It’s difficult to talk about punk and alternative visual style without talking about the hair, and it’s impossible to talk about the hair without talking about hair dye.
Manic Panic, beloved by celebrities and small-town youths alike, is known now for providing a wide array of dyes in unnatural shades like pink, turquoise, and atomic red, but it originally got its start as a small East Village boutique selling punk-style clothing and cosmetics. Founded in 1977 by Tish and Snooky Bellomo, two backup singers of punk/New Wave outfit Blondie, Manic Panic was, if not the first, at least one of the earliest stores dedicated to punk fashion. For the first two decades of its history it was a located at 33 St. Marks Place, and photos of that original boutique show a storefront that strongly embodies the punk DIY aesthetic, with a sign that looks hand-lettered and band shirts in the windows.
By the early 2000s the store had moved from its small space on St. Marks to a warehouse in Long Island. The initial change in location had more to do with rising rent prices in the East Village than with changes in demand, but by the 1990s Manic Panic had gone beyond its punk roots and entered the mainstream. An Associated Press article from mid-1996, in attempting to examine a hair-coloring “fad” seen in both celebrity fashion and street style, sources the trend back to Manic Panic, citing the cheapness of the product ($8 a bottle at the time; these days it’s closer to $10) and the huge array of colors as the reasons for the brand’s popular appeal.
There’s more to the turn-of-the-millennium hair-dyeing trend than the popularity of Manic Panic, though. Tish Bellomo, speaking in 2001 on celebrities’ widespread adoption of unnatural hair colors, noted that the style started with “a few punks who were dyeing their hair” and that “now  you turn on MTV and every other band has color.” By the end of the decade, it wasn’t even just bands. There is probably something to be said about a link between the mainstream popularity of alternative rock and pop-punk in the early/mid-2000s and the increased use of hair dye, but in recent years even pop stars with no relation to the alternative music scenes whatsoever have sported bright blues and greens.
The growth of Manic Panic from a small Greenwich Village boutique to a multi-branch company is a (not entirely unwelcome, from a consumer’s point of view) symptom of this trend. Snooky Bellomo recalled in 1996 that in the “olden days of punk rock” hair dye was a form of shock value, but that it was since become “more just a cosmetic thing.” In many ways this is true. Some colors will continue to have “edgy,” unprofessional, even rebellious associations, but it is increasingly common even outside of fashionable cities like New York to see “obviously” dyed hair (as opposed to “natural”-looking color additions, like touch-ups for grey hair and highlights). What does this say about the legacy of ’70s and ’80s punk style, and what does it mean for punk/alternative fashion today? The answer to that question will hopefully make it into my exhibit.
“Our History.” Manic Panic Official Website. Accessed October 5, 2015. https://www.manicpanic.com/ourhistory
Bibby, Patricia. “Rainbow-colored dye is at the root of fad.” Lawrence Journal-World (Lawrence, KS). August 1, 1996.
Moore, Booth. “Hair apparent? Daring ‘dos now the norm.” Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene, OR). July 9, 2001.