Latest Style Trend: Clandestine Haircuts During Stay-At-Home Orders

May 23, 2020
Originally published on May 24, 2020 7:53 am

It's been months since most Americans have had a professional haircut. Salons have been shut down under stay-at-home orders to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In Los Angeles, the result has been a robust clandestine haircut scene.

Carmelle began cutting hair out of her living room after the salon where she worked closed in mid-March. Her manager incorrectly informed her that she was not eligible for unemployment. She applied for jobs at grocery stores and delivery services but got nowhere. So, with no money coming in, she turned her house in Compton, Calif., into a salon and placed an ad on Craigslist.

"I wasn't expecting a high volume at all," she said. "And when my phone had over 100 texts in one day, I was like, 'Oh my goodness, what am I gonna do?' [There are] a lot of people out there that [need] haircuts!"

Carmelle asked that her last name not be used for fear of losing her cosmetologist license. What she's doing is not allowed: Salons are still closed under California's stay-at-home order. Stylists who cut hair anyway could be penalized by the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

But Carmelle said she's doing nothing wrong.

"Before you judge, put yourself in my situation first. My hands are tied," she said.

The fear of disciplinary action is anxiety-provoking. Another LA-area stylist said she's completely drained after making a single home visit. She asked that her name not be used because she also fears losing her license.

"It's like I need a nap," she said. "I did one person and I'm like, exhausted, when my average day was 12 people."

People who get clandestine haircuts are anxious, too, but about something else.

"The shaming," said Whitney Coss, an Angeleno who recently had her longtime stylist come to her home to cut and dye her hair on her back deck. "I've been shamed by strangers and friends for posting stuff online where I'm not just sitting at home."

She decided to get her hair cut because she said she needed a little self-care right now.

"I was like you know what? I need this. I need to feel good, I need to have a haircut, I need to do something that feels normal," she said.

Unshorn government leaders

Public officials who look too groomed on camera also risk being shamed. At a recent meeting of the Orange County, Calif., Board of Supervisors, salon owner Melissa Sprout accused officials of getting haircuts on the sly while forcing salons to stay closed.

"As a hairstylist, I can see that many of you have had services done in the last six weeks. If politicians are using our services illegally, surely they find us essential," Sprout told the board.

"I have not had my hair cut since well before this started," Supervisor Don Wagner shot back, "and if you want to get a close-up look, talk to me afterward."

Reporters recently asked California Gov. Gavin Newsom about his hair at a press conference.

"I think it's pretty obvious to you I have not had a haircut," Newsom said. "I'm a little embarrassed having this conversation as publicly as I am having."

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters his wife is cutting his hair at home, with electric shears he bought on Amazon.

What Garcetti is doing may be safer than going to a salon, according to Seth Gordon Benzell, a postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who recently wrote a paper examining the risk of reopening various kinds of businesses.

"What's really dangerous is people sitting around in crowded, small barber shops," Benzell said.

But before you consider a home haircut, Benzell wants people to consider the trade-offs. It is worth it? he asked.

"You should ask yourself, "Do I really want to be spending my limited social contact budget on this? Or is there something more important I want to spend my very few human interactions that I'm allowing myself on?"

Those in desperate need of a trim can always pay a barber to guide them, via FaceTime, while they cut their own hair. Thanks to the coronavirus, one Los Angeles stylist is now offering that service.

Copyright 2020 KPCC. To see more, visit KPCC.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Many Americans haven't had a haircut for months because barbershops and salons have been closed. Lots of people now look wild and woolly. But as Emily Guerin of member station KPCC in Los Angeles reports, the closures have led to a clandestine haircut scene in Southern California.

EMILY GUERIN, BYLINE: When California's stay-at-home orders began in mid-March, the salon where Carmelle cut hair closed, and she was furloughed. Her manager incorrectly informed her that she was not eligible for unemployment. She applied for other kinds of work but got nowhere. So with no money coming in, she started cutting hair out of her living room in Compton.

CARMELLE: I wasn't expecting a high volume at all. And when my phone had over a hundred texts in one day, I was like, oh, my goodness. What am I going to do? It's a lot of people out there that needs haircuts.

GUERIN: Carmelle asked us not to use her last name for fear of losing her cosmetologist license because what she's doing is not allowed. Salons are still closed under the state's stay-at-home order. California's Board of Barbering and Cosmetology says stylists who cut hair anyway could be penalized. But Carmelle says she's doing nothing wrong.

CARMELLE: Before you judge, put yourself in my situation first. My hands are tied.

GUERIN: Another LA-area stylist says she's completely drained after making a single home visit.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's like I need a nap. I did one person, and I'm, like, exhausted when my average day was 12 people.

GUERIN: She's exhausted for the same reason she asked us not to use her name. She fears losing her license. People who get clandestine haircuts are anxious, too, but about something else.

WHITNEY COSS: The shaming - I've been shamed by strangers and friends for, you know, posting stuff online where I'm not just sitting at home.

GUERIN: LA resident Whitney Coss recently had her longtime stylist come to her house to cut and dye her hair on her back deck. She rinsed the dye out in the kitchen sink.

COSS: I was like, you know what? I need this. I need to feel good. I need to have a haircut. I need to do something that feels normal.

GUERIN: Public officials who look too groomed on camera also risk being shamed. At a recent meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, a salon owner named Melissa Sprout accused the officials of getting haircuts on the sly while forcing salons to stay closed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MELISSA SPROUT: As a hairstylist, I can see that many of you have had services done in the last six weeks. If politicians are using our services illegally, surely, they find us essential.

GUERIN: Supervisor Donald Wagner shot back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD WAGNER: I have not had my hair cut since well before this started. And if you want to get a close-up look, talk to me afterwards.

GUERIN: During recent press conferences, reporters have also asked California's governor, Gavin Newsom, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti about their hair.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

GAVIN NEWSOM: I think it's pretty obvious to you I have not had a haircut. I'm a little embarrassed having this conversation as publicly as I am having.

ERIC GARCETTI: I did get a haircut. It was from my wife. And I ordered on Amazon some electric shears.

GUERIN: Getting your hair cut at home may actually be safer than going to a salon, says Seth Gordon Benzell, a researcher at MIT who recently wrote a paper about the risks of reopening various businesses.

SETH GORDON BENZELL: What's really dangerous is people sitting around in crowded, small barbershops.

GUERIN: Every interaction with a new person increases your risk of transmitting the coronavirus. So before you decide to get a home haircut, he says, ask yourself, is it really worth it?

BENZELL: Do I really want to be spending my limited sort of social contact budget on this, or is there something more important that I want to spend my very few human interactions that I'm allowing myself on?

GUERIN: You could always pay a barber to guide you via FaceTime while you cut your own hair. Yes, that is a real thing.

For NPR News, I'm Emily Guerin in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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