How to get expensive-looking hair on a budget, according to professional hairdressers

Experts share their tips for achieving 'expensive-looking' hair without spending hundreds in our need-to-know guide

Collage of Kerry Washington, Mindy Kaling, and Kate Middleton
(Image credit: Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic, Jemal Countess/GA/The Hollywood Reporter via Getty Images, Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

If you feel like you’re in a bit of a rut with your hair, it might be time to spruce up your styling regime or refresh your signature look. And if you’ve been inspired by recent fashion and beauty trends, you may have settled on achieving more luxurious-feeling, expensive-looking hair. 

But while the “quiet luxury” or “stealth wealth” fashion trend involves investing in understated yet well-made, good quality, and generally pricier pieces, giving your hair an “expensive” feel does not always have to involve an enormous salon bill. You could add on a couple of subtle highlights around your face at your next hair appointment, for example, or invest in one of the best hair masks to repair and deeply moisturize your strands at home.

To that end, we tapped into the expertise of several top hairdressers for their advice to make hair look and feel more luxurious. While it’s not a step-by-step guide – you don’t need to do everything on this list! – these tweaks can help you on your way to even more fabulous-feeling hair. 

What is expensive-looking hair, exactly? 

What we really mean by this term is hair that looks fabulously healthy and polished. “Expensive-looking hair is a combination of three elements: the dimension of color, movement of shape, and overall signs of the condition,” says Tom Smith, creative director at Billi Currie London, international creative/color director for EVO HAIRCARE, and Olaplex artist.

Smith goes on to say that means that the color has depth and tonal variation, and isn't over-styled and stiff – think free-flowing lengths and healthy, springy curls. "The condition must be impeccable with healthy, solid ends and vibrant shine that shows off the color and texture," he adds. 

How to get expensive-looking hair for less, according to the pros

Whether you want to achieve the effortlessly chic French girl hair or want to elevate your bronde hair, these tips and tricks will make your looks look (and feel) seriously luxe.

1. Get your hair in good condition

Mindy Kaling

(Image credit: Jemal Countess/GA/The Hollywood Reporter via Getty Images)

If you only focus on one thing in this list, make it this one. Ignore this step and all of the other advice in our guide will be redundant. During a recent webinar with haircare brand Virtue, Nicola Clarke, creative color director at John Frieda Salons, summed up the secret to expensive-looking hair in just five words: “Luxurious hair is healthy hair.”

Above all else, hair will feel its most luxurious when it is as healthy as possible, no matter the texture, color, or length. “No matter how good the color or cut is, if your hair is in poor condition it will never look its best, and certainly not ‘expensive’," Smith stresses. Buying an at-home treatment that repairs and moisturizes hair is, therefore, an excellent place to start.

Our beauty editor recommends...


Olaplex No. 3 Hair Perfector | RRP: $30 / £28

If your hair is affected by any kind of damage, be it from heat styling or coloring, this is the go-to treatment to repair broken bonds in the hair. 


Virtue Labs Restorative Treatment Mask | RRP: $34 / £32

A true wonder mask that restores the health of strands, Virtue's products contain its Alpha Keratin 60ku® complex to restore the proteins found naturally in hair. 

2. Clarify regularly

Margot Robbie

(Image credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage)

Adding one of the best hair clarifying treatments or shampoos to your haircare routine will help to remove build-up from your scalp and hair, something that can dull its color and shine. "One of the things I’m very into is clarifying the hair,” says Zoë Irwin, creative director at John Frieda Salons and editorial, trend and color ambassador for Matrix. "Quiet luxury hair is not heavy – it's not over-glossed or over-serumed – it has a lightness to it. In order to achieve this you need to cleanse out [build-up] so that when you put a treatment on, the hair takes it. So I would 'detox' the hair before putting moisture on."

Our beauty editor recommends...


Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Triple Detox Shampoo | RRP: $34 / £25

Working to remove the three major types of build-up in hair – product, pollution, and hard water – as well as general dirt and dandruff, this clarifying formula is also gentle enough to be used on colored hair. 

3. Add a scalp serum to your routine

Viola Davis

(Image credit: Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images)

It's not just your lengths and ends that need care. Any hairdresser will tell you that healthy hair starts right at the root; look after your scalp and you look after the strands that come out of it. 

“Good scalp care is [especially] important for bleached, colored, or natural hair,” says Dobson. “The Reincarnation Scalp Treatment from Bleach London gives long-lasting hydration to scalps while also creating the ideal base for new and existing hair strands to thrive.”

Our beauty editor recommends...


Bleach London Reincarnation Scalp Treatment | RRP: £15 (UK only)

Supporting the scalp microbiome as well as nixing any dry and flaky areas, Bleach's new scalp treatment isn't at all greasy or sticky.

4. Ask for dimensional color

Kate Middleton

(Image credit: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

If you are in a position to have your hair colored at the salon, our experts agree that a multi-dimensional, multi-tonal approach is the way to go. “Something that I see a lot with my brunette clients is that they don’t just want an all-over brunette,” says hairdresser Christopher Laird, co-owner of the November Collective salon. “So we really look at achieving those rich tonal differences and expensive ribbons in the hair to give it a sort of Kate Middleton, luxury brunette [feel]. You don’t always need a really complicated color to make hair look expensive; those little tweaks and personal touches can really elevate hair without having to get it done all the time."

