Americans are going 'recession brunette' as economic woes force cutbacks on luxuries like hair-coloring

Americans are going 'recession brunette' as economic woes force cutbacks on luxuries like hair-coloring
Madison Fitzgerald, a former blonde, went recession brunette.Madison Fitzgerald
  • With prices still high, and recession concerns looming, people are going "recession brunette."
  • Maintaining blonde hair is expensive and time-consuming, leading some to forsake it right now.

For Jacque Garza, going brunette wasn't just a return to her roots — it was a financial necessity.

Garza, a 24-year-old natural brunette who for almost five years had a lighter balayage — or randomized highlights meant to emulate a sunkissed look — said she was paying around $1,000 a year to maintain it, in addition to hours in her hair stylist's chair.

But after this Christmas, Garza went to the grocery store to pick up some necessities and faced a nasty case of sticker shock as a result of ongoing high inflation.

"I was like wow, I feel like I've never had a grocery trip cost this much for the staples that I've always gotten in years past," Garza, a graduate student, said. She began to rethink how to better use her money.

And so, deciding to prioritize paying bills and eating nutritious food, Garza went back to her natural brunette on December 27, for the much-lower cost of $240.


"This is a lot of money that I've been putting into this. Self-care is important — but to a certain extent. My natural hair color is beautiful, too," she said.

Garza is now what some TikTokers have called "recession brunette." If you're not a natural blonde — or, even if you are, but want consistent color — hair treatments to maintain a lighter color can be much more expensive and time-consuming. And they're only getting pricier.

"Where hair dye is concerned, being blonde is practically a career," Nora Ephron once wrote. "Oh, the poor blondes!"

While an outright recession still hasn't come, Americans are feeling the impacts of a slowing economy in their wallets. Inflation is still high, albeit cooling, but savings are dwindling, thousands of Americans are getting laid-off, and credit card debt is climbing. With prices on the rise, including for hair services, being blonde is yet another signifier of wealth in a tough economy. The legions of blondes turning brunette show the ways that economic policy, the Federal Reserve, and the markets trickle down into bottles of dye.

"What I've noticed is that when times are tougher, girls that are not naturally blonde tend to go dark, because they can't afford to be in the salon getting highlights or getting blonded so often," Ricardo Alonso, a hairstylist in Claremont, California who specializes in brunette hair, told Insider.


Alonso estimated that, lately, half of his new clients come in wanting to go full brunette. As a stylist who sees four to six clients a day, that's about two to three new wannabe-brunettes. While 2022 was the year of copper and redheads, he said, 2023 will be the year of the brunettes.

"Economic changes do lead to physical changes in people's health and self-presentation in all sorts of ways," Diane Negra, a professor of film studies and screen culture at University College Dublin, and co-author of "Gendering the Recession: Media and Culture in an Age of Austerity," told Insider.

"The move away — on the part of some people, anyway — from the choice to to be blonde reflects an uncertain moment in, in some respects, an unclear economy," Negra said.

Americans are going 'recession brunette' as economic woes force cutbacks on luxuries like hair-coloring
Jacque Garza went recession brunette.Jacque Garza

The recession effect on hair

It's not the first time a downturn has birthed a new hair trend. Ombré, a hairstyle featuring dark roots and lighter ends, was also born from economic necessity.

Jafra Bryant, an editorial hair colorist, saw more ombré — a style she loves for its financial flexibility, but still thinks can look harsh — after the housing crash in the late aughts. The economy impacts hair, Bryant said, "so the more grown out warmer colors you see, depth-y colors — something's going on."

Americans are going 'recession brunette' as economic woes force cutbacks on luxuries like hair-coloring
Jafra Bryant.Jafra Bryant

As the economy got better in the years after the Great Recession, styles like balayage came into fashion, she said. When people are doing well, they gravitate towards more dimensional hair with lots of highlights.

Now, though, Bryant said that the way she's working has been completely different. Instead of clients knowing that they'll be able to come in often for things like white platinum highlights during boom times, Bryant's been preparing them for home maintenance.

"It's really shocking to see how much of those intensely warm colors are present now because of the economy," Bryant said.

Blonding appointments can cost hundreds of dollars, and often require frequent upkeep. Alonso charges $550 to dye a client's hair brunette, with little pops of lighter color to add dimension. That service can last up to two years. But if you're going full blonde, the average service costs around $650, he said, and you're coming in every three months to maintain those highlights.

Madison Fitzgerald, a 25-year-old natural brunette who went blonde during college, said she was paying $450 to $500 about every three months to maintain her blonde hair. That maintenance came to about half of her rent, and for years she had been contemplating making the switch back to brunette.

Americans are going 'recession brunette' as economic woes force cutbacks on luxuries like hair-coloring
Madison Fitzgerald.Madison Fitzgerald

"I was looking in the mirror and looking at my bank account and I was like, there's no way I'm going to be able to get it done anytime soon," Fitzgerald said. So, she went to CVS and picked up some $20 box dye.

That was about seven months ago. She's been "recession brunette" ever since.

The ways the economy changes us

Going from blonde to brunette is a big personal change — and it also speaks to the way that the economy leaves its mark on the people living it.

Blondness is often a type of racially encoded aspirationalism, Negra said. But, right now, "we are very confused about aspiration" in US society.

"A lot of our ways of working, a lot of our sense of meaning about how we present ourselves to the world and on what terms, are in some state of real revision," she said. "We're not really sure what aspiration is."


And so, "the whole question of what you aspire to do in work and in life is a little bit unclear — that's one way in which I would read the notion of the recession brunette."

Bryant, the hair colorist, said her clients are going for a neutral brown — one that, if and when the economy bounces back, they can easily highlight "right over."

"I definitely still miss blonde. If I had the money I would a hundred percent be blonde," Fitzgerald, the 25-year-old recession brunette, said. While she said she cares less about her appearance than she did in college, she still prefers blonde. But she'd rather put that money towards experiences right now, especially since everything costs so much more.

"It definitely has made me realize, okay this person can afford to do this to their hair right now. And that's something I had never ever considered before with hair," Garza said.

When Fitzgerald gets a raise, she'll go back to blonde. But for now, it's recession brunette. Garza feels similarly, not anticipating going lighter again for at least two years.


"All the prices of everything went up, right. Eggs, gas, rent going up — all those things. That affects some people's beauty budget," Alonso, the brunette stylist, said. "At some point your hair doesn't become as important as eating or having gas."