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


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.


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.


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.


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.