Join Me On My Quest For Chunky '90s Color-Blocked Highlights

How I (almost) got the unnatural-looking, unblended highlights I found appalling 10 years ago.
Publish date:
May 1, 2013
hair color, How-To, bobby pins, highlights, 1990s, l' oreal

For the past five years or so, my hair has been short. A bob ending just below my ears was the longest it got, and for the better part of those five years, I've been sporting pixie cuts.

I think short hair complements and enhances the bone structure of any person's face, and it's just all-around chic. I've been wanting to go bob-y again for a while, and after about five months, I've finally reached this do! I call it “The 1930s meets Bettie Page Meets Androgyny.” I like it!

Next project: highlights. I want highlights.

Anyone born before 1990 surely remembers the sort of color-blocked highlights that were on trend circa 1997--the kinds of highlights that looked as if the person's hair was drawn in a cartoon universe. They blended into your hair as little as possible, a la Jennie Garth.

I clearly remember the hair color of a woman, probably in her early twenties, who was chaperoning me when I was about 16. This was in 2002, and by then, the color-blocked highlights had already gone out of fashion. I remember thinking that she looked anciently unhip, and that if she thought those highlights would make her hair to look blonder, she had definitely failed.

Now I want those highlights.

The line between uncool and cool lies on the proper side of irony, right? If you can pull off an outdated look with a slight dazzle of detachment, it's cool, isn’t it? In my head, it is.

I want to clearly define my bangs with the help of these color-blocked highlights, and leave a little highlighting for the rest of the hair as well. I attempted this about a year ago, but it wasn’t clearly defined enough, the highlights were too far up my crown area.

This time, I'm going for all bang action! I got the idea for the highlights after watching Our Idiot Brother (which I found to be idiotically predictable, but that's not important here; what's important are my ironic 1990s-esque color-blocked bang highlights). In the movie, Elizabeth Banks at one point has a brunette shoulder-length bob with… highlighted bangs!


The first thing to do is buy bleach. Important: Buy bleach, not dye. Dye will make you go all orange, and while bleach also may leave you a little on the yellow side, it is meant for taking away color, thus highlighting it. Do not buy dye! I did this first time I attempted a platinum blonde look myself. It turned out orange. Buy bleach.

I've tried made-for-highlights bleach previously, but I do not think that they are very effective, so I am going for straight-up bleach. I've used Schwarzkopf Blonde several times when I was platinum blonde a couple of years ago, and find them quite trustworthy, but L'Oreal Préférence was on sale, so L'Oreal Préférence it is.

What you do with the bleach is… follow the instructions. So you mix, shake, and then you're ready to apply it to your hair. Don't worry too much if the bottle jizzes a little in your hand first time you unscrew the cap. It's completely normal, it happens to everyone--not a big deal!

If you have long hair, it is recommendable to start off with the tips of your hair. It said so in the instructions, and I've also experienced myself that roots get bleached much faster than tips. I do not know the chemical explanation for this, but just keep in mind that roots lose color way faster than the tips, so a good pointer is to leave bleach in the tips twice as long as in the roots.

I didn't care about this since I figured, my hair isn't that long, and my highlights were going to be a little funky anyway. I parted my bangs from the rest of my hair and pinned back everything but the bangs.

I worked my way up my scull from my forehead on because I would like my bangs to be the lightest and my hair by my neck to be the darkest. I first applied bleach to a thin line of my bangs, and then wrapped it in aluminum foil.

I'm quite certain that this by no means is authorized, but it looks like what they do in salons, and it is very aesthetically pleasing!

From then on, I parted my bangs in a zig-zag manner. This is what I've seen on several instructions for how to make highlights. I decided to not care too much about the aluminum foil and just left the parts that I had bleached uncovered.

I think I went wrong here. The zig-zag parting will give you a natural look, but that’s not what I want! I think I should have bleached chunks along a straight line from one ear to the other.

After having applied the bleach in the bang area, I made two streaks on either side of the bang area.

From when I first started applying bleach until I washed it out, I waited about 30 minutes.

This is the state the bleach was in after I had waited and washed my hair:

Well, my hair turned out to be rather “nice,” looking naturally sun-kissed, a little lighter than usual.

NOT what I was going for.

I found one spot which could work if I pull my hair to the side and pin it, so I decided to bleach a little bit more of my bangs on that spot.

Not recommended, I'm sure, given the state the chemicals of the bleach were in. But I went ahead anyway, and it turned out OK.

For those days I'm feeling preppy, I can pull my hair to one side. That makes the lighter hair sticks out a little.

I'm sure that when the sun has worked its magic over summer, the front of my hair will be quite a bit lighter than the back of my hair.

See? There you go. You go out, acquire a chemical product, spend hours in front of a mirror pinning your hair to all imaginable sides, fiddle around with toxic foam, wait, wait, wash your hair, dry your hair, and in the end, what do you have to wait for? NATURE.

Have you tried highlighting your hair yourself? Do you think we could bring back chunky highlights if enough of us do it?