleasing when freshly done, I had to re-do it constantly before it faded to a sad orange-pink.
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