Herringbone highlights: the hip gray hair technique, explained

A pro colorist reveals why herringbone highlights are the perfect look to embrace your grays in style

Sarah Jessica Parker pictured with herringbone highlights in new york filming and just like that
(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 really is sophisticated, both in technique and appearance.

Like many modern hair trends, 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

Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston

(Image credit: Getty images)

What are herringbone highlights

"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," explains Nick Willis, (opens in new tab) Master Stylist at Charles Worthington Salons. 

This interweaving of natural grays with warm and cool blonde allows your colorist to create a beautiful bespoke tone that's all yours –  and that works with the textural changes hair undergoes as it loses pigment. 

"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 camouflage and enhancing of your grays."

What are the best highlights for gray hair?

While chunkier highlights such as money piece hair are having a moment, the beauty of herringbone highlights is how intricate and delicate they are, which better suits hair with grays growing in, explains Willis.

"Babylights, which are finely woven foil highlights, are a fantastic technique for the herringbone color trend. Much like classic highlights, babylights are finer woven sections of hair packed into foils. These fine sections are perfectly 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. But herringbone highlights offer a softer look that also pays dividends for regrowth.

"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. As long as you visit a colorist you trust and have a good chat about what you want and what's achievable, 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
Fiona McKim

 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.