Why going without a proper haircut in lockdown has been so tough

2 months ago 16

On the morning of my 22nd birthday – a morning that I also got ditched by my first major love interest – I went for a haircut.

After leaving the hairdressers, I stood in the sun for a moment basking in the glory of my fresh hair and even though my heart was breaking, I felt as though I was at the start of something.

That haircut was both a literal and symbolic chopping of dead ends.

Emerging with refreshed hair, I felt revived and ready to welcome a new chapter – that is the power of a good haircut.

To the joy of many, haircuts are set to become legal again from April 12.

Some will rush to book an appointment purely for the purpose of tidying a messy mop – professional hairdresser Michael Van Clarke already has a waitlist of over 3,500 clients.

Many other people will do the same to breathe fresh life into, yes, their hair, but also themselves.

A recent YouGov survey found that 68% of British adults believe having their hair done professionally supports their mental health and wellbeing.

By those statistics, it’s fair to say that getting a haircut can be an emotionally charged act.

Perhaps this is why of all the lockdown rules, sneaking off for an illegal haircut was the one so many people were willing to break – even dozens of police officers were caught and fined for doing this.

Haircuts have always held deeper meaning

Hair historian, Rachael Gibson, tells Metro.co.uk the joy found in a haircut today is not a new notion.

‘Haircuts have always held powerful meaning and marked new beginnings or changes in lifestyle,’ she explains.

‘In lots of cultures and religions, haircuts have special symbolic resonance – from a change of marital status or coming of age, to a gesture of respect when there is a death in the family.

‘Aside from this, a haircut can bring joy purely as a fashion statement or change in personal style.’

Our sheer choice in haircuts – from a gentle trim to a severe chop – is a modern development, however.

‘For much of history, women in Western society were expected to have long hair, so haircuts didn’t really factor into their style in the way we are used to today,’ says Rachael. ‘This changed at the start of the 20th century when women were able to make more decisions about their own appearances and we started to see hair “cuts” rather than just styles.

‘The liberation and freedom for women being allowed to wear their hair short, shorter, or really just anything not “long” cannot be understated.

Haircuts can a way for us to change the narrative, Rachel adds, while recalling that Hilary Clinton once said ‘that if she wanted to get her political rivals off the front pages of a newspaper, she knew that all she had to do was get a dramatic haircut’.

This speaks to one side of why haircuts mean a lot to us as people, because we expect others to form opinions on them.

Zoë Irwin, creative director at John Frieda Salons tells us hair is important because ‘it’s something that you wear all the time’ so it gives clues about our character.

A red lip can come and go as and when you please, but hair is something that we hold and present with each day.

‘So much is read from the way the hair lies, the texture that it is and the sharpness or softness,’ she says.

It’s not just women these feelings resonate with.

Zoë says ‘men now are just as drawn to having a shape or having a look, so I see it really strong within the male market.

‘Especially with the rise of barbering as a real art and their beards and how they’re cut, that will put out a certain character or feeling.’

New hair for a new start

In Zoë’s clients, she sees people ‘turn to haircuts when they’re looking to reestablish themselves’, whether it’s to honour something new or to move forward from something old.

‘[It] can be incredibly powerful in the way it makes you feel and reestablishing your confidence,’ she says, explaining that a haircut can even go as far as affecting how you stand, hold your shoulders and can manipulate your features.

Even though there’s the impact of how our hair is judged by others, Zoë explains the true power of a good haircut lies at a deep and personal level.

‘You look at yourself and you have a new look and that everyday has an effect – you look at and you therefore become. You’re not seeing yourself in the same way you perhaps saw yourself [in the past],’ she says.

Haircuts take adjusting to – at some stage, most will experience a bad haircut and regret getting, for example, a fringe.

The iconic and hilarious ‘hair is everything’ scene from Fleabag comes to mind, in which Fleabag defends her sister Claire to their hairdresser, Antony, after Claire receives a terrible haircut.

Fleabag, believing that Antony didn’t deliver on what was asked, tells him that haircuts ‘pay for your f***ing bills’ while demanding a refund in the middle of his salon for Claire.

The punchline is that it was in fact Claire who wanted such a radical cut, though she regretted her bold choice straight away.

While Fleabag’s speech is quote worthy, it’s Antony’s response that speaks to the introspection haircuts elicit.

‘If you want to change your life, change your life. It’s not going to happen in here,’ he says.

Whether a haircut on its own is lifechanging is up for a debate, but it’s clear that a haircut can be used as a gateway or marker of a significant life change.

As Coco Chanel famously said, ‘a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life’.

Rachael says even though this quote was more radical at the time it was uttered in the early 1900s, ‘the idea of transforming yourself through a dramatic haircut does still resonate.’

An act of self-love

For 25-year-old Tash, this feeling rings true as she tells us ‘getting [a haircut] has always felt like a transformation’ and a treat.

‘Out with the old and in with the new. In recent years I have realised a haircut can be a little act of self-care,’ she says, adding that she’ll often book an afternoon off work purely to relish in a getting her thick hair cut.

In the hairdresser’s chair, her hair has gone from being at her ‘bum to a bob’ (to donate to a hair charity) and everything in between. But her most ‘memorable’ cut happened after a breakup.

‘As soon as the salons opened up again, I decided to book myself in for a haircut to just get a new style and have that period of transition,’ Tash says.

‘It was three weeks after the breakup and I was just sad all the time. My hair was in not good condition at all. The hairdresser made a big deal of getting me to touch my hair and appreciate it.

‘Once he was done, he made me run my fingers through my newly cut and styled hair. It was bizarre to me at the time but with hindsight I am glad he did it.

‘I remember feeling slightly dead inside, but new and fresh aesthetically.’

Two months later she went back, spending the money should would have spent on her ex’s birthday present on herself. She calls it an act of ‘self-love’.

‘When I called up for an appointment the first available one happened to be on the same day as his birthday. I took it as a sign from the universe,’ she explains.

Adam Reed, editorial ambassador at L’Oreal Professionnel, tells Metro.co.uk that while a haircut can be a nod towards ‘saying goodbye to an emotional weight off [someone’s] shoulders’ it’s important to remember that haircuts have their place at moments of celebration too.

‘A big hair change isn’t always due to a negative change in life. I have clients wanting a hair transformation after breakups just as often as after having a baby, for example,’ Adam notes.

‘Hair is such a massive part of our identity and having a change in life can make us feel empowered and inspired to switch up our look.

‘A lot of our clients come in for a big change in their look as a way of claiming control and engaging in a playful experimentation.’

If someone is struggling with an area of their life that they lack control in, taking ownership of their hair can be a way to feel a sense of control of the self again.

There’s also the stereotypically open relationship between a hairdresser and their client.

Zoe says: ‘Clients open up to their hairdressers in an incredible way.

‘I think there’s something very soothing about having your head touched and it’s almost releasing the emotion and honesty about their lives.

‘[People] explain what’s going on in order to get your understanding of the situation. Perhaps they’re nervous and this [cut] is something new.’

Whether it’s to commemorate a high or a low, the power of a haircut holds strong.

Being legally denied one for so long has left us excited to experience all that we gain as hair slowly fills the floor beneath our feet.

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