On the wall of my parents’ house, there is a photograph of me as a 10-year-old on holiday, my blond hair bleached white by the sun, my hands flopping over a deck chair. After I’d hit puberty, a friend of mine saw the picture and proceeded to wonder aloud what it was that had turned a white-haired angel into a mouse-haired pimple magnet. I looked at louche, 10-year-old me up on the wall and cursed him and his glorious hair. I knew I’d never look like him again.
But then, last week, the Guardian got in touch and asked if I’d be interested in bleaching my hair blond. Here was my chance to once again be that 10-year-old on holiday. “Can’t repeat the past? Why, of course you can!” I cried, and wondered if I might not have read that somewhere before.
It turns out I’m not the only one. Gentlemen have begun to go blond again. Brad Baker, the salon manager of Bleach Topshop, says: “There has definitely been an increase in guys coming in for bleach jobs. The tonal palette has been ranging from space greys to David Bowie oranges. Guys are definitely getting more experimental.” Equally telling is a survey from just over a year ago, which found that almost one in five British men now dye their hair, a significant increase on previous years.
The experimentation Baker talks about is most obvious in fashion circles. “All the coolest kids on Instagram are doing early millennial fashion and Slim Shady-era Eminem style,” says Daryoush Haj-Najafi, fashion expert and senior editor at Complex UK. Charlie Porter, the FT’s men’s fashion critic, has gone blond. Super-stylist Luke Day has a bleached head of hair. On the catwalk, male models at Nasir Mazhar’s recent show had blond crops straight out of 1999.
The mainstream is at it as well. Justin Bieber did it before Christmas, and Brooklyn Beckham followed suit last week – a particularly interesting move because it was his father, David, who inspired and then ended the last wave of men going blond, in the 00s. When he stopped, those men returned to their previous state of macho indifference.
If peroxide-era Beckham represented a high point for sarong-wearing, high-street metrosexuality, his move back into more traditional styles signalled a return to masculinity. In fashion, trends come, go, then reappear. Slim Shady is having his time again, 15 years later.
As I walk into Varley Hair to return my hair to its white blond glory, I’m thinking of Bowie not Beckham. Sam Varley, who runs the salon in Angel, north London, has cut my hair for almost a decade. He’s used to me not knowing exactly what I want, but today, I’m nervous that I’ll end up looking permanently terrible and the fact that I still can’t decide on a tone leaves him exasperated.
After I’ve pulled myself together, we agree to go with the full peroxide. Then Sam tells me that a lot of salons are cautious about using it, because customers can sue them if it goes wrong. In the name of legal serenity, we opt for a full highlight treatment. I sit in the chair and Sam coats my head. The smell of ammonia fills the air. Visions of unnaturally blond men pass before me: Rutger Hauer tells me I wouldn’t believe the things he’s seen, Bowie sings about the serious moonlight, Kurt Cobain asks me if I think the short, sheer cut I’ve opted for is really better than his straggling locks.
Once my hair is covered, I wait for 15 minutes as the chemicals get to work. My head feels as if it’s housing a colony of ants. Then it’s rinsed, shampooed and dried. It takes me about 10 minutes to recover from the shock of seeing the new colour (a reaction Sam predicts), but once I do, I begin to feel like it might be OK. “It’s pretty good, actually. I thought you’d look like more of a prick to be honest,” Sam says as I leave, my faith in him confirmed once more. There’s a tiny yellow tinge but I am later advised to use purple shampoo, which takes out the brassiness. Who knew.
When I get on the tube to go home at rush hour, I feel oddly nervous, as if I’m on a date with the whole city and I’m worried the city isn’t going to like me. I’m pretty sure I’m smiling maniacally, so I try to just look calmly at the ground. Occasionally, I look up and stare wildly into the eyes of my fellow travellers, screaming “What do you think?” with my eyes. As I go down the escalator, one guy does a double take, but apart from that, London is blithely oblivious; London has seen it all before. I meet up with one friend who barely notices the difference, merely suggesting that I’ve “cartooned” myself. I look in the mirror and see a giant Bart Simpson staring back at me. My girlfriend seems unfazed. It’s a bit too yellow for her taste but, invoking The Beastie Boys, she reminds that you’ve “gotta fight, for your right, to bimbo”. I run into another friend, Seb. He screams when he sees the new look, but goes on to suggest that this is a good thing – he might fancy me a little bit now.
Later, I drive up to Tottenham to play football. It seems as if I’m determined to do something macho, having done something that could be considered effeminate. What will the football lads think, I wonder? One word defines their response: German. I’ll have to own it.