Hair color is one of the most easily identifiable traits of an individual. The color and style of a person's hair is one of the first things the brain uses to identify who we are seeing. This is why we tend to confuse people who have similar hair styles and color. Because of this, hair color is often used in media to distinguish different characters. Over time, specific hair colors have gained associated symbolism.
In Western media, blonde characters have two major symbolic associations: Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold and Dumb Blonde. Brunettes are Brainy. Fiery Redheads are Hot-Blooded. There are some others too. Tall, Dark, and Handsome tend to be preferred as leading men. Some of these are rarer than others, and none are hard and fast rules. Blond and red are particularly stereotypical and common to find in media, since most humans tend to have either dark brown or black hair, so the different hair color indicates significance.
Having Prematurely Grey-Haired characters is a way to show they went through stress or trauma. In anime and video games, white hair in a character who is too young can indicate that they're a villain (or at least someone to watch out for), unless it's Mystical White Hair, which shows that they're a magical being. For age-related greying, there is a Double Standard for white/grey hair. For men, it symbolizes wisdom and is more likely to be considered distinguished and sexy (Silver Fox). While some women with grey hair are seen as attractive (the Silver Vixen or Hot Librarian), for female characters it's often a marker that the character is a grandmother.
There are different spellings to some hair colors depending on gender. "Blonde" and "Brunette" are used to describe women, while "Blond" and "Brunet" are used to describe males. "Ravenette/Ravenet" is sometimes used to describe black hair.
The increasing global nature of media is causing Western and Eastern tropes about hair colors to mix. For example, Fiery Redhead was a Western trope, but it is now used in Japanese Anime. This may be because it already fits with other Eastern tropes such as Red Oni, Blue Oni.
Animation provides even more options than the typical blonde, red, and shades of brown and black. Western Animation has usually stuck to more natural colors, while occasionally using slight variations that work better in the medium; such as using dark blue or purple to highlight black hair, or using light blue instead of gray. Japanese Animation, however, has decided to use a far greater variety of hair colors than can be explained by nature. For a further discussion of Japanese media and hair colors, see Hair Color in Japanese Media.
In live-action films and TV shows, a character with unusual, bright artificially dyed hair may be showing they're a rebel (e.g. a punk). For kids from middle-class homes, a pink or green dye job will drive their parents crazy (the intended result).
Compare Characteristic Clothing Colors.
- Adaptation Dye-Job: An adaptation changes a character's colors. Sometimes it's hair colors.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Three leads: a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead.
- Curtains Match the Window: Hair and eyes of the same color.
- Delinquent Hair: Punk hair, often dyed.
- Dye Hard: Hair dye flanderized.
- Elemental Hair Colors: Hair colors and Elemental Powers match.
- Hair Color Dissonance: Real-life hair vs. illustrated hair.
- Hair Color Spoiler: A plot twist that is spoiled based on improbable hair colors commonly found in anime.
- Hair-Contrast Duo: A contrasting pair of characters whose hair colors represent their opposite personalities.
- Implausible Hair Color: A hair color that is unlikely (but possible) given the media's setting.
- Kaleidoscope Hair: Someone's hair changes color repeatedly.
- Locked into Strangeness: Someone's hair starts greying because of their environment.
- Nonconformist Dyed Hair: Hair dye means someone is rebellious or alternative.
- People of Hair Color: An ethnicity defined by a single hair color.
- Power Dyes Your Hair: Magical powers that cause a change in hair color.
- Shading/Colour Dissonance: A character's hair isn't shaded correctly in monochrome art.
- Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: A sexy blonde who is a Republican Party (USA) member.
- Dumb Blonde: A dumb blonde person.
- Everyone Loves Blondes: A blond woman is considered very attractive.
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Pure and innocent blonde.
- Lighthaired Swimmer: The "beach blond" look.
- Plenty of Blondes: A cast with lots of blondes.
- Slashers Prefer Blondes: Blondes have lower survival rates than their darker-haired peers.
- Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: A tall, pretty, aloof, composed dark-haired girl.
- Brainy Brunette: An intelligent, academic brunette character.
- Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Dark hair + pale skin = eerie and vaguely undead.
- Evil Brunette Twin: Twin + dark hair = evil.
- Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Dark hair + pale skin = beautiful and striking.
- Tall, Dark, and Handsome: A tall, good-looking, dark-haired and dark-eyed man.
- Evil Redhead: An evil red-haired character.
- Fiery Redhead: A redhead with a fiery personality.
- Heroes Want Redheads: A red-haired love interest to a hero.
- Red-Headed Stepchild: A person bullied for their red hair.
- Redhead In Green: Redheads wear lots of green.
- Redheads Are Uncool: Redhead youths are nerds, geeks, and other social outcasts.
- Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: There's something plot significant about a character's red hair and green eyes.
- Elderly Blue-Haired Lady: Older woman with bluish hair.
- First Gray Hair: Character finds their first grey hair and immediately feels old.
- Prematurely Grey-Haired: A traumatized person too young for natural grey hair.
- Silver Fox: An attractive older person with grey hair.
- Albinos Are Freaks: White hair in the real world is a symptom of albinism, a condition whereby a person is incapable of manufacturing the natural pigments that determine hair and eye colour, along with providing resistance against sunburn. People with the condition are often bullied and mistreated in various ways.
- Disease Bleach: Hair that has turned white due to prolonged stress or disease.
- Mystical White Hair: White hair indicates magical powers, mysteriousness, and/or otherworldly origins.
- Significant White Hair, Dark Skin: Dark-skinned people having white hair for reasons other than old age is possible but extremely rare in real life, therefore a character with such coloration is meant to stand out.
- White Hair, Black Heart: Evil character with white hair.
- Rei Ayanami Expy: A (usually blue-haired) Emotionless Girl.
- Rose-Haired Sweetie: A bright, optimistic, pink-haired girl.
- Shy Blue-Haired Girl: A Shrinking Violet with blue hair.
- World of Technicolor Hair: A setting where many people have unnatural hair colors, and this is unremarkable.