Blondie's Debbie Harry on Her Iconic Platinum Hair
Back in the ’40s and ’50s blond silverscreen sirens were everything. Their platinum hair coupled childish innocence with the neon “look at me” business of being a star—and the effect was intoxicating. As a kid, I was fascinated by Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, and Carole Lombard.
My own hair was strawberry blond with a lot of red in it. In the summer my highlights would really come out. I hung around with older girls at the municipal pool in Hawthorne, N.J., where I grew up. There was one girl in particular whose blond hair I really liked. Her mother was a beautician, so I asked her about accelerating the highlight process. She said to mix two-thirds peroxide with one-third ammonia and comb it through your hair and it would react in the sun to bring out the blond. It worked.
WATCH: Go Behind The Scenes at Alexa Chung's Annie Hall Shoot
I liked being blond. I have an adventurous personality, and I like to be creative and play roles. So, for me, part of it was about developing and performing a character. There were different times in high school when I went platinum or light blond. I experimented. I tried henna, bleach … whatever was available. One time my hair actually turned green. I think I mixed regular dye with henna, and that’s a complete no-no. I had to use this product called Metalex to remove the green.
After high school I worked in a Paramus salon doing facials and makeup. My high school friend Ricky started the place with his boyfriend, Johnny. It was fun. People who work in shops are kinky and kooky and like extreme styles. That was when I really went fully blond. I mean, I couldn’t escape it. They’d throw me in the chair and say, “OK! Going blond! OK, going this color! Going that color!” That’s what people do when they work at beauty shops. They fool around.
In 1974, when I was in my first band, the Stilettos, I actually had short brown hair. But by the time Chris Stein and I formed Blondie a few years later, I was working as a beautician and I was back to blond. I was walking across Houston Street to meet Chris and someone yelled “Hey, Blondie!” at me. We’d been trying to think of a band name, and I was like, “Blondie—that’s good. Let’s do that.” I tried to convince everyone in the band to dye their hair blond too. It would have been fabulous! They didn’t go for it.
At that point, I was only blond around my face because of my inability as a colorist. I always had a brown underlayer in the back, and it actually became a style. Back then, nobody was doing that—you had to bleach the whole head. But my two-tone color gave me a look, something to talk about. Eventually, the blond made it all the way to the back.
I’d go to amazing stylists here and there over the years, but really I’ve mostly done it myself. I was on the road seven or eight months a year and always in different places. So I’d just buy the bleach, throw the sh— on, and be done with it. Time it out and wash it off. I was a little bit reckless. But I didn’t burn my head off or anything.
No matter where I was, I could usually find a basic pre-bleaching kit that lifted the color. I used to keep it on for 30 minutes, and my hair was light enough that I didn’t have to use a double process. My hair is so fine, and if you look at live shots of Blondie shows from the ’80s, I had sort of wet, hangy hair. During long shows under hot lights it would sort of just flop. I guess in the punk era that was acceptable.
I’ve always liked doing my color at home myself because I can walk around and do things. I used to take a bath while I had the bleach on my head, and at the end I’d just submerge. It may not have been the best method, but it was expedient. I get very antsy in a salon chair. For years I used this one rinse—Roux Fanci in Shy Violet—because it didn’t have any peroxide and it made my hair look more white-platinum.
I think about playing with darker colors from time to time. It’d be fun to have dark brown or black hair—but that’s what wigs are for. I actually like wearing wigs when I perform these days—they allow you to maintain some visual continuity from beginning to end.
Right now I’m trying to get my hair to be as full as possible. Volume is a real issue for me. I’ve come up with a new color process that I do every few weeks, but I don’t really want to talk about it. Intrigued? Good. After all these years of
experimentation, I have a pretty fair idea of what’s going to work.
—As told to LEIGH BELZ RAY
Blondie’s new album, Pollinator, is out May, 5.