Watching a cut, color or straightening makeover play out on film is an immensely satisfying experience, no? There’s just something so alluring about the idea that there’s another—a better—version of our hair lurking just out of reach, waiting to make a Mia-Thermopolis-with-her-first-blowout-level grand entrance. Of course, since we don’t all have a team of elite Genovian beauticians at our disposal, booking a stylist talented enough to make it happen can be hard. So when I heard the man behind some of Sarah Jessica Parker, Molly Sims and Selita Ebanks’ best dye jobs, Redken’s color consultant David Stanko, had time to see me, I jumped at the chance to experience my own Princess Diaries moment.
"Do whatever would look best on me," I told him during our consultation, after explaining how frustrated I was with the fickle state of my hair: half-grown-out bob and bangs I didn’t know how to style, all in a noncommittal brown shade. "I’m up for anything, and I trust your expertise." By emphasizing "anything" to the point where I was almost winking, I hoped he understood that drastic didn’t scare me. I wanted him to talk me into Marilyn Monroe-inspired cornsilk waves. I wanted him to say I was best suited to Christina Hendricks‘ fiery hue. I wanted him to show me inspiration pictures of woman with gold-flecked titian curls, bleached ombré highlights to rival Gisele’s—heck, even platinum crops à la Miley Cyrus. Instead, he gave my hair my a once-over and uttered the only three words I didn’t want to hear: "Let’s go darker."
Feeling slightly embarrassed for reneging on my initial proclamation, I began to explain that deep brown wasn’t so much the problem—it was just that it happened to be my mother’s hair color. Although, yes, I wanted him to make me look my best, couldn’t he do that without involving my mom’s signature shade? Maybe blonde? Or red? He looked unconvinced, and then tried to change my mind.
"My inspiration is a beautiful woman in bed with her lover; she has long, dark, chocolatey hair. She gets up and slides into his dress shirt, buttoning a few holes in the middle, and walks into the bathroom. She looks in the mirror, grabs a pair of nail scissors and begins cutting her hair into a choppy bob—not because she didn’t like the way she looked before, but because she’s confident enough to try this new look. She looks strong and sexy—something like this." He beckoned over a fellow stylist who, from the back, was a dead ringer for my mother. Not happening.
Plan B, to my chagrin, also involved brown hair. But David promised that rather than darken my shade, the dye would add a rich auburn undertone to what I already had. After that, he’d highlight a few strands to add "sparkle." Although my cut would still stay shoulder-length, he’d have another stylist add face-framing layers to give the color dimension. It would be a subtle change, he told me, but it would still reflect my best self.
As he and his assistant began prepping the formula and shellacking it on my roots, David began to explain why he steered me away from blonde: I might look amazing for a few weeks, but after that I’d be stuck with either skunk head or the pricey cost of monthly maintenance. Going blonde isn’t a decision to be made during a 15-minute consultation; you only do it if you’re 100 percent ready to put the time, money and effort in.
Red, he insisted after rinsing out the first process and while wrapping a few bleached pieces in foil, is an even bigger commitment. "It’s a lifestyle!" Any degree of crimson, from chili pepper to strawberry, requires constant touch-ups at the salon because the color constantly runs when wet.
Toward the end of our session, though, David also pointed out that practicality isn’t the only thing to consider when picking a hair color. Nor is finding the exact right shade for your skin tone. It’s more about the person you are, and how your choice fits with your personality and lifestyle. For instance, Betsey Johnson and Patricia Field both might look better as brunettes, but could I picture them without their trademark hues?
"Not at all," I answered before turning to examine my makeover in the mirror for the first time. He was right: I looked just like myself. Only better.
For photos from my appointment (including before and after shots, obviously), and more hair color tips from David, click through the slideshow above.