Why ravishing red is the new blonde
Forget schoolyard nicknames -- the copper-tinged look is in vogue, so Deirdre Reynolds hits the bottle and embraces her inner ginger
Go ahead, punk -- call me carrot-top. That's just one of the more flattering nicknames redheads have endured over the years. But for anyone who was ever called Bosco in the playground -- or the office for that matter -- get ready to give your tormentors a metaphorical wedgie.
As fashionistas embrace the most derided hair colour in history this season, it's gingerism -- not red hair itself -- that could soon be wiped out.
In the past, the rare hair hue's most famous ambassadors included Mick Hucknall, Anne Robinson, Prince Harry and, er, Ronald McDonald. And having flame-like locks was a fast pass to discrimination.
"The insecurities and defence mechanisms are downloaded pretty early," admits Irish-American chat show host Conan O'Brien of growing up ginger.
But now, a roll call of ravishing redheads including Christina Hendricks, Rihanna, Karen Elson and Amy Adams have made ginger the new blonde.
And inspired by red-hot rangas such as Cheryl Cole, Irish girls are literally dyeing to become carrot-tops according to hairdressers here. It's no wonder as they're deemed opinionated, hot-headed, loyal and better in bed! It sounds good to me so I'm about to hit the bottle to join the ginger revolution.
"We've had lots of girls coming in looking to go red recently," says Eoin Wright, director of Foundation Hair Salon in Dublin. "Celebrities such as Desperate Housewives' Marcia Cross and Rihanna are really driving the trend. And when it works, it really works -- Christina Hendricks is a cracking redhead, for instance.
'People aren't afraid of red hair any more," adds celebrity stylist Eoin, himself a strawberry blonde. "The anti-ginger lobby that's been going on in recent years seems to have died down a bit. Gingers may get a lot of slagging, but there's nothing more gorgeous than lustrous red hair on a woman."
Typically though, while brunettes like me are pumping their hair full of peroxide to emulate Jessica Rabbit's charms, those whose curtains match their carpet are doing exactly the same to be rid of red.
"Red is one of those colours you either love or hate," admits Eoin. "Natural redheads always want to bleach the colour out of their hair. Redheads can sometimes have a chip on their shoulder from their brothers and sisters bullying them from an early age.
"I'm always trying to get redheads to embrace their crowning glory -- we're a dying breed!"
Like Confessions of a Shopaholic's Isla Fisher and actor Damian Lewis, around 3% of the world's population are born with orange hair -- although the average number of gingers is higher in Ireland and Scotland at around 8%.
Redheads must inherit two specific genes -- one from each parent -- in order to develop the eye-catching hair colour, making the chances slimmer than being born blonde or brunette.
Although traditionally thought of as an Irish trait, gingers are just as likely to be of German, Scandinavian or British heritage.
"There is not one particular group of people historically associated with red hair," says history professor Chad Israelson. "Because of migration and invasion patterns, red hair was widely dispersed among northern and western European countries."
But even some of today's most recognisable redheads weren't born that way. Mad Men's Christina Hendricks -- as famous for her traffic-stopping hair as her killer curves -- confessed to faking it.
"When I was 10, I was obsessed with Anne of Green Gables and I wanted to have her beautiful red hair," says the 35-year-old actress, who plays sexpot secretary Joan Holloway on the hit TV drama.
"So my mother said, 'Let's just go to the drugstore and get one of those cover-the-grey rinses!' My hair was very blonde at the time, but it went carrot red. I was over the moon -- and I went back to that colour again and again."
Never mind gingerism, these days being a redhead can incite positive discrimination.
Last month, Dublin Zoo offered free admission to redheads -- real or faux -- during Orangutan Awareness Week, which raised €10,000 towards protecting the endangered species in the wild.
Of course, parallels with the knuckle-dragging ape didn't go down too well with some gingers -- who took to Twitter to bemoan being singled out.
Similarly last year, UK bus company Strawberry Bus let redheads free travel throughout the North West of the country -- home of celebrity carrot-tops Cilla Black and Chris Evans. Bus drivers were given a colour chart to ensure passengers qualified for the promotion.
"We still get lots of emails from redheads who are upset over the stick they get about their hair colour," says Marian Purdy of the site Redhead and Proud. "Although there are some really great role models out there now such as Rupert Grint, being ginger can still be hard.
"Our motto is 'Redhead and Proud', but that isn't always easy -- especially for children who are being teased at school."
Still, complaining about freebies in a recession? It's little wonder the rest of us are clamouring to change our hair colour.
Unleashing your inner Hector Ó hEochagáin isn't as simple as eating a few more carrots though, as Foundation colourist Seán Dunne explains when the black barely budges from my barnet.
"For girls with virgin hair with no dye in it, it's very easy to go red," he says. "Otherwise, going red is a gradual process so you don't damage the hair.
"The first thing you need to do is decide what type of red you want -- whether fashion red, chestnut or ginger. Once you establish that, how you get there will depend on the condition of the hair and what colour you've already got in it."
"Remember that artificial red is also one of the hardest colours to keep in your hair," he adds, "so a high fashion red like Rihanna's is going to be just as high maintenance as being a bottle blonde.
"However, something as simple as a few copper highlights can go a long way towards livening up your look."
Paired with porcelain skin and a red pout à la Rita Hayworth however, few looks are as iconic.
"The right red lipstick on a redhead can be stunning," agrees makeup artist Amanda Daly of Bobbi Brown at Brown Thomas.
"Recent redheads may need to change their blusher, lipstick and eyebrow colour," she says, "but bear your natural colouring in mind so it doesn't end up looking too orange.
Vibrant red can drain the face, so it's important to fuse colour back in with blusher or bronzer.
"Meanwhile, classic gingers should take care to define their brows and eyes with liner and mascara. And if you've got freckles, don't cover them with foundation cake -- show them off!"