Is doing your highlights in time of crisis important?

Hair highlights kitWe are scared. We feel unsafe. Our routine is shot. Our friends are distant. We can’t hug our children, parents or friends who live in other houses. No trips to the restaurant, pub or club. Not even a quick coffee with a friend before getting on a train to a meeting or show. And research trips and conferences are off. We won’t even be able to see our first grandchild (due early May) in the UK until it’s all over.

Gods, it’s dismal, isn’t it?

Which begs the question: why did I put a packet of hair colourant in my trolley when I ventured out for an authorised foray to buy food in the supermarket? The cashier gave me an odd look when I placed it on the conveyor belt at the checkout among the apples, courgettes, chocolate and loo roll. She didn’t say anything; she looked too tired to care much, poor soul.

Yes, we all want to present our best side to the world, but who is seeing us now part from during the odd Zoom or Skype session? And relatives and true friends won’t care if your roots are showing.

Some theories

The lipstick effect is the theory that when facing an economic crisis consumers will be more willing to buy less costly luxury goods. Instead of buying expensive designer clothing, for example, people will buy expensive lipstick. The underlying assumption is that consumers will buy some level of luxury goods even if there is a crisis, but goods that have less impact on their pockets. People may not afford a holiday in exclusive resorts, but they can still manage a night out at an affordable place.

Well, a packet of hair dye is definitely cheaper than a visit to the hairdresser, however pleasant the hairdressing experience is. But mine shut two weeks ago with the lockdown, so it was Hobson’s choice. I’m pretty sure he’s going to tut when he sees the results…

Data collected by Kline & Company, a market-research group, showed that lipstick sales sometimes increase during times of economic distress, but have also been known to grow during periods of prosperity. In other words, there is no clear correlation with that particular product.

In a 2012 study by four university researchers, the effect is attributed to evolutionary psychology: “This effect is driven by women’s desire to attract mates with resources and depends on the perceived mate attraction function served by these products. In addition to showing how and why economic recessions influence women’s desire for beauty products, this research provides novel insights into women’s mating psychology, consumer behavior, and the relationship between the two. … Although the lipstick effect has garnered some anecdotal lore, the present research suggests that women’s spending on beauty products may be the third indicator of economic recessions—an indicator that may be rooted in our ancestral psychology.

Hm, so they think it’s a ‘lizard brain’ reaction to attract the best mates when the species is threatened with extinction.

In a 2017 Guardian article, Toby Clark at Mintel reported that in the last downturn home baking goods sold well, even though it can be more expensive to make a cake at home. “In many ways, home baking is a luxury purchase but you don’t just get cakes” Clark added. “You get an experience, the satisfaction of making something and family time. Even if you spend more than you would on a tray bake from the local supermarket you feel you get more bang for your buck.

Alison after having done her highlights

Post highlights at home

So it seems we are not only looking for reassurance that we can still access the little extras of our previous way of life and in a way ‘deny’ the harsher time we now live in, but also that some aspects of our normal life will continue, including our self-presentation and self-image.

The lizard brain is in full steam, instinctively pushing to prioritise our attractiveness to others so they will like us and protect us.

And even though we have to buy sugar, flour, fat, eggs, etc. perhaps baking cakes also reassures us in two ways: harking back to safer times when we created something earlier in our life in the kitchen with mother, and feeling the nostalgic wartime spirit of our parents.

Me and the hair dye?

Probably a combination of all of the above, a wish to cheer myself up plus a dollop of vanity.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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