Times Staff Writer

When it comes to style, Los Angeles has always been a careful study in laissez faire chic. Women prance about in faded T-shirts that are practically custom fitted to their clavicles and jeans distressed to look like relics from the caves of Lascaux. A messy ponytail -- seemingly a mirrorless 30-second pursuit -- is actually an hourlong exercise in tendril placement.

Ideally, you should look as if you got ready in the trunk of your car and emerged stunning.

The latest way to feign indifference to your appearance? Dark roots. Once anathema to bottle blonds, that regrowth of natural hair -- like an asphalt freeway running through a wheat field -- is suddenly trendy. So much so that salons are actually applying perfectly contrasting dark roots to their towheaded clients.


“It’s a look that says, ‘I haven’t bothered with my hair,’ ” says colorist Dawn Tracey of Byron Salon in Beverly Hills. She charges $125 to hand-paint dark highlights, using a technique called baliage, onto the roots of blonds. “It’s sexy and looks undone.”

Undone, indeed. As in, “What? These old roots?”

Over at Frederic Fekkai on Melrose Place, colorist Brooklyn Villano calls it “root shading” and charges $265 to make you look as if you’re too darn busy to spend untold hours at the salon. He also adds more highlights to the crown and tips and even softens the base color to achieve the right air of coif nonchalance. His clients, he says, request the roots and locks of supermodel Gisele.

“You want the roots to be about an inch or an inch and a half,” says Villano, who has painted roots on 10 clients in the past couple of months. “That makes it look like you haven’t had your highlights done in a month.”

Oh, the irony. In New York, you’re nothing if not polished. Here, we flaunt a self-inflicted patina. Then thank famous two-toned blonds -- Ashlee Simpson, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Amanda Bynes -- for adding celeb cred to the fad.

Stylist to the stars Ken Paves reportedly paints faux roots on Simpson. Colorist Nelson Chan of Nelson J. salon and spa in Beverly Hills recently added darker roots to the manes of Heather Graham and model-actress Devon Aoki.

“You get a more natural look with contrasting roots,” Chan says. “It looks sun-kissed.”

Not always. Madonna, ever the maverick, was spotted last week with 2-plus inches of coal-colored regrowth marring her halo of buttery curls. It’s a visual throwback to her 1980s bleached-blonder mop with black roots, and the effect is a contrast as severe as a cherub giving the finger. In her case, it can’t be some postmodern nod to lackadaisical beauty, though. Madonna does, like, 1,000 downward dogs a day, right? She must be flexible enough to touch up her roots with her toes.

But Madonna isn’t the first provocateur to understand the appeal of dark roots. Those corrupted follicles whisper of a naughty core. Some of the original platinum blonds -- Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and pin-up girls from the 1950s -- fed a fetishized ideal of good girls gone bad with their visible black roots. Think of them as the equivalent of a lacy black bra strap peeking out from a pink cashmere sweater.

Roots are getting so popular, in fact, that even wigs are showing up with them. Perhaps the “Angelica G.” wig in champagne with dark roots by Rene of Paris is for you? Or maybe it’s the “Fresh” blonder bob with a crown of contrasting roots by Raquel Welch that will make you feel like a postmodern bombshell.

“I am surprised, but we’re seeing more women asking for styles with darker roots,” says Jennifer Martinez, senior product specialist at Wigs .com, where Angelica sells for $213 and Fresh goes for $169. “On a wig, the contrast of roots makes it look more natural, but still. . . . “

These days, with women clamoring for fake roots, who even cares about what’s natural or not? It’s funny to think that Clairol launched its hair color line in 1955 with the slogan, “Does she . . . or doesn’t she? . . . only her hairdresser knows for sure.”

Knows what? At this point in the convoluted equation, everyone’s confused.