She's taking her bridal beauty to the next level

By Dave Quinn
February 07, 2019 12:03 PM

LeeAnne Locken has a bright new hairstyle — and PEOPLE had the exclusive premiere of her ‘do!

After teasing a change was on the way on Instagram, the Real Housewives of Dallas star, 51, has officially dropped her dark black hair color in exchange for updated caramel brown locks with sunkissed highlights.

“I absolutely love it,” Locken tells PEOPLE. “I feel like a totally new person.”

It’s first time Locken’s rocked this color in well over a decade. She previously spent 40 years as a blonde while working on acting and modeling gigs (as Miss Congeniality fans will remember), before slowly transitioning to a darker ‘do over the years.

She was inspired to go lighter again to prepare for her upcoming April wedding to fiancé Rich Emberlin.

“My hair has been super dark, almost black, for so many years and I felt like it was so hard on my skin tone,” Locken says. “I just felt like it was very harsh and it was prohibitive. Like, I couldn’t be tan with dark hair, it didn’t make sense. And I want to look soft for my wedding. I want to look angelic.”

LeeAnne Locken
| Credit: Matt Blum

For the dramatic transformation, Locken turned to Kaycee Clark at Dear Clark Salon in Dallas.

“I was handled by such care by Kaycee,” Locken says. “She and [co-owner Holly Dear] have been taking care of my hair for years. Let’s face it, when you have this much hair, I go once a week to get it washed and dried. I’m like family over there. She’s the only person I would trust to strip the black out.”

“When we started the process, we bleached the whole thing,” Locken adds. “I was platinum blonde for two hours. I was making behind the scenes videos because I thought, ‘I’m never going to see myself this way again.’ And then, after our first coloring, I went back days later and had them put a little more brown on the roots and a little more golden brown on my face.”

Once the color was perfected, Mermaid SEAlon founder Katie Rogers costumed colored and individually placed all of Locken’s extensions.

The weave is such a custom made work of art,” Locken says. “There are pieces of blonde and light brown, there are pieces of dark brown and light brown. There’s a lot of beads in my head. I absolutely love it.”

To top it off, Locken staged a shoot with photographer Matt Blum, with hair and makeup styling done by Keshette Burton.

LeeAnne Locken
| Credit: Tommy Garcia/Bravo

Locken plans to debut the new ‘do on the red carpet on Thursday, when she attends the Los Angeles launch of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star (and pal) Erika Girardi’s makeup collection with Too Faced.

And as for Emberlin, well, he’s approved of Locken’s transformation.

“Rich loves it. He would love if I was bald — he doesn’t care,” Locken says, lovingly.

“You know, for the first time in my life, I have a man who accepts me,” she gushes. “He doesn’t judge me — and that’s just the greatest feeling in the world. Because he accepts me, it gives me the strength and energy to spread my wings and fly even higher. “