Smith agrees: "If your color is feeling a little blocky, having your colorist add subtle highlights on the surface and deeper areas underneath, will help to give interest and make your color look more designed and bespoke." Herringbone highlights are a great way to inject a subtle and sophisticated bit of color, and we also love face-framing money pieces.

Above all, have an open and realistic dialogue with your hairdresser about your lifestyle and how regularly you can have your hair colored in salon. If you can't or don't want to do this that often, say that! "There’s no point in giving someone a super high impact all-over blonde when they only want to come to the salon every six months because they’ll look really expensive and good for the first six weeks, but for the next few months it’s going to look grown-out and like they’ve not [had it done]," Laird says. "Work with your stylist to really find something that’s going to fit with your lifestyle and your budget."

5. Curl care

Kerry Washington

(Image credit: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

It can take time to find the tried and true products that suit your hair pattern and texture’s needs and make your curls sing – but once you find them, they’re the key to getting springy and defined curls and coils every time, whatever curly hairstyle you opt for. “Putting some extra care into day one of your curl routine will ensure great curls for days,” says Alisha Dobson, managing director at Bleach London Salons. “Curly hair needs a little extra moisture so finding the right products that work for you, and taking your time to apply them with care, will set you up for the best results. Try not to overload products and rather than washing your hair [again], spray it with a hair mist to activate the product again, rather than reapplying them.” 

Our beauty editor recommends...


Umberto Giannini Curl Jelly | $9.99 / £8.25

One of the go-to affordable curl gels on the market, Curl Jelly gives great definition and hold, and the generous-sized tube lasts well. 


Bread Beauty Supply Creamy Deep Conditioner | RRP: from $14 / £14 

Striking the perfect balance between deep nourishment without ever feeling heavy, this miracle mask works wonders on all curl types to keep them well moisturized and springy.

6. Go for gloss

Jessica Chastain

(Image credit: Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images)

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the expensive-looking color always requires regular intensive color appointments to keep up with the latest hair color trends, but that isn't necessarily true. “One thing that doesn’t cost a lot in a hair salon, and that’s kind of undervalued, is a gloss treatment,” says Irwin. “Rather than continually having a full color, going in for a gloss will hydrate your hair and add an element of shine and richness of tone. People don’t talk about it enough but it’s very beautifying for the hair – a pre-party hair appointment of a hair gloss is brilliant." Glosses may be tinted to match your hair color, or clear to impart dazzling shine.

Dobson agrees: "I think people automatically think they need to run to the salon every few weeks to keep their color looking fresh, but this isn't the case," she says. "There are so many ways to maintain your color and make it last longer between salon appointments; I recommend using a conditioning color gloss to add tone to the hair and give it shine [at home]." 

Our beauty editor recommends...


Bleach London White Heat Super Cool Color | RRP $9 / £6.50

A semi-permanent color that washes out within 1-5 washes, Dobson says this is a favorite " to keep cool blondes clean". 


Josh Wood Colour Rose Brunette Gloss | RRP: £10 (UK only)

Legendary colorist Josh Wood has a range of at-home products, including fantastic semi-permanent glosses, with this particular shade adding a warm rosy tone to brunette hair.

7. Boost shine

Sandra Oh

(Image credit: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Shiny hair goes hand in hand with a healthy and luxurious-looking style. The condition of your hair will play into this somewhat – dryness or rough, damaged cuticles will not reflect light as well – but certain products will also help to boost your hair's dazzle levels. Shine sprays are one option, either brushed through the hair or sprayed all over as the finishing step, whether the hair is down, worn in an intricate updo or half-up style.

Oils will also help to both nourish the hair and improve its shine levels. "If you’re wearing your hair curly, bring a mini oil out with you," Irwin suggests. Curly and coily hair requires more moisture, so this will allow you to reshape and remoisturize on the go if necessary. Read our guide on how to get shiny hair for more expert tips and tricks.

Our beauty editor recommends...


Color Wow Extra Mist-ical Shine Spray | RRP: $29 / £26

Known for being behind so many A-listers' showstopping hairstyles (JLo, we're looking at you), this shine spray is the perfect finisher to any look.


JVN Hair Complete Nourishing Shine Drops | RRP: $22 / £21

A very fluid, very lightweight oil that makes all hair types look seriously glossy, this JVN buy is impressively smoothing without the inclusion of silicones.

8. Try a middy cut

Gabrielle Union

(Image credit: Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images)

If a new haircut or style is taking your fancy, a mid-length haircut could be the way to go. “Hair that is mid-length feels the most luxurious to me,” Tom Smith tells us. “Very, very long or very cropped hair can feel a little more statement-making, whereas mid-length hair that is in superb condition tends to look well-kept and cared for – which are clear signs of expensive-looking hair.”

We all know that regular trims are key to removing split ends and retaining a fresh look, but it's especially important if you want to keep medium hairstyles sharp and blunt. "Trimming any split or thin ends will immediately add luster and an expensive, luxurious quality to your hair," Smith adds. "Prioritise the thickness and condition over length where possible.”

Lucy Abbersteen

Lucy is a UK-based beauty journalist who has written for titles including Marie Claire, Glamour and OK!, as well as contributing to woman&home. Her work covers everything from expert skin and haircare advice to beauty trends and reviews of the latest products. During her career she regularly speaks to the industry's leading hairdressers, dermatologists and make-up artists, has covered backstage at London Fashion Week and interviewed many a celeb about their beauty routine.