There’s no denying that when we hit a recession, we have less funds for the things we don’t necessarily ‘need’ but absolutely ‘want’, like getting our hair done.
According to Canstar, the Reserve Bank’s decision to raise the cash rate by four per cent since May is giving us some serious pain in the back pocket, and putting us at 50 per cent risk of tipping into a recession over the next year.
Typically, these financial changes filter down to our beauty decisions. You’ve probably heard of the so-called ‘lipstick effect’, a theory that people will purchase little luxuries, like a Chanel lipstick, during a recession but won’t make big purchases, like a designer handbag.
Likewise, when it comes to hair, we see an effect called ‘recession brunette’. It’s a term going viral across TikTok, alongside ‘low maintenance blonde’, where people are steering clear of styles that require a lot of work, like root bleaches and heavy highlights, towards a more ‘lived in’ look.
Of course, it helps that the style is also being popularized by celebrities that aren’t feeling the pinch like we are. It-girls the likes of Sofia Richie and Hailey Bieber have been praised for embracing their natural roots and opting for artful free-hand bleach work that can be left to grow out over a number of months, rather than weeks.
We enlisted the help of seamless colour expert, Monique McMahon, owner of Sydney’s cult salon Que Colour, on how to perfectly brief your hairdresser for the colour service of your dreams.
And, to really commit, I put myself up as guinea pig to start to embrace my mousy roots (which I’ll be forever mourning are no longer platnium blonde), in a way that is more affordable for the enduring cost-of-living crisis.
What Is Recession Hair?
Recession hair is about making small, natural-looking tweaks to your natural colour. It’s asking your colourist what is going to give you the most impact versus the time it will take to grow out.
Usually, this means keeping a root very similar to your natural hair colour and using blending techniques, artful bleaching and toners and glosses to add lightness and skew the tone towards the hue you’re after.
While McMahon has many clients coming in for a full blonde colour service, she has noticed a handful more looking for what she calls a ‘colour refresh’.
“This is a sign that they like their existing colour but just want it looking new again and feeling fresh and silky soft,” she says.
“This also says to us they may be on a budget or time poor and want a small amount of colour this time round, and we would always rather we do small amounts of work than no work at all, to keep the hair looking beautiful and staying true to tone.”
How Long Between Salon Appointments Can You Go With ‘Recession Hair’?
McMahon acknowledges that the gap between appointments will differ for everyone, depending on their natural colour, desired shade and even their chosen cut.
“I’d look to add an extra two to four weeks on your normal sessions,” she says. “Any more than that you could be in for a timelier and more expensive colour to bring you back to where you once were.”
It might be worth sitting down with your colourist before you get your hair done and explain that one of the key outcomes you’re looking for is a style that will last and look seamless for longer.
“Blondes can ask for less foils (part-line foils or T-section) and combine this with a gloss to bring you more natural looking and closer to your own natural colour, which will allow the colour to grow out softly,” she suggests.
“Brunettes go for the glaze and avoid bleach all together! The glaze is so hot right now and takes little time in the salon for maximum result. Right now, we love the Wella Shinefinity to achieve this low maintenance gloss.”
For reference, when I went into the salon with my extremely grown out balayage, we managed to salvage all my existing blonde and simply add a tinted cellophane gloss to the roots to blend out the demarcation lines: no new bleach used at all, but still an overall blonde-feeling result.
Should More Salons Focus On Low Maintenance Styles?
If you’ve been on #hairtok lately, you’ve probably seen countless dramatic transformations turning deep brunettes into bottle blondes within one salon appointment.
While it’s certainly something to behold, it’s not necessarily good for the hair, nor the hip-pocket.
When choosing your hairdresser, really take the time to go through their philosophy and social media to ensure that the quality and health of your hair, as well as the longevity, is front of mind.
At Que, the focus has always been on seamless, healthy hair, and McMahon believes this should always be the ‘North Star’.
“[It] all comes down to having that open relationship with your clients and helping them achieve the important things,” she explains. “Once you and your client have that bond, it’s forever and if you need to redirect the colour to suit the times, we live to do that. Be playful with the change and embrace it. Once thing for sure is that it will change again, it always does.”
How To Ask Your Colourist For ‘Recession Hair’
We all know the key to a good result is knowing the lingo (how to describe what you want in hair terms). The words you’re looking for are ‘seamless’, maybe ‘lived in’ and ‘low maintenance’.
“I think the best way to keep within the budget, for example, recession proof hair, is ask for just a ‘freshen up’. This will indicate you like what you have but just want to add a small amount of colour to get you by until your next big appointment,” McMahon suggests.
“A hair cut is generally the same cost as a trim, so I’d suggest seeing if they offer an emerging stylist option and opt for a trim with an emerging stylist.
