Ugly/Beautiful Colour

Open Instagram on any given day, and you will be hit by a tidal wave of colour. Global vivids and pastel highlights dominate feeds across the world, but dig a little deeper, and you will find a new creative movement brewing…

Credits L-R: @masterpiecehair, @hairbymisskellyo, @caitlintyczka, @samiskinnerhair, @KatySamuels, @monarchhairco, @hannahdisconnected, @nikthehairchik

Beyond the balayage and bold colour-block bobs lies a swathe of rebellious experimentation. Colours that you typically wouldn’t see in the same head of hair – blues and oranges, greens and greys, mustard shades and oil-slick inspired blends – all dancing across lengths in a clashing crescendo and looking… incredible. It shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. Welcome to the world of ‘ugly/beautiful’ colour.

“I think it was inevitable to arrive to a point where we have begun to see these more out-of-the-box combinations with colour,” explains Caitlin Ford, a colour specialist from St Louis, Missouri in the US. “Social media has become completely over-saturated with fashion colours, and these days it’s become harder and harder to stand out. What was once the extreme has become normal and now new extremes are taking shape.”

“Creativity can be expressed in so many ways these days as it is becoming more sociably accepted,” adds Peterborough colourist Gina Barnes. “I have clients who not only want to have bright hair but want to push social boundaries, and rebel by taking it a step further… because they can. Green hair or yellow hair are two of the colours I never thought I’d have clients asking for, but it’s now becoming a regular thing for me.”


With practically everyone flirting with pastel pinks and solid statement shades on social media, one key difference when it comes to this new generation of left-field colour workers is the skill level it takes. After all, colour theory dictates that the hues being used should not work together and consequently, have a very high potential to produce unflattering results.

“I am always looking for ways to push the envelope while increasing my understanding of the rules of colour,” says Caitlin, “as well as my understanding of how to break them. What I love about combining colours that are opposite on the colour wheel is that it is an act of intentional rule breaking in hair, but it is something we see in nature all of the time. Look at the sunset and you will see deep blues next to fiery oranges. Go to a garden and you may find leaves of jade green with pink in the centre.”

“But despite their appearance in the natural world, these unexpected combinations are still such controversial hair colour choices that they make heads turn and get people talking,” says Gina. “I named my green blend ‘Aurora Borealis’ after the beautiful natural phenomenon the Northern Lights. I chose to use greens, mustard yellows and blue tones alongside one another – colours that are thought of as a beautiful together in nature, but not typically in hair.

“I used a soft blending technique to fuse all the colours together,” she continues, “not only to mimic the way the lights merge in the sky when the aurora occurs, but also because when the tones are blended in this way, it makes them fade better for the client. This particular client comes in every eight weeks, so even though she wanted to go with unusual hair colours, we needed to do it in a way she could maintain at home.”

Caitlin’s devotion to rule-breaking has certainly caught people’s attention. Her unexpected colour combinations have helped her rack up over 150,000 followers on Instagram, where she displays unusual hues alongside flawless rainbow blends. It was there that this particular image of hers caught our eye.


“The look in this photo was inspired by copper patina, which typically features teals and blues right next to burnt orange and rust tones,” she explains. “So I picked colours that reflected what I was seeing in the photos I was studying.

“The trick to creating beautiful placements with these colours is combining them in such a way that they work together despite their colour wheel location,” she adds. “When opposite colours meet one another, they cancel each other out and can create silvery or neutral coloured ‘gaps’ between shades. Finished colours with these gaps can look like accidents – it can give the appearance that colour was not applied or saturated correctly. What really interests me is figuring out solutions for this ‘gapping’ problem, and the many creative ways it can be addressed.” 

“For my copper patina colour, I decided on my palette and then arranged the order of the shades to keep the blue and orange from touching. Between the blue and orange is a thin line of burgundy, which was still a colour I noticed a lot when I was looking at photos of real patina, so it kept the look true to the inspiration. Blue and orange can both be mixed with red without being neutralised, so I knew that putting this colour between would prevent the ‘gapping’ effect.”

“Another major component to creating creative colour placements is understanding and utilising contrast to help mimic light and shadows,” explains Caitlin. “When I create my palettes it’s not just about picking whatever colour I feel like using together, I think about how light or dark the colour I’ve mixed is, and use gradients to achieve a number of desired effects. Grasping contrast is the key to manipulating light reflection.”

“For this look inspired by Spanish artist Felipe Pantone – and in my own fringe – the shades on the outside of the colour blocking are darker and deeper and get progressively lighter and more pastel toward the centre. I didn’t want the yellow and blue to meet and create green, so I placed a very pale, nearly white, colour between the yellow and the blue, which gives a “negative space” effect in the placement that ends up mimicking the reflection of light, which gives that oil slick feel.

“The importance in approaching creative colour design comes from the understanding of what rules are at play and how to break them in such a way that allows the integrity of your initial vision to be maintained,” Caitlin concludes. “I believe the reason these type of colours tend to stand out is because they are so unexpected in a world of very safe and predictable colour combinations and there is sort of this initial reaction of ‘Those aren’t supposed to go together!’ and yet they do.”

“I love to do these surprising hair colours for my clients because it makes me happy to see people being able to be themselves,” Gina agrees. “Life’s too short for boring hair!”