Today is an important day for fans of hair, because the barber shops, salons and hairdressing emporia of England are now able to open again after 3 months of enforced closure.
Just to clarify: by ‘hair’ I mean the slender, threadlike, usually pigmented protein filaments that grow from follicles found in the dermis of most mammals, including me.
I know quite a bit about hair. I’ve been growing it since before I was born, and styling it since the age of about 10, when a fellow pupil drew me aside and explained in a low voice that the ‘bowl’ haircut had been out of fashion since at least the season before last.
But the early eighties was a time for adventurous hairstyles, and nothing was off the table. I clearly remember one of my teachers who was affectionately known as ‘Bog-Head’ because of the way his head looked when viewed from above. Shiny on top and at the front but exceptionally lush and brown on the sides, he gave the impression that he was attempting to disguise himself as a U-shaped public toilet seat. Unlikely to have been his intention, but there it was.
But let’s start at the beginning.
I first cultivated a layer of LANUGO on my body when I was sixteen weeks gestated, but I replaced it with VELLUS hair (sometimes known as peach fuzz) about 10-14 weeks later. I was born with this and retained it until my early teens, when I converted it into a generous covering of ANDROGENIC hair. And for many years I have been wearing a layer of TERMINAL hair on the top and sides of my head, which isn’t quite as morbid as it sounds – although I do anticipate still having at least some of it about my person when I expire.
Like most people (although not slap heads and baldies), I lose between 50 and 100 hairs every single day – hairs that have completed their life cycle and have sacrificed themselves for the greater good. For another hair, in other words. In this respect, they resemble the exploding ants of Southeast Asia. These ants value the life of the colony above their own – but that is where the similarity ends, as the hairs on my body do NOT rip themselves open and spew noxious fluid on their enemies when a threat to the group is perceived.*
I don’t often find any of these sacrificial hairs, as they’re either too small or too grey to be noticeable.
I wish I could say the same about the rug in our living room, by the way. It moults each and every day, but is showing zero signs of going bald. I literally don’t understand it. Several times per day I am driven insane by the purple thread it sheds.
Here’s a picture of this morning’s harvest:
I count thirteen strands here. Bear in mind that this is only two hours after I did my last sweep. There are twelve two-hour periods per 24 hours, so a rough calculation leads me to the conclusion that 156 strands become free per day. To continue the maths: we’ve owned the rug since December 2013 (that’s another story), which is about 2380 days. That equates to roughly 371,000 strands. Now, either the rug is growing hair of its own, or I have seriously underestimated the amount of material that went into making it in the first place. I’ve often been tempted to bring it up with the manufacturer but I am fascinated to see how long it will be before the thing finally gives up. But perhaps this will never happen, and if you’ve ever read ‘The Magic Porridge Pot’ you will know what I mean.
Well, the long and short of what I’m trying to say is that I have been growing hair more or less at a constant rate for a very long time, and I’m still doing it now.
We’re living through an unusual time in human history. Never before have ALL the hairdressers in the country been closed at exactly the same time. And before today you couldn’t even travel abroad for a trim, because it’s the same there.
But as I think I said earlier on, from this morning (unless you live in Leicester) the nation’s hairdressers are allowed to open up once more!
I’m expecting a call from my hairdresser Michael at some point soon to book myself in, but I know already that there is a long backlog of appointments before mine. So the question is: do I wait a few more weeks for that, or do I try and get in somewhere else in the meantime? Where should I go?
At the short-notice end of the spectrum are the barber shops where no appointment is necessary. Until recently, this type of place was my go-to option when I needed my hair to be shortened, but not any more. Let’s examine why.
Pros of ‘no appointment necessary’ barber shops:
- they are cheap – usually between £5 and £10;
- they are quick (once you’re in the hot seat, anyway);
- you don’t need to make an appointment – perfect for the busy yet disorganised man about town.
Cons of ‘no appointment necessary’ barber shops:
- queues are likely;
- no hairwash option;
- only lowbrow reading matter available.
Besides all this, the haircut itself often isn’t very good. I know a ‘clippers-only’ place down the road, where a full haircut takes less than 5 minutes. Everything is designed for maximum efficiency; they keep the door open, they turn the radio up loud, and they shut you down if you try to chat. Per haircut it’s cheap, but per minute it’s way more expensive than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Most importantly, the resulting look is severe and not suited to my head shape. Result: I only ever go there in dire emergencies.
In conclusion: going to a ‘no appointment necessary’ barber represents a reckless gamble.
Case closed, you might think.
But not so fast! Trying to go upmarket is also fraught with risk.
There is a ‘salon’ not far from where I work, which is constantly booked. I’ll call it ‘Bounce’ – for that is its name. I do not go there, for the following reason.
For a period of about a year I would occasionally walk in and ask if they had any spare appointments in the next day or two, but the answer was always no. After doing this three or four times I vowed never to try again, because I couldn’t take the crushing disappointment. But one sunny Thursday I asked the question just once more, and to my surprise they said that yes, they did have an appointment – for that very day at 4pm! As bad luck would have it I wasn’t free, but I didn’t want to waste the opportunity of a lifetime so I asked when the next available slot might be. Not for another two months, they said. Two months! Given that my haircut cycle is approximately 3.5 weeks, this was a total non-starter. I haven’t been back.
As an astute reader you will have worked out that until quite recently I worked on a ‘just in time’ method for hair maintenance, meaning that I would only book myself a haircut when I actually needed one, by which time it was often too late and I’d be forced to take whatever I could get. But after my ‘Bounce’ experience I decided to adopt a more structured approach.
I now go to a very decent place over the road called Ego, where I pay a bit more but am guaranteed nearly new magazines to read, interesting chat, and an excellent haircut with minimal clippings down the neck.
But are things about to change?
There is now a third option, which technically was always available but rarely used, and which is now becoming a realistic choice for many: the home haircut.
During this lockdown period we’ve been forced to make a difficult choice. Either we let our hairs grow and accept that we will look less groomed as a result, or we go the DIY route. I chose the latter, and it’s paid off. Back in April I found a set of hair clippers in the garage that I originally bought to commemorate Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial but that are still in very good condition, and I’ve been using them on myself (with help from my wife and daughters) since then.
Three or four cuts later, things aren’t looking too bad. Nowhere near professional standard but acceptable from the front, which is all that matters when you’re only meeting people via Zoom.
By doing this I’m saving between £5 and £20 every time, depending on which hairdresser’s chair I’m not sitting in. Good news for me, but not so good for whoever isn’t cutting my hair.
Some things really have to be left to the professionals: e.g. dentistry, laser eye surgery, town planning. Other things can be done equally well or better at home, e.g. parenting, baking, making tea.
But unless you’re a TV news reader you can get away with having a less-than-perfect haircut most of the time, so I fear that it might take a while for the industry to recover. I can’t wait to get my hair cut by a professional again, but I’m going to keep the clippers close at hand for an interim touch-up if I need it.
Next time – beards!