Code Red

Whether natural or not, flame-colored tresses are turning heads and pushing blondes out of the spotlight.

November 16, 2005|By TANIKA WHITE | TANIKA WHITE,SUN REPORTER

There's bad news going around for the Goldilockses in Hollywood.

Word on the street: Blondes had more fun.

Just check out the recent hair colors on some of the biggest stars going: Nicole Kidman. Lindsay Lohan. Tyra Banks. Desperate Housewife Marcia Cross. Will & Grace's Debra Messing. Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon.

Sorry Reese. Too bad Paris. Bye-bye Britney, bye-bye.

These days, the sexiest sirens are of the Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, Lauren Ambrose set.

"Red is the new blond," says Tim Rogers, editorial stylist and spokesman for Charles Worthington hair and beauty salons in London. "She is a head-turning hybrid between the moody brunette and the bubbly blonde. She's not afraid to have fun and get noticed."

Like many trends in fashion and beauty, the recent redhead rage is cyclical. Queen Elizabeth I of England was a redhead, kicking off a craze for the color as far back as the 1500s. More recently, here in the United States, the early to mid-1990s was a high time for the shocking shade - R&B songstress Mary J. Blige rocked a burnt orange hue and Bruce Springsteen even wrote a song, "Redheaded Woman," declaring his love for ginger gals.

No matter the century, redheads have always been eye-catchers, natural attention-getters. And what else - besides fame and money - do narcissistic celebrities crave more than attention?

"Going red is a way to change everything in one fell swoop. All of a sudden, you're a redhead," says Dannielle Romano, editor-at-large for DailyCandy.com, an online guide to new styles and trends. "It's an easy way to get lots of pictures of yourself taken if you're someone like Lindsay Lohan. It's scandalous without actually doing anything scandalous."

For centuries, redheads have had to fight stereotypes. For many, red hair atop a woman's head automatically conjured images of wild women, hotheads, femme fatales, sexpots.

Great beauty Maureen O'Hara was often billed as "strong-willed" or "feisty" during her reign as an acclaimed 1940s and '50s Hollywood star. In swashbuckling movies with pirates and cavalries, O'Hara's red hair sent a message of "robust sexuality," according to movie guides and film biographies.

Covers of Harlequin romance novels are famous for depicting flame-haired women with heaving bosoms and come-hither eyes - think Titanic and Kate Winslet in a corset.

Jezebel was a redhead. So was Jessica Rabbit.

"Redheaded women are portrayed as very strong, independent women," says Druann Heckert, associate professor of sociology at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. "Or the stereotype is the clown, like Lucy [Lucille Ball], or caricatures like Pippi Longstocking, the weird redhead."

Because red hair is so rare in our society - only about 3 percent of the population is said to have the fiery locks - such stereotypes tormented many a redheaded child, Heckert says. They were called "Carrot Top," and "Red," or dismissed as the "redheaded stepchild."

"Red hair is so bold," says Heckert, a strawberry blonde. "And kids always pick on what's different. The bolder the shade, the more they felt stigmatized."

But today's celebrities seem to have taken the stereotypes and turned them on their scarlet heads. Gillian Anderson's Agent Scully wasn't saucy on The X Files; instead, she was mysterious and tantalizingly chilly. Cross' prim and proper housewife, Bree Van De Kamp, is Desperate Housewives' anti-wild child. Miranda, Nixon's character on Sex and the City, lived in the city, but she wasn't the sexiest character. She was the one who "bucked tradition," says Romano, of DailyCandy.

And celebrated columnist Maureen Dowd is no freckle-faced clown. The "flame-haired flamethrower" is witty, insightful and a force to be reckoned with. Just ask Al Gore. Or Monica Lewinsky.

"I think right now we're entering a period where redheads are admired," says Heckert. "It's in vogue right now."

Celebrities have embraced the idea that red is sexy, daring, exciting, smart - Angie Everhart, yes, but with Katharine Hepburn thrown in, too.

The celebrity redhead boom has started to make its way to the masses as well, experts say.

Sharon Dorram-Krause, head colorist at the John Frieda salon in Manhattan, says more and more clients have been requesting to be transformed into redheaded bombshells.

"There's definitely a more open feeling about going red these days. Usually brunettes try to stay away from it and blondes try to stay away from it," Dorram-Krause says. "When the celebrities start doing it, there's always going to be a ripple effect."

Heckert says she has even seen many of the students on her predominantly African-American campus coloring their hair various shades of red - the boldest being the fireball shade that rap star Eve made trendy.

"Caucasians aren't the only ones with red hair naturally," Heckert says. "Malcolm X had red hair."

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