Tortoiseshell Hair: Making The Ecaille Trend Work For You

When the ecaille hair color trend hit the style scene last year, colorists and fashionistas alike breathed a sigh of relief: here was another take on the ombré, but softer and more sophisticated than ever before. Fans of the now-iconic color-shifting gradient welcomed this more refined version of the ombré and tortoiseshell hair became the hair trend of choice for women who wanted to experiment with color without pushing the envelope too far.

Almost a year later and the ecaille/ tortoiseshell hair trend continues to run strong. I think the crux of the trend’s allure is rooted in the fact that it’s incredibly universal and timeless. The look works on everyone and is modern, but in a way that is appropriate for every occasion, place and mood. If you want a hair color that definitely gets you noticed but you want to play it safe at the same time, tortoiseshell hair is just the thing: it's classy, it’s sexy and it shows that you’ve put thought and effort into styling your hair without going OTT with it.

My favorite thing about tortoiseshell hair is that it works beautifully all year round. Want something peppy for the summer? Tortoiseshell hair has enough light and life to be right at home at the beach. Need something a little moodier for the winter? The ecaille trend blends gold with chestnuts and chocolate to create the warmest, richest vibes possible.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you to try the ecaille trend by now- if you haven’t already given it a shot. It’s the perfect hair color for this time of year, especially if you don’t want to spend a lot on having to change to a more autumn-appropriate color in a few short weeks. If you’re ready, I’ve got a couple of tips and some advice on how to make the ecaille trend work for you.

1. Ask Your Stylist For The How Aspect

The ecaille hair trend uses the Balayage technique to create effortlessly blended hair color. You’d think that adding caramel and chestnut onto the same head at the same time could never look natural, but it is possible with this technique. It’s very important that any stylist you work with is aware of the significance of free-hand painting to create the more organic hair colors. If a prospective colorist prefers using traditional foils and caps or doesn’t have experience with the ‘sweeping’ hair coloring technique you can’t expect the characteristic fluidity and seamlessness that define tortoiseshell hair.

2. Use The Ombré As Your Starting Point, But Aim Higher

The first few weeks determine the potential viability of a hair trend and I think one of the main reasons why ecaille hair swept through international markets so quickly was because nobody was ready to let go of the ombré and yet the need for a change, for something new, had been realized.

So, if the ecaille trend is a way for you to revisit the ombré without feeling jaded, you’re not alone. The ombré can most definitely be your entry point to a new look; just remember to go beyond so that it is indeed new. Look for photos of ombré hair to get a sense of the colors, gradients, moods and cuts you like. Use these to work your way up to a more polished hair color. I’ve heard people say that the ombré can look ‘colorblocked’ and when you compare it to tortoiseshell hair, it does in fact seem blunt and almost flat. The good news is that you can take your favorite ombré hair and force it to grow up just a little this season.

The secret to tortoiseshell hair is that it uses colors that are close to the wearer’s original/ natural hair color. So even though there are various blonde and brunette shades involved, unlike an ombré where your options limited by your natural color and skin tone, the ecaille trend is actually all about using you as the starting point and then picking the colors. You can favor darker or lighter tones or keep an even balance and basically create a really rich color that’s completely your own.

Ask your stylist for advice on what shades will work best for you; we want to get in a lot of complimentary blonde and brunette tones (and maybe even marry some warm and cool undertones) but the end result has to be a whole lot more organic, elegant and dynamic than the ombré.

3. Prioritize Correct Color Placement

You’ll probably hear a lot of people say that tortoiseshell hair isn’t so much so a trend as it is a technique: after all, the ecaille trend is based off of so many other color trends and its newness is in perfecting those to a new standard by adapting techniques. And a big part of the hair coloring technique is color placement. We’ve already covered the importance of the ‘how’ aspect of the technique: it’s time to take a look at the ‘where’ bit now.

There are no hard and fast rules here but I do prefer placing the lighter tones close to the front. This helps to brighten and liven up the face and adds warmth and light, bringing a sense of joy and wakefulness to your features. Sounds like a heavy task for good old hair color? You’d be surprised by just how much it can do! Depending on your skin tone, you’ll want the softer colors like a buttery blonde or a warm honey at the front.

As for the rest, ask your stylist to add the colors in alternating segments between light and dark. The secret to mixing contrasting tones and yet keeping the overall effect super natural is in perfect blending. The correct color placement will create a super tonal color that looks naturally dimensional. The blondes and brunettes should seep through each other without any harsh lines or obvious fade, such that the color changes and shifts with every new angle and light.

4. Go For A Mood, Not A Look

We’re splitting hairs here (ha!) but what really sets the ecaille trend apart from the rest is that it’s not a look or a technique or even a trend as much as it is mood. Whenever you hear someone talk of tortoiseshell hair, they’ll reference celebrities like Gisele Bündchen and use words like ‘expensive’ and ‘luxurious’. Tortoiseshell hair is an expression of a lifestyle, of fine things and subtle elegance.

So, before you pick the specific shades and decide on their placement, think of the mood you’re trying to create. Envision the vibe based on your personality, the kind of message you want to send out and how you want people to view you. While the essence of the ecaille hair trend is in blending all kinds of blondes and brunettes together, you can adapt the trend to yourself and make it all about you. Don’t stop at using an inspiration photograph or copying the exact look a celebrity has; close your eyes and picture yourself with tortoiseshell hair: what do you see? Convey your vision to your stylist and ask for their inputs.

This hair color is more about understated, powerful glam than a ‘cut-paste’ trend and you need to really feel your way into it.

5. Keep Roots Dark

Perfect tortoiseshell hair is achieved when you combine the sassiness of the ombré with the subtlety of the sombré. Ask your colorist to keep the roots dark to keep the look sophisticated while also playing up the drama quotient.

Darker roots tend to work better with all skin tones as compared to paler roots, and are usually more ‘natural feeling’ as well. If your natural hair color is dark, the deeper roots will help create a smoother transition into the lighter tones that make up the ecaille trend- a trick that is especially handy if working with blonde tones is challenging for your skin tone. The darker roots also help tie the look together, acting as a base with the brunette segments such that the lighter fragments appear to be almost sun-bleached and naturally lightened instead of being dyed.

6. Don’t Skimp On The Stylist

When the end results of a particular hair trend are sophisticated, it goes without saying that the technique that goes into creating the same is equally nuanced. To really enjoy the tortoiseshell hair trend in its truest form, it has to be created by someone with a trained eye, an unwavering hand and an expert understanding of human hair and color.

We’ve talked about how the ecaille trend takes so much from so many of the past seasons’ greatest hair trends and improves on them and to be able to do justice to all that layering, building and blending you need someone with formidable skill and talent. You need your colorist to know (and have experience with) each of the trends that go into creating tortoiseshell hair as well as the technique involved in using them without letting one overpower the other so that the final result is actually a whole new look and not a sloppy assembly of several different looks.

Speak to a couple of colorists, look for a salon in your city that is known to be at the cutting edge of hair coloring and styling and be sure to work with someone who has previous experience in creating tortoiseshell hair.

At the end of the day, the ecaille hair trend is the perfect option for when you’re itching to try something new but you’ve got factors like workplace sensibilities to take into consideration. Tortoiseshell hair is definitely one of my favorite hair trends and will continue to be major for the coming season.