"That's kind of fucked up," my friend said, laughing. I had just told her I was thinking of dyeing my hair to match the fur of my younger dog, Rufus.
"What? Why?" I said, also laughing, surprised at her reaction. I didn't think it was such a strange idea — anything goes with hair color these days, right? We're living in the Pinterest future! Salons are like the Lowe's paint-matching counter for hair.
"Like, what's your motivation?" she asked. "Is it to get closer with him?"
"Oh, no, god, no," I replied, having not even considered that people would see this as a weird attempt to bond with my dog. "I just need a change, and it's a really pretty color."
It really is! Rufus is a mix of unidentified breeds — he's probably a third- or fourth-generation mutt — that came together to create an adorable, affectionate, foxlike creature with orangey fur; when you look closely, it's made up of a blend of rusty, flaxen and brown tones. On a human, it would probably be called strawberry blonde. I'm actually kind of jealous of it.
After months of contemplation and increasing boredom with my naturally dark brown hair, I texted a picture of Rufus's butt to phenomenal colorist Nikki Ferrara, because that's a normal thing to do.
"I would love to do this color," I told her, "but maybe sort of a gradient thing from my natural dark brown at the top, so it's pretty low-maintenance?"
As much as I would've loved to go Full Rufus, I know myself: I get palpably anxious when I have contrasting roots, and yet, I can be super-lazy about color upkeep. Therefore, I asked Nikki to come up with a way to incorporate my natural color, so it would grow out in an aesthetically pleasing way.
A dog owner herself, she was excited about the project. Nikki had me come into Marie Robinson Salon in Manhattan's Flatiron neighborhood for a four-hour color session peppered with discussions about Tinder, terrible landlords, Glints (the first boxed hair color both she and I had been allowed to try when we were tweens), and how Nikki should consider a life of crime now that hair-color chemicals have essentially removed her fingerprints.
Sadly, I had to leave Rufus in Brooklyn during my appointment, but he and I are both thrilled with the results. Well, I think he's thrilled. He didn't attack me or anything, so I'll take that as a positive response.
To achieve my new color — the lightest my hair has ever been! — Nikki started with basic partial highlighting at the roots.
"At the same time, I took a lighter formula and teased the hair from the ends up and applied highlights throughout the end portion."
She's not kidding about the teasing — she backcombed sections of my hair before painting and foiling the non-teased pieces, leaving me with these weird-looking temporary tufts of hair all around my skull. (You'll have to imagine that, because even I have my Internet-oversharing limits.)
"After we rinsed and shampooed, I applied a rich amber brunette formula throughout the roots of hair to create a tone-on-tone brunette to make it appear a lighter shade of brown," she explained to me. Between this and a lot of pieces being left dark brown, the color will grow out harmoniously, looking like an updated, newfangled ombré. (Nikki has done something similar for Olivia Wilde, who probably didn't involve photos of her dog in her last color appointment. Maybe next time.)
"We finished with a rich strawberry bronze gloss to really amplify the shine."
And despite million-mile-per-hour wind happening in these pictures, I think it looks freakin' awesome.
I love that Nikki gave me a range of tones that look inspired by Rufus's fur but aren't an exact copy of his color. Because even though I don't think there's anything wrong with using one's pet's fur as hair-color inspiration, I don't really long to be known in my neighborhood as the lady whose hair perfectly matches her dog's.
However, I'm not opposed to future folklore about me including "started the pets-as-hair-color-inspiration trend," so I enthusiastically urge you to consider your dog/cat/rabbit/hamster's fur (or iguana/snake/fish's scales!) the next time you're thinking about a change. It hasn't strengthened my relationship with Rufus (or caused a rift in my relationship with Max, for that matter), but I no longer have to envy that lucky dog's natural color.