Call it a *silver* lining of lockdown: In the aftermath of our stay-home lives, many of us have become more willing to let our greys grow in. “We had two years to become accustomed to seeing the greys in our hair,” says Olivia Colacci, founder of Toronto salon Twentyseven. “Before that, after a month you’d run to the salon to cover them up, but now everyone’s a bit more low-maintenance with their hair.”

And that includes celebrities, who are embracing the trend of herringbone highlights, a multi-tonal look that works with—rather than overriding—your natural grey streaks. “When Sarah Jessica Parker came on in And Just Like That…, everyone was excited over the fact that she was greying,” says Jason Lee, hairstylist and founder of Mela and Kera. “That was a herringbone technique.” Other A-list adopters include Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow. But what exactly are herringbone highlights, and do they work for everyone? Here, Colacci and Lee give us the scoop.

What are herringbone highlights?

“Herringbone highlights are a new way of blending in your own grey hair by sporadically incorporating cooler-tone highlights as well as warmer-tone highlights,” says Lee. There’s no covering your silver spots with this style: “You actually want to see the grey come out, and the hairstylist is strategically placing those cool and warmer tones around it,” says Lee. While most highlighting sessions would involve ashy or golden shades, Lee explains that this combo works because it mimics the way cool-toned greys blend with a natural hair colour.

As for the name, Lee notes that it’s not to be confused with the colouring technique of the same name, where hairstylists place highlights in a herringbone-esque V shape as they move from the front of the head to the back. Though this placement could be used to create the trend, your colourist may prefer balayage (when colour fades out from your roots—which is what SJP’s stylist does) or foil highlights. Lee’s best guess? That the name comes from the way wooden herringbone flooring often brings in a mix of cool and warm tones.

What makes herringbone highlights great for growing in greys?

“In the past, people were covering their roots, and then getting highlights,” says Colacci. “It was this whole process where you’re covering greys and then trying to lift that coloured hair back to blonde.” With herringbone highlights, you keep your virgin hair as a base. This not only creates a more believable result, but it also means fewer trips to the salon, says Colacci, who has clients that can go as long as six months between appointments: “If your highlights are mimicking what your natural hair does, your regrowth is going to be a lot softer than when you cover your greys completely.”

If you’re ready to embrace going grey, it’s a great way to transition towards a full-on silvery mane. If your greys grow in uneven clusters, adding other highlights can add dimension all over, and your stylist can even use lowlights to break up large grey chunks if desired, says Colacci.

Do herringbone highlights work for all hair?

Anyone who has grey hair that’s sporadic and isn’t afraid to go a little lighter will benefit from this trend,” says Lee. Colacci considers it to be especially great for people that are dirty blonde or darker. Both stylists note that redheads are the one group who might not get the desired result from the trend, but that’s because their “greys” tend to come in blonde, so the mix of warm and cool tones isn’t needed in the same way.

When it comes to hair type, herringbone highlights work across the board. “Textured hair can totally do this—I really like the look of it both curly as well as straight,” says Lee.

What’s involved at the salon?

Bad news, DIYers: This specialized service is best left to the hands of the pros. Not only does the process involve a lightener (think: bleach), but herringbone highlights also require expert skill to get that mix of perfectly placed tones. “It takes a lot more thought when doing these highlights,” says Colacci. “What I would do for one client isn’t what I would do for the next.”

If your stylist hasn’t heard of the technique, ask to add both warm and cool highlights and to keep your natural grey as is. From there, the process is quite similar to typical highlights. Your stylist will place the highlights throughout your hair (this may be done with or without foil), you’ll wait for your colour to lift, and then your hair will be rinsed. Your colourist may also add a bit of a shadow at your roots for a modern look that grows out smoothly.

How to style and maintain herringbone highlights?

“The end goal of herringbone highlights is to not be in the salon every month getting your hair done,” says Colacci. Lee estimates that herringbone highlights can let you tack on an extra four to six weeks between appointments, because of how they work with your hair’s natural tones.

And for that time between salon visits, the look is pretty low maintenance too. Both pros recommend professional-level products designed to preserve your colour. Lee’s brand Mela & Kera offers a line tailored to highlighted hair called Balayage Exceptionnel. Its shampoo and conditioner ($46 and $48) features quinoa for colour retention and vegan protein to strengthen treated strands. “They’re going to lock down the cuticle and help preserve the colour while keeping the hair fabric feeling really healthy,” says Lee.

Outside the shower, Colacci loves a leave-in conditioner to help keep hair nourished. Her fave is Davines OI All-In-One Milk ($42), which you can spritz onto towel-dried hair for detangling and heat protection, and also use on no-wash days to add a little smoothness.

When it comes to styling, don’t fight your natural texture. “Especially with wiry grey hair, you’re going to hit some humidity at some point and that smooth style isn’t going to last,” says Colacci. Plus, a modern, fuss-free look is part of what makes herringbone highlights so great. “The idea is that it’s still cool and young to rock your grey hair,” says Lee. “Sarah Jessica Parker did say that she doesn’t want people associating her with doing anything brave by showing off her grey hair—for her it’s not that big of a deal, and that’s the cool statement from this.”

Caitlin Kenny
Updated-August 18, 2022

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