Wild hair color works well with gray too

Imagine a woman in her 60s walking down the street with striking gray hair. Her strands get caught on a breeze, the sunlight hits them just so, and you realize that what you thought was simply gray is a blend of distinct colors: platinum, white, black — and, wait, mint green, sky blue and dusky purple, too.

Rachel Bodt, a colorist of the Red Door Spa & Salon in Manhattan, conjures this image to describe her take on fantasy hair color in already dreamy gray hair.

“When I think of gray hair, I do naturally imagine cool tones — shades of blue, purple and green,” Ms. Bodt said. “They melt in without clashing. It’s not like a big chunk of hot pink disrupting this beautiful salt and pepper.”

Over the last few years, fantasy hair colors (both pastels and brighter rainbow shades) have transitioned from runway esoterica to wearable-in-real-life looks. Despite making it to the mainstream, fantasy color, with its playfulness and vibrancy, may still be considered the domain of those under 40.

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Here, though, is an illustration of why that take is a bad one.

“We’re exaggerating and drawing attention to gray hair, not hiding or covering it,” said Peter Gray, the hairstylist who collaborated with Ms. Bodt to transform the model JoAni Johnson’s hip-length gray mane. Elisa Flowers, a makeup artist, used a metallic and jewel-tone palette to complete our mermaid queen vibe.

Want to make the look your own? Their tips are below.

Lelet NY barrettes layered at the base of a sleek, low ponytail.CreditIsak Tiner for The New York Times
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Lelet NY barrettes layered at the base of a sleek, low ponytail.CreditIsak Tiner for The New York Times

Ms. Bodt chose iridescent abalone-shell colors — blues, greens, purples and cool pinks that range in intensity.

“I like having different depths of those tones because it mimics the highs and lows in salt and pepper hair,” she said. Multiple shades in one color family (like smoky blue and sapphire) will work, too. “You can dip a toe in this look by adding just one color,” Ms. Bodt said.

When looking for color inspiration, consider the tone of your own hair. Golden blond hair that’s graying would be pretty paired with sunset tones (apricot, rose gold and lilac), for example.

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Whether you choose to dye your hair or add colored extensions (we used extensions on Ms. Johnson), this look is likely a job for professionals. Unless your hair is overwhelmingly white, it will need to be bleached before adding the fantasy colors; otherwise they won’t show up.

If you want to do jewel tones on dark hair, you may not have to bleach, but the color will be subtle, almost like a tint. Fantasy colors are not permanent and fade after several washes.

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