“If the salon is good, the emerging team will be mentored well, and be able to deliver a trim, no problems, at a lesser price point. This will get you by until you’re ready for a cut with a senior stylist.”
It’s also important to think about the type of cut you’re getting. Remember that fringes grow and will need to be trimmed more often to be kept out of the eyes.
“You’re best to look at cuts that grow out well and hold the same shape whilst they do,” McMahon says. “You want something that will morph into its new shape as it gets longer. So, ask for longer, softer layers for the long hair. The bob is a great recession proof cut as it grows into a lob and still looks cool.”
The Nitty Gritty On Recession Proof Colour
A root stretch is a great way to bring your natural colour down into existing lightened hair for a look that will grow out more evenly.
The good news is that getting a non-permanent root stretch will mean it’s not impossible to go lighter if you change your mind or come into enough money to be at the salon every few weeks.
“Just be sure it’s not permanent colour being used for your root stretch, and it will fade as it grows out, ready to go blonde when you are,” McMahon suggests.
The Money Piece
Having super blonde face-framing pieces is super trendy but can require a lot of maintenance as they often come up close to the root and look grown-out very quickly.
The good news is that you don’t need to give up all your lightness for it to be less work.
“You can still be super bright around the hairline; I’d just tap out the first centimetre to allow a softer grow out. This will keep your lengths and face frames bright, as they fall around the face, but softer when you pull your hair back.”
Foiling Or Balayage
Typically, foiling close to the root is known to be a more high-maintenance style, because as it grows out you can get demarcation lines. Meanwhile, balayage focuses on the lengths and ends giving a more diffused colour and natural blend.
However, McMahon would counsel against just getting balayage because you can have it for longer, after all, your hair should look how you want it to.
“Freehand is not going to give you a foiled look, and vice versa,” she says. “I’d suggest keeping to what you love, but just do less.”
Hair Quality Equals Good Hair Colour
If you’re looking for your bright blonde to last and look beautiful for months, it’s all about the quality of the hair.
“Invest in a great shampoo and conditioner, use a leave-in cream for control over frizz and to protect the hair. Mask up regularly,” McMahon counsels.
“Healthy hair will always keep your colour lasting longer and hold tone. Using the best hair care at home will be the best way to extend the life of your colour between salon visits I cannot stress this enough.
“My favourite brands right now are honestly anything from the Christophe Robin or Larry King for colour saving and healthy hair always.”
I Took The Plunge And Got ‘Recession Hair’ And I’ve Never Felt So Expensive
After years of getting my hair balayaged (read: bleached at the ends and around the face framing regions), I decided I wanted to move a little closer to my natural root colour this winter. I also wanted it a little warmer (to avoid my hair’s natural tendency to go ‘mousy’), which is something I’d never done before.
Being a hair nerd, I knew that if I got permanent colour put on my roots I could potentially be in a world of pain if I changed my mind down the road and wanted to go back blonde. My hair consultation was a relaxing moment for me, after being told that yes, that I could opt for a non-permanent ‘cellophane’ across the root area that would fade with time and allow me to go blonder in the summer, or even keep up the darker root down the track if I decided I liked dipping my toe in the water.
Given that I still had a lot of grown out blonde in my hair, we decided to maintain this with a simple toner to keep it looking bright, so no more bleach was needed. Instead, colour was added to the tops of my tresses and a little darker tap at the roots for a bit more depth and dimension.
I was able to lob off a lot of my dead, bleached-out ends, leading to a healthier cut with long-layers that would grow out beautifully in the proceeding months. We also opted for slightly longer curtain bangs that would grow out into beautiful face-framing gradients and not look too harsh.
Overall, I’m so happy with the decision to opt for a more natural effect, not just because it’s nicer on the wallet, but it also feels expensive, and it feels mature. It feels more like me.
My major tip would be to really take the time in the consultation process to express yourself; what you want your hair to look like now, what you want it to look like in six months’ time, whether you think you might want to go lighter in the future or if this deeper look is for keeps. All of this discussion is going to help you get the right look for you, in the right way, that will grow out exactly as you expect. What more can a millennial girl on an average wage in a cost-of-living crisis dream of?
How To Maintain Healthy Hair After Your Salon Appointment
K18 Leave-In Molecular Repair Mask 50ml, 99.50, Adore Beauty
Davines DEDE Shampoo and Conditioner, $43.95 and $44.95, Oz Hair & Beauty
Robe Leave-in Treatment, $69.99, Robe Haircare
The Wet Brush Original Detangler Classic, $18.95, Adore Beauty
Christophe Robin Hydrating Leave-in Cream With Aloe Vera, $54, Adore Beauty