NEW YORK CITY — Diana Marsh, a 32-year-old schoolteacher from Carroll Gardens, has a little secret.
Since December, a few streaks of hair growing from the nape of her neck have been dyed every color of the pastel rainbow, from pink to lavender to green.
Depending on the reaction from colleagues and whatever environment she finds herself in, Marsh can either conceal the bright colors or show them off.
"It was nice to have the option to show as little of it or as much of it as I wanted to," she said.
Marsh's streaks are a covert interpretation of a pastel hair trend found on celebrities, runways and now regular people.
While funky hair colors were once the domain of subcultures like punk and grunge, beauty experts and hair stylists said this time around, pastel hair dyes have a sophisticated appeal that women in more conservative work settings are embracing.
"Right now with these pastels, they are a little bit more applicable to everyone," said Laura Rose, a hair stylist at the Drawing Room, a salon on Spring Street in SoHo.
Requests for pastel hair color have come from all types of women, she said, including those "people you would never really think [would] want something more fun."
Women who work in fashion or more creative industries such as advertising have naturally migrated toward the trend, Rose said. But she has also worked pastel colors into the manes of lawyers and bankers at companies like Credit Suisse and J.P Morgan.
The amount of pastel that clients request varies from an entire head of hair to only the tips, to peekaboo streaks that are easily hidden, according to hair stylists.
A few weeks ago, Jenn Nelson, 28, a worship leader at a city church, returned from a vacation in California with purple tips in her hair.
"I used to see [unnatural hair colors] and think differently about it or think nothing at all," she said. "Now, it seems like it is being done in a more feminine way that was more appealing to me."
Pastel hair's move to the mainstream comes at a time when more celebrities are embracing the trend. The inspiration for Marsh's new look, for example, was Nicole Richie, who has sported a head of lavender hair since March.
After Richie stepped out for the Costume Institute Gala in March wearing a slinky Donna Karan dress paired with her candy-colored hair, the seemingly mismatched look somehow came off as classy, Rose said. Since then, there has been an uptick in Drawing Room clients dabbling in pastels.
"They see how you can still be elegant and iconic and have something fun to go with that," Rose said.
Erin Sykes, a beauty industry expert, said constant images of pastel hair color in the media have softened its edge as a fringe look, like tattoos and bright nail polish.
"[Brightly dyed hair] is no longer to be feared," said Sykes. "It is not something that is the norm, but something that is accepted."
At the Chris Chase Salon in Ninth Avenue in Chelsea, creative director Paul Cucinello has about two clients per week walking out with pastels. Many opt for dying just a few streaks in discreet spots.
A lawyer in her 40s recently presented Cucinello with a pink pocket book and asked him to match the color with some streaks near the nape of her neck. He said clients often bring examples to demonstrate the specific color they want.
The process of achieving a bright pastel can be taxing on the hair. Darker hair needs to be bleached at least twice to create a white base so the pastel color can pop, according to Lorean Cairns, the creative director and co-founder of Fox & Jane Salon on the Lower East Side.
Pastels also have a short life, of about three weeks.
Despite a more tolerant work environment and an apparent relaxing of the stigma surrounding brightly colored hair, Leslie Gilbert-Morales, an image consultant, said women aiming for senior roles in big companies and firms must still fall into line when it comes to their hair.
Gilbert-Morales recently advised a client with a major corporation to stick to a natural hair color with a single tone. Any variance, even natural highlights, could hurt the client's professional image, she said.
"I think things have changed," said Gilbert-Morales, "but in a corporate environment, not so much."