Herringbone highlights: the hip gray-blending technique, explained

Pro colorists reveal all about herringbone highlights – plus, what happened when our beauty ed tried them

Sarah Jessica Parker pictured with herringbone highlights on the red carpet
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

Herringbone highlights have a sophisticated ring to them, don't they? That's possibly due to their aspirational flooring namesake, but actually, this trending color service is sophisticated, both in technique and appearance.

Like many of the hair trends 2023 has in store, herringbone highlights are being spearheaded by celebrities including Sarah Jessica Parker and Jennifer Aniston, who have embraced the best of both worlds with 'dos that combine multi-tonal highlights with transitioning to gray hair

As well as boasting classiness levels akin to a parquet hallway, herringbone highlights are a celebration of your natural hair color in all its multifaceted glory. This means that by default, they are lower maintenance than your average color job. Any woman familiar with a four-hour slog in the salon chair will no doubt agree that's a very good thing indeed. 

Herringbone highlights, explained

What are herringbone highlights

Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston

(Image credit: Getty images)

"Herringbone is a chevron patterned highlight placement technique that is used to create a soft flow of color through the hair," explains John Clark, senior colorist at Nicola Clarke x John Frieda Salon. "They are placed on either side of a person’s parting to shimmer through the hair. They also help avoid stripes or a heavy all-over tint effect like traditional over-the-parting highlights."

Color-wise, this technique tends to mix a few together explains Nick Willis, Master Stylist at Charles Worthington Salons, "Herringbone highlights are a mixture of multi-tonal cool blondes and warm honey tones, which are combined with gray hair to enhance your natural beauty." This interweaving of natural grays with warmer and cooler mushroom blonde tones allows your colorist to create a beautiful bespoke tone that's all yours.

Herringbone highlights before and after

Fiona pictured before, during and after having herringbone highlights at John Frieda Salon

Fiona before (l) during (m) and after (r) having herringbone highlights

(Image credit: Fiona McKim)

I'm currently the owner of a thick silver streak, right at the front of my 'do and it's not something I particularly mind. To me, a flash of gray exudes a cool confidence (and 'don't mess with me' witchy energy) so the idea of blending my natural tones – both mousy brown and gray – instead of smothering them in all-over tint appeals. 

I booked herringbone highlights at Nicola Clarke x John Frieda Salon with Senior Colorist, Jessie, an expert with two decades of experience and, I should add, one of the nimblest, speediest highlighters I have ever witnessed at work. After agreeing on a bright, foil-packed look in the classic herringbone pattern, Jessie wove a variety of cool and warm tones all along my parting, expertly leaving ultra-fine slivers of my base color (well, both of my base colors) behind. 

Having herringbone highlights is much the same as any highlights in terms of the experience and spending at least a couple of hours in the salon. It's the results that differ. Feathery-soft lights mingling with my silver streak create a bright halo-effect around my face, while the variety of tones looks far more interesting, and elegant, than a simple bleached highlight. The best part is, I can already tell its going grow out beautifully, despite not having any regrowth quite yet. When you've been dyeng your hair for over two decades, you get a sixth sense for these things.

What are the best highlights for gray hair?

While chunky highlights such as money piece hair are so popular they've spawned their own subgenres (like balayage with money piece), finer herringbone highlights have an advantage for gray blending. "Herringbone highlights work well on gray hair as they are soft and even with a bold weave that create a feather-like texture and finish," advises Clark. "It’s especially beautiful when low-lighting gray hair with deeper shades such as steel, pewter, and gunmetal greys."

The great thing about the herringbone pattern is that skilled colorists can combine it with other techniques for a bespoke look "Babylights, which are finely woven foil highlights, are a fantastic technique for the herringbone color trend," says Willis. "These finer woven sections of hair are low maintenance due to a softer, more blended re-growth." 

Balayage hair, another popular color technique, is great for giving hair a natural sun-kissed effect. But as balayage lights are hand-painted on without foils, they don't offer the same precision and control as babylights, so aren't as well suited to the delicate nature of gray blending. 

Can you get herringbone highlights in brown hair?

Andie Macdowell

Andie Macdowell

(Image credit: Getty images)

In a word – absolutely. This works particularly well with naturally dark hair that's more than 50% gray, as the temptation with this color is to chuck all-over dye on top for blanket coverage. "Gray hair tends to be more coarse in texture and stubborn when trying to achieve 100% coverage," explains Willis. "Some global colors (permanent all over color) can cover up to 70% of gray but there will be a translucency. That's why I recommend multi-tonal highlights and creative toning techniques for the best enhancement of your grays." 

Your colorist could also combine herringbone highlights with on-trend tones such as bronde hair or tiramisu hair. Both of these offer a softer finish that pays dividends for regrowth, gently blending silvery strands into the mix. "Not all grays will grab color uniformly, therefore a multi-tonal approach is advantageous," agrees Willis. "A global color will show regrowth within two to three weeks. With 70% grey hair this regrowth will be obvious, therefore I always recommend  blending grays to give a soft, natural look, with the added convenience of longevity."

Do herringbone highlights work for everyone?

The beauty of this technique is its adaptability, it works as well for a curly pixie cut as it does a sleek medium haircut with bangs. "It is suitable for all hair types and you can be as creative or natural as possible with your colour choice and it still looks great," agrees Clark.

Visit a colorist you trust, have a good chat about what you want and what's achievable and you'll be golden. "I like to have a consultation with my clients, taking into account skin tone and eye color, and I will discuss the perfect tonal blends to use in their hair and their hair goals," agrees Willis. 

Ultimately, this trend is about embracing, not hiding your natural color – and we love to see it. "There has been a change in the way we perceive beauty and aging, we no longer confine ourselves to dated perceptions," Willis continues. "Gray hair is a striking statement for anyone of any age and is now celebrated. As a hairstylist I want my clients to revel in their natural beauty and I aim to enhance this beauty with clever tricks and techniques." Amen to that!

Fiona McKim
Beauty Editor, womanandhome.com

 As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.