Why Mrs Slocombe's hair is now to dye for
If people have been eying me strangely this week it's because I've dyed my hair. Pink. For once in my life, I'm totally on trend: lurid-coloured "Mrs Slocombe hair" is all the rage, as demonstrated by Lady Gaga (lemon yellow), Katy Perry (blue) and Rihanna (red). Amber Le Bon, 21, the brunette daughter of Simon and Yasmin, has confessed to hankering after peach melba tresses, if only her modelling agency would let her.
All of the above are too young, of course, to remember Betty Slocombe, the doyenne of Ladies' Intimate Apparel at Grace Brothers department store in the legendary television series Are You Being Served? Mrs S was famous for her shifting accent, the mishaps of her pussy, Tiddles, - and her hair colour, which changed every week.
She is an unlikely style icon but this autumn, according to Vogue.com, it's all about "colour, chaos and creativity" and crazy-hued hair is part of the look.
Why has natural hair colour become so… boring? This must be the question posed by parents across the country as they attempt to Vanish dye stains from the bathroom carpet or bleach them from the sink. According to Olivia Rigg, who runs mobile costume-hire company Bizarre Bazaar, this is more than a style statement. The bubblegum rinse is a backlash against the recession. "People need cheering up," she says. "And hair dye is a quick, cheap and easy way of doing this."
At just €5.20 a bottle, my pink dye is considerably more affordable than a headful of artful highlights and I'm finding it strangely satisfying that everyone reacts to it - even if it's not always positive. "Isn't it a bit early for Hallowe'en?"
Designer Lisa Redman takes a different view and says that the penchant for brightly coloured locks harks back to Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and the New Romantics of the Eighties, who've been discovered by a new generation. "Unlike the movement of the Eighties, which was a form of self-expression in response to the punk era, this is merely a fashion revival for us to consume, watered down for 2010," she says.
However, social commentator Katie Hopkins believes the trend has darker roots. "Somehow, developments this century have had the effect of whitewashing our younger generation," she says. "The internet has driven a common tool through everything, homogenising it. Nothing is individual, everything is everywhere for everybody. Standing out is harder than ever."
Edward Darley, colour director for Vidal Sassoon, who recently dyed a client's hair violet at the roots and pink at the tips, agrees with Hopkins but believes that it is part of a celebrity backlash, too. "People want to be more individual and are being braver with their hair and clothes. In the Nineties and Noughties, it was all about looking like a particular celebrity, but now people want to make their own statement."
What statement is Kate Moss making when she appears with grey streaks in hair? Darley doesn't miss a beat. It's a sign of our "new, ageless society", he says.
Rainbow rinses are not for everyone, however. Unless you want to end up looking like Zandra Rhodes, do think hard about a pink barnet if you're over the age of 30 (or under the age of 75), says fashion commentator Hannah Betts. "Mrs Slocombe hair" is the ultimate badge of youth.
"Only the young can get away with it without actually resembling Mrs Slocombe," she says. "On a teen, pink or grey hues serve to emphasise their dewy complexions by way of juxtaposition. At my great age  I am too busy pulling out my one genuine grey hair."
Whatever the motive, dying hair (particularly if DIY) is messy: those with darker hair must pre-lighten with peroxide first, before applying the colour. The effect usually lasts about six weeks, says Darley, who recommends cooler blue and green tones for brunettes, and fiery pinks, oranges and yellows for blondes. The really cool kids are using food dye, apparently.
Olivia Rigg believes the younger generation's experiments with hair dye are part of a move away from conventional fashion towards the dressing-up box. "Putting together a costume is much more fun than worrying about what's in fashion or out," she says. "It's a kind of escapism. It's not about being cool but being different and original."
Christian Dior, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen picked up on the disappearing gap between fashion and fancy dress in their collections this season, with an emphasis on theatricality, embroidery and bold colours.
It's no surprise then that dressing-up - and fancy dress parties with increasingly obscure themes - are more popular than ever. "People are being much cleverer and having more fun," Rigg says. "They're dyeing their hair, raiding vintage and charity shops, and taking inspiration from fashion websites and magazines. This is another form of expression for people who aren't models."
Lucy Jones's dyed red hair is certainly part of her style now. "I often dress quite Forties and I think my hair works with fur, pearls, red lipstick and heels," she says. "Bright, unusual hair colours give the look a modern twist."
In a world where even vintage clothing is in danger of becoming mainstream and overdone, crazy hair is the new frontier - and I think it can be seriously glamorous.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you are going to dye your hair:
- Match hair colours to your skin tone
- For blonde hair go for warm colours
- Brunettes should choose cooler shades
- Tape around your hairline to avoid ending up with a dyed face
- The lighter the hair colour, the easier it will be to dye.
- Brunettes will probably need to use a pre-lightening bleach before applying colour
- For better or worse, non-natural, temporary colours tend not to stay in the hair very long, except black.
- If it all goes horribly wrong, call the hotline on the instruction leaflet (before shaving your head).