Shadow Box Hairstyles

Rebecca Wiseman
blond and purple hair

If you are looking for something different from simple highlights, consider a shadow box style. This style gives your main hair color a boost with a deeper version of your natural color or a dramatic pop of a contrasting shade. Unique yet trendy, a shadow box style offers a fresh take on today's hair color.

The Shadow Box Style

Shadow box hair style

Shadow box hairstyles are easily confused with ombres. The difference is that with a shadow box the hair underneath, from the top of the ears down, is colored a darker shade than the top of the hair, instead of just the ends. While most people wear this style with blonde hair as the top layer, it can work with any color. The top layer needs to be at least two shades lighter than the underneath, so any color combination will work. The underneath layer can be a natural dark color or a bright or pastel shade, such as pink or blue.

Who Can Wear It

This is a versatile color style and works well with many different cuts. The only requirement is the hair must have some layers for the darker color to be seen, regardless of whether your hair is short or long, thick or thin, straight or curly.

Most wear their hair straight with this style. However, the difference in colors makes a beautiful wavy or curled style as well.

How to Get the Look

Next to all-over color, this is one of the easier color trends to do yourself. Deciding what colors you want to use is the hardest part. Once you have decided on the colors, follow these simple steps.

  1. Part your hair evenly around the back of your head from the top of each ear.
  2. If you are using your natural color as either layer, you will want to make sure it is secured out of the way and covered with a plastic cap or foil. If you have dry ends, this is a good time to apply conditioner or hot oil to the ends of the hair you are not coloring before you wrap it.
  3. Mix the color according to the manufacturer's directions.
  4. Apply the color to your hair. You may need someone else to help you evenly distribute the color.
  5. Process your color according to the manufacturer's directions.
  6. Wash out the color and condition your hair. Style as usual.

If you are using two different colors, you can apply them and process them at the same time. Be sure to use foil to separate the layers from roots to ends. When washing out the color, wash out the underneath first and then the top. This way the colors should not mix.

Shadow Variations

As long as the darker color is at least two levels or shades darker than your natural color, this style will work. You do not necessarily have to go with bleached blonde with the top layers of hair, you just want to have a light and dark color contrast.

Dramatic Natural

If you are a natural blonde or already have heavy blonde highlights, there is no need to do anything to the top layer of your hair. Use your natural color as the top layers and add a punch of color to the underneath. Bright purple and candy apple red are popular as well as other bright "punk" colors. If you're not into bright color, don't worry. Try a chocolate brown or black instead for a bold look.

Natural Shadowbox hairstyle

Bleached and Auburn

Similar to natural color choices, this style can have a natural auburn shadow with the top layer of hair being bleached almost white. Getting hair to this pale blonde color can be very damaging to the hair, especially if you have natural auburn hair. Darker natural colors can also take a long time for bleach to lift the color. While this is a very dramatic look, be cautious with the bleach and have a quality conditioner with keratin to use after washing.

Bleached and auburn style

Pretty Pastel

Another popular option is pastel colors. These are bright, but not as vibrant as punk colors. Both layers can be different shades of pastel, blonde with a pastel shadow, or pastel with a bright shadow. Here the image shows a style with a pale lavender top and a hot pink shadow.

Mixing a pastel top layer with a bright color shadow can be very dramatic. These colors are popular but if you are usually conservative with your color, it can be a shocking change. Make sure it is what you want before you use a bright color because they are very difficult to get rid of or change.

Pretty pastel shadow box

All Around Shadow

While most shadow box styles only have the shadow at the back of the head and part of the sides, it can be done all around the head. The result is similar to heavy highlights. The combination of an almost black shadow with platinum or pale blonde for the top layer is an edgy yet chic style.

All around shadow

Tips for Maintaining Your Style

Colored hair is damaged to some extent because of the chemical process that the hair goes through. Coloring strips the moisture from your hair and leaves it dry. The most important tip in maintaining your shadow box style is to make sure you are using a good conditioner. You should use a conditioner that is designed to moisturize damaged hair. Styling products that are alcohol-free and are moisturizing are also a good idea, regardless of whether you curl, straighten, or wear your hair naturally.

If your color still looks a bit dull, try a product like Paul Mitchell Smoothing Gloss Drops which are formulated to boost shine while fighting frizz. They can be purchased from salons that sell Paul Mitchell products or at Ulta for about $20.

Rock Your Inner Drama Queen

Whether you choose to go for natural colors or bright, bold shades, make sure the hair colors you select complement your skin tone -- cool colors for cool skin tones and warm colors for warm skin tones. Choose colors that suit you so that you feel fabulous with your bold shadow box look.

Shadow Box Hairstyles