From French manicures to hair clips and scrunchies, and face-framing braids, there’s no doubt that ‘90s and early ‘00s beauty trends are having a major moment. And truthfully, it wouldn’t be an authentic ‘90s revival without adding chunky highlights — also known as money piece highlights — to the mix. “The chunky highlight trend is an expansion of the pop or wow fringe pieces we were seeing [last year],” says Jessica Wall Innella, Aloxxi Artist and owner of Renaissance Salons. “It is also a revival of the panels and color blocking reminiscent of the late 90’s and early 2000s.”
Whether you loved or hated the original version, you can’t deny that if you’re looking to update your color, highlights are the easiest way to change your hair without dying your whole head — making them a lot more maintenance- and budget-friendly. And don’t worry: 2021’s version of chunky highlights aren’t the typical zebra-looking stripes you saw in the early 90’s. The new iterations have more depth, using balayage or babylights at the root area, plus highlights that frame the face and continue throughout the hair, to provide a more subtle contrast.
Depending on your natural color (and how dramatic you want the overall effect to be) you can play with ultra blonde highlights, or stick to a few shades lighter than your natural hair (a look J.Lo has favored lately). But if you want to channel your inner Bella Hadid, try an unexpected tone for your face-framing pieces, like a ruby red. Translation: anything goes in 2021.
Interested in trying out the chunky highlights trend for yourself? Ahead, TZR spoke to top hair stylists and colorists on how the look has evolved for 2021, and how to make the color chic and modern.
The 2021 Iteration Of Chunky Highlights
Unlike the (severely flat-ironed) chunky highlights that ruled the ‘90s and ‘00s, the modern update is a bit slimmer and more natural-looking. As RUSK Hair’s Global Artistic Director Laura Gibson says, the look is “a refined highlight, usually around ½ - 1 inches wide, that is similar to the width of a money piece but overall less thick than what we’ve seen in the past. These highlights are placed strategically throughout the head to create contrast and depth for a highlight-heavy look.”
Lorena Martinez, Colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, likes to think of the trend as panels and blocks of highlights to give your face a pop of color. And compared to the bleach blonde look that were popular in the past decades, she reveals that her clientele is requesting champagne blonde, chestnut red, and sunset copper shades for their highlights most often.
And rather than subjecting your hair to extreme heat to get that quintessential ‘90s stick striaght look, the experts agree the trend can work well with all hair textures. “For girls with curls, individual curls can be highlighted to create a chunk or bold highlight,” says Innella. “Fine, straight, or coarse and wavy hair can have strategically placed chunky highlights for more contrast.”
And before you go booking your salon appointment, Gibson cautioned that the density of your hair should be factored into whether or not you try this hair color trend. “Colorists should always consider the size of the highlight based on the density of the client's hair, as the thinner the hair, the smaller the chunky highlight should be,” the stylist told TZR. This will help to ensure that the color is blended and less of a harsh block of color.
How To Make Chunky Highlights Feel Modern & Cool
In order to achieve the exact look you want, Innella recommends coming to your appointment with plenty of reference photos of both the size of the highlights and your desired color. Martinez also recommends entering the appointment with freshly washed hair. “It’s best for us to see the true tone and level of the person’s color,” the stylist tells TZR. “And if they air dried the night before, we can see any cowlicks — that way, we can recommend a better pattern to work with for days they don’t style their hair.”
As for maintenance, you’ll want to schedule a touch-up every 6-10 weeks (how blended you like the color to be and how close it is to the root will determine most of this time frame). To keep your highlights looking bright, it’s good practice to only use products designed to care for color-treated hair. Another pro tip: have good thermal protectant products and lower the heat setting when using hot tools to prevent further damage and fading. And remember — to keep the definition between the chunky highlights, color care is a must.
“While no at home products can maintain as best as in-salon touch ups, a color depositing conditioner will help to keep color vibrant and maintain the tone between appointments,” says Gibson. For this, she suggests hair masks and violet-based conditioners, like RUSK PlatinumX Conditioner and RUSK Deepshine Boost Color Depositing Conditioner, to help to keep highlights popping.
Innella also emphasizes the importance of conditioner and color safe shampoo. The stylist recommends “Aloxxi Hydrating Shampoo and Conditioner and cool water only for wash day to preserve color intensity and to avoid the deeper color from fading or running onto the lighter panels.”
The good part is that if you happen to wait too long between touch ups, the grown-out roots can help you land another iconic ‘90s hair trend — grungy, rock n’ roll highlights.