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Secrets of a Rare Breed

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Average Everygirl #77, Average encounters the Spitfire, Part 2 | Panel 1: Average greets the new girl, saying, "It's nice to meet you. I'm Average Everygirl." The new girl says, "That's a really great name." | Panel 2: Average, taken aback, says, "Oh. Thank you. And you are…?" | Panel 3: Totally walks into the panel, hand raised in greeting, and says, "Hey! It's Feisty O'Redhead! Top o' the mornin' to ya!" The new girl, eyes tight shut in frustration, cries, "For the last time, I'm not Irish! My name is just Feisty Redhead!" | Panel 4: Totally, with an expression like a smarmy pickup artist, says, "Oooh! She is feisty!" Feisty holds her head in her hands. Average says, "Want me to hit him? I can hit him for you."

Blog articles abound on redhead statistics: anywhere from 1-4% of the world’s population has this hair coloration, it’s more prevalent in Northern European countries (from the British Isles over to Russia), and it’s a recessive trait caused by a mutation of the MC1R gene, so it can skip generations.

A few years back, a piece even circulated about how redheads are going extinct. (That was false, by the way.)

I could parrot these articles and give you lots of readily accessible redhead facts. Instead, I’m going to discuss a less-acknowledged coppertop attribute.

Hair Facts: Redhead Edition

To start: natural redheads can usually spot a dye job a mile away. We’re conditioned to see our hair as part of our identity, and we know when someone’s trying to break into the club.

A common phrase among redheads: “This color doesn’t come from a bottle.” For clarification on why this statement is so true, I spoke with Rashelle du Pont, hair stylist extraordinaire. Rashelle, a fellow redhead, is an artist when it comes to hair color. She gets to work with a lot of redheads from young to old, with every tone from strawberry-blond to dark auburn, and she’s an expert at matching the natural color to a shade.

(She’s also my cousin. Have I mentioned that my maternal relatives consider red hair to be a badge of honor and evidence of divine favor? They do, and of course it is.)

According to Rashelle, the spectrum of red hair covers more than just the light-to-dark continuum. Most people think of the fiery red tones when they hear the word “redhead,” but copper, auburn, and ginger all have their place in this color family. What’s more, red hair also incorporates both a warm and a cool spectrum of color.

And most bottle-jobs skew too far to the warm side. When your Lucille Balls and Emma Stones of the world sport that vibrant shade of red that leaps off the screen and looks too good to be true, it is too good to be true. (Both Lucille and Emma were/are natural blondes.)

Too Cool for You

The cool-toned reds get easily overlooked, but this is the link that your bottle-reds are missing. Rashelle’s custom formula for “the perfect auburn” involves a 50/50 mixture of copper (warm) and what she terms an “ashy bluish-green” (cool). And, from the sounds of it, that’s an easy combo. She mixes 4-5 colors to match some shades of red.

What can I say? Redheads are naturally complex.

As you can probably imagine, this warm/cool combo throws all the fashion color theories out the window, but those theories were created for blondes and brunettes anyway. Redheads almost need their own line of makeup and their own color palette for clothes. However, as only ~2% of the population suffers from this lack, we make do with what we have.

I will admit, though, that my world opened up the day my Great-Aunt Elise (also a hair stylist) disclosed, “Honey, you’re a blue-red, not an orange-red.” All my life up until then, people told me that my hair color was warm, which left me to wonder why I looked so horrible in warm-colored clothes.

Nicely Adjusted Now

These days I like to toy with the cool/warm ambiguity. I can tip my green eyes over to blue with the right makeup. I’ve found the perfect shade of orange I can wear (more in the copper spectrum, naturally). I know which colors will wash me out and which ones will turn me pink.

And the cardinal rule? When in doubt, wear black.

(Red hair really should come with an owner’s manual.)

Now, you may be thinking, “But Kate, blondes and brunettes have this warm/cool spectrum as well.” And of course they do. But what does someone say when they’re a warm blonde or a warm brunette?

“Hey, I have some red in my hair.”

Yeah. Sure you do. Welcome to the club.