How many brunettes does it take to start a fashion trend?
Two, apparently -- if they used to be famous blondes.
Pop tarts Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera shocked fashion observers recently. Brazenly, they cast aside their signature peroxide locks in favor of sleek, dark manes and ushered in a new era for hair color.
Brown, clearly, is the new blond. And the new brunette is definitely out to have more fun.
"I do think we are in a brunette moment right now," said style observer Robert Verdi, host of Full Frontal Fashion on the Women's Entertainment network. "There is something that is more girl-next-door and authentic about a brunette. It feels more like the all-American girl now. We're so multicultural, so engrossed in every ethnicity, and brunet is a very identifiable color for everybody. It mirrors more cultures. ... Brunet could be Indian women, Hispanic women, Asian women, Irish women."
The brunet movement began gathering steam even before Britney and Christina. Rapper Lil' Kim, who long has flaunted a penchant for platinum-blond wigs, was all about dark hair on the cover of her new album, La Bella Mafia. Madonna, born a brunette, recently took a trip back to natural. The new Matrix movie looks set to seal this deal with dark-haired heroines Jada Pinkett-Smith and Carrie Anne Moss. And the frequent appearances of brunet sirens from Jennifer Lopez to Lucy Liu in magazine spreads have paved the way for more women to return to their roots.
Even in reality TV, Joe Million-aire's Evan Marriott walked on the blond side with Sarah "Kitten" Kozer. But, in the end, his partner of choice was the raven-haired Zora Andrich.
There are many reasons for this brunet renaissance, but top on the list may be a growing blond backlash.
"There's a more sober approach to hair color and fashion now," said Linda Wells, editor of Allure magazine. "People are feeling the economy and feeling the precarious situation that we're in politically, and maybe they don't want to be so flamboyant. Blond is just always associated with the glamorous good-time girl, the life of the party. That doesn't somehow feel right right now."
There's also the question of practicality. Most women are born with darker hair, which means being blond can require tremendous maintenance.
"Women may be going brown because they have color fatigue, where they've dyed their hair for a long time," Wells said. "And the process of taking it from dark to blond is really hard on hair. There comes a point where your hair is breaking off and you have to give it a rest."
Indeed, stylist Kevin Mancuso who chopped and colored Spears' hair recently, told Us Weekly the singer's change was inspired in part by the "edgier" new CD she's currently working on. But mainly she wanted a fresh look. "We've done a million versions of sexy blonde hair," he said. "Britney has been wanting to change her look for a while."
There are many advantages to brown hair. It frames the face more dramatically and, often, makes features like the eyes look more striking. Also, dark hair is shinier because it reflects the light better than a fair head.
"And if you've got brunet hair, it tends to show off the modern, choppy, textured haircuts better," said Charles Worthington, the celebrity hairstylist who recently tended to the tresses of such dark beauties as Angie Harmon, Gina Gershon and China Chow. "Darker hair falling against your cheek or your skin has more of a definite contrast than blond hair and pale skin, which tends to blend into one."
Janelle Doran, a 23-year-old systems engineer, said she recently went from her natural blond to chocolate brown for a similar reason.
"I was sick of my complexion in the winter time and how the blond hair just made me look washed out," said Doran, of Columbia.
But there also are legitimate reasons for turning brown that go beyond looks.
A few years ago, psychology professor Diana Kyle conducted a study in which she had 100 people evaluate resumes of job candidates. All the resumes presented the same qualifications; the differences lay in the applicants' pictures -- some were blond while others were brunet.
"The candidate was assigned a significantly lower salary when her hair was blond," said Kyle, who teaches at Fullerton College in California. "She was perceived as significantly less capable. ... When we meet someone, physical cues can activate a stereotype. We think that we somehow can control that, but our initial impression is so powerful that we tend to see things that confirm stereotypes, and we act on those things, particularly when we make decisions where we don't know the person very well, such as in a job-search. And who tends to manipulate hair color? Women.
"How might this impact a woman's job?" Kyle added. "Individuals evaluate women all the time for job promotions and so forth, and this may be one of the contributing factors, especially when you're going head to head with someone else."
Crossing over to the dark side, however, isn't necessarily the answer.