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Hairstylists Deal With Disastrous Pandemic Mistakes As People Come Back To Salons


As more people get their shots and begin to reemerge from pandemic hibernation, one exclamation seems to rise from towns all across America.

JENN CUBBAGE: Girl, what did you do to your hair?

SIMON: This - I was kind of going for an abstract topiary look. You like it?

Stylists and barbers are bearing witness to the wreckage that months of social distancing hath wrought on our heads.

CUBBAGE: I mean, if you can think of anything that someone could do to their hair, we have been dealing with that for the past six months since we've reopened (laughter).

SIMON: That's Jenn Cubbage of Crop Salon outside of Baltimore.

CUBBAGE: Usually, a little wine is involved. You know, someone's getting to go out, and they needed their bangs trimmed, or something's not laying right.

KHANE KUTZWELL: Pandemic hair has chops and divots and things going in it.

SIMON: And facial hair - what has Khane Kutzwell of Camera Ready Kutz in Brooklyn seen?

KUTZWELL: Crooked mustache here and there. Or someone has made their sideburn disappear.

ZAK MOUKHTABIR: During the whole time I've been doing hair, this was, like, the worst. It was just a lot.

SIMON: That's Zak Moukhtabir of Georgetown Aveda Salon and Spa in Washington, D.C. It's not the savage scissors work that bothers him so much as the at-home hair coloring and bleaching. Here's his favorite pandemic hair story. Client comes into the salon after a long time at home. She's wearing a mask and a hat.

MOUKHTABIR: Then she showed me a beautiful blonde from Instagram. And she was like, I want it to look like this, and I want it to be silver-blond and all of that. I was like, OK, that's fine.

SIMON: That goes on for 20 minutes. The client will not remove her hat.

MOUKHTABIR: I need to see your hair. And then she keeps going and going. And I'm like, I need to see your hair.

SIMON: Finally, as the hat comes off...

MOUKHTABIR: She's like, I don't want you to judge. I did something at home. Oh, my God. It was, like, literally the rainbow, brassy rainbow. It's not even, like, a beautiful rainbow - some red, orange, a brownish color. And I'm like, what did you do?

SIMON: She tried to highlight her own hair without training and a kit bought off the Internet. Several stylists have told us about misbegotten coloring jobs. We've heard the phrase cheetah spots a few times. Their clients were laughing, too. Maybe it's therapeutic. But it might be harder to laugh at the results of do-it-yourself extensions.

APRIL STORY: Oh, extensions, the tape-in extensions.

SIMON: April Story is at the Frederic Fekkai Salon in New York City. She had a client who decided to replace her own extensions.

STORY: She literally had patches, you know, going, like, around her head from where she tried to remove the extensions. It was a total disaster. We literally had to give her a pixie cut in order to grow her hair back in evenly.

SIMON: That client's hair is now recuperating. But just in case there's another lockdown, April Story has given her a hair care emergency kit to keep it home, like drinking water and granola bars in case of tornadoes.

Stylists also report that many people now want a dramatic change to their hair - big chops, bold color, bangs, curtain bangs. April Story says 75% of her cuts these days are for fresh looks.

STORY: You have a different mindset after what we just experienced, you know, and that we're still experiencing. And I think people aren't being so serious about, you know, the small things like their hair and, you know, makeup and clothes. It's not as important as it was before. It's actually more of an outlet to express themselves and have fun now.

SIMON: Master barber Khane Kutzwell says for some of her clients, who've grown to look a little like dioramas of early humankind in natural history museums, that first cut has become a kind of ceremony.

KUTZWELL: They're just like, I'm releasing all of this stuff from being by myself, not being able to go out and connect with friends. And I'm ready to get my caveman look gone and get back into the world.

SIMON: And with that reentry comes a new appreciation for the professional artisanal skills of stylists and barbers.

KUTZWELL: Definitely, we've been getting some pretty hefty tips. And people don't complain about the prices anymore. So that's great.

SIMON: And remember...

MOUKHTABIR: No cutting, please, and no coloring.

SIMON: Don't try this at home.


JAMES MARSDEN: (As Corny Collins) What gives a girl power and punch? Is it charm? Is it poise? No, it's hairspray. What gets a gal asked out to lunch? Is it brains? Is it dough? No, it's hairspray. If you take a ride with no can at your side, then your flip will be gone with the wind. But if you spray it and lock it, you can take off in a rocket. And in outer space, each hair... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.