From France With Love: The History of Balayage

I have long looked at hair color as a means of self expression. From precision highlights to dramatic, dark hues to a lavender purple… your hair color tells a story about who you are. And if balayage were to say something about the women who rock the trend, it would say things like “sophisticated, cultured, intelligent, effortless beauty”. Who doesn’t want to make that statement? This look is only gaining in popularity and now, more and more hairdressers are beginning to take classes and specialize in this unique style of coloring the hair.

Balayage Begins. 

The trend that’s quite literally sweeping the nation has been around for nearly forty years,tracing its roots back to a little salon in Paris in the 70′s. While it stayed safely nestled in Europe through much of the dramatic, foil highlighted days of the 80′s, the technique made its way to us in America by the 90′s. It was mostly used on celebrities who were lucky enough to visit European trained colorists and pay top dollar for the best in hair color.

When Sarah Jessica Parker began rocking the sun-kissed, dimensional color pattern in the last days of Sex & The City, every fashionista in the nation was on board. We wanted to know exactly what that dewy, natural looking color, perfectly accentuating her big curls was. And when social media became a useful tool for sharing the details of what this beautiful new trend was and younger up and comers like Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port traded in their foils for the softer, European style, a phenomenon was born. Officially.

And It’s Here To Stay.

Today, we love this technique because of the statement it makes. I think American women have latched on for a multitude of reasons (8-12 weeks between retouches anyone?), but most importantly, I think we like the story it tells about us. It’s been a tool to give American women that laissez-faire yet chic French vibe. It’s a way of saying you don’t take yourself too seriously, but you somehow always seem to look effortlessly pulled together. It has absolutely revolutionized the way we think about highlighting and contouring in the hair. And on top of the statement it makes, it can drastically enhance and accent your haircut and style like no other technique can. Balayage can give the illusion of length if you’re in the process of growing out your hair, it can add width to your style to balance out a long face shape or it can even just add points to give drama to an asymmetrical cut. It is structure and technique and knowledge. But it is also freedom and creativity and style. Balayage is both customization and classic skill. And in that, we Americans have just fallen in love.

My First Steps.

I took my first balayage class in 2011 from a Vidal Sassoon educator when I was living in Seattle. My first time painting the hair with a tiny brush and using cotton to separate sections left me knowing I would HAVE to learn everything I could about this trend. I was totally hooked from my first try because the dimensional, buttery highlights were more soft and sun-kissed than any foil work I’d seen. And that’s not to speak negatively at all about foils or what they can do. I want to be clear that there is certainly a place for foils in today’s salons and for modern clients. Sometimes they are really the only option depending on what you are doing! However, this fresh take of free-painting the hair made me feel like a true artist rather than a worker bee just placing foils one after the other in the same few patterns. It opened up a new world to me and allowed me to use both my knowledge and my creativity together.

From that first beginner’s class I took back in 2011, I moved on to watching every video I could get my hands on, studying every article I came across and dissecting images of celebs wearing the style. Then I chose to work under a colorist who had been using the technique in Los Angeles and learned from watching her, asking questions and practicing it over and over. Since then, it’s been all about developing, taking various webinars and classes I can find and learning to hone my skills as much as I can. I've also had the opportunity to take classes with L'Oreal to really perfect my techniques and fuse creativity with more structure.