I don’t know about you, but I need a haircut. Until now I’ve resisted the DIY haircut, mostly because I don’t look good with a buzz and, even though I think and write about hair a lot, I don’t have the skills to pick up a pair of scissors to hack away at my own mop. (I also have enough experience with bad haircuts to know it would send me into a tailspin.) I’m almost to the point where I’d give my right arm to be able to sit in a barber chair, and judging from the thousands of brave men who have taken clippers into their own hands or forced their significant others into crash courses in barbering in the last few months, I’m not alone. I haven’t driven 600 miles for a haircut and I haven’t begged for a secret haircut, but I’m getting pretty damn close.
As states roll out reopening efforts of various stages, and given the evidence that barbershops operating too early or without proper precautions could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus, I’m wondering what getting a haircut will be like in the future. You probably are, too. So I’ve been looking at states that have already reopened, like Georgia and Florida, and perusing the New York State guidelines that’ll apply to shops in New York City, where I live, once they reopen. The goal: to get a glimpse of our tonsorial future.
Opening in the first place is not something these businesses can take lightly. “A lot of places here in Texas opened earlier because they were told that they could,” says Chris Applegate, founder of Shed Barber in Austin, Texas, which reopened a few weeks ago. “It’s become so politicized that any sort of stricter rules or longer shelter in place orders are seen as liberal overreach, but there are also still concerns about who’s going to think that it’s too early.”
Even though Texas created a four-page checklist of guidelines specific to barbershops, lack of direction left Applegate and his barbers with more questions than answers. “We looked at some of the shops in Georgia and Oklahoma that have almost no restrictions as more of a ‘what not to do,’ then a lot of friends in Texas that opened a little bit earlier [to see what worked for them],” he says.
This kind of self-educational approach fell to Applegate and his team because there aren’t that many actual rules. Each state is creating its own set of guidelines of various degrees, but unlike in Germany, for instance, where the government has mandated strict sanitation and social distancing rules for barbershops and hair salons, state-by-state recommendations here in the U.S. are somewhat nebulous. Even the New York guidelines, which are among the clearest, leave a lot of the decision-making up to individual shops. And, unlike restaurants, which receive regular inspections, barbershops get hardly any, which means that even with “mandatory” guidelines in place, like in the case of New York, it’s up to the barbershops themselves to enforce them. So you may see barbers in the same area enacting different precautions.
What exactly those precautions are is complicated. Barbers are in a muddle of sometimes-conflicting guidelines that vary by state, county and possibly even city. In many cases, that means barbers and shop owners may feel they need to go above and beyond what guidelines are set in front of them, not just to make their customers feel better about entering the shop, but to keep their staff “safe and secure doing their jobs,” says Sam Buffa, founder of Fellow Barber, which has shops in both New York City and San Francisco (providing another wrinkle in reopening strategy). With safety on both sides the biggest concern, haircuts are going to look a little different moving forward. But just how different?
Most obviously, everyone will be wearing a mask. Like, everyone. “Right now, masks aren’t technically required [in Texas], they’re just recommended,” says Applegate. “But we’re not letting any clients into the shop without a mask.” You’ll need to keep your mask on from the moment you enter the shop through the entire haircut. You should plan to wear a mask that hooks behind your ears instead of tying behind your head, and if you don’t have one, the shop will likely have disposable masks for you to wear (and put on outside).
Your barber will be wearing a mask, too—and probably more. “It seems like a face shield is recommended during anything you’re doing face-to-face,” says barber Doug Paster. “They’re also recommending barbers wear a gown or something you can change from client to client.” While it’s unlikely that many barbers will be wearing full hazmat suits, they’ll still be taking precautions. Fellow Barber, according to Buffa, is going to require gloves as well as implement its first-ever uniform policy, so barbers don’t wear their street clothes in the shop and their clothing can be easily laundered every night.
“We’re treating it as if our barbers are working in a hospital,” says Buffa. Barbers are already used to keeping their tools like scissors and combs in Barbicide, a disinfectant, but sanitation will extend way beyond that jar of blue liquid on their counter. Every single surface will have to be wiped clean consistently throughout the day and sometimes, like in the case of Shed, they may take a break from appointments in the middle of the day to completely sanitize the shop. “Our front desk person constantly sprays down and sanitizes high points of contact like the front door and the bathroom door,” says Applegate. Shed has also gone completely cashless so no money can change hands.
Other shops are taking it above and beyond. Fellow Barber is installing new HVAC systems in all its shops, similar to the air-cleaning systems found in hospitals, and Persons of Interest in Brooklyn, NY is looking at sanitizing UV wands to use on hard-to-clean items, according to founder Steve Marks. You’ll likely be required to wash or sanitize your hands upon entering the shop, to keep the clean factor high.
Any sort of in-shop waiting area is going to be eliminated “almost universally,” says Marks, which means the sidewalk or parking lot is the new waiting bench. At Shed Barbers, Applegate says clients are required to call the shop when they arrive to find out if they can come inside. “We call them back when the barber is ready,” he says. Some shops may also require a temperature check or health questionnaire before allowing a haircut at all.
Most shops are also switching over to an appointment-only system. “You won’t be able to come in unless you have an appointment and if you show up early, you’ll have to wait outside,” says Buffa. For shops that already use appointments, that won’t be a huge issue, but for some barbers that only do walk-ins, it will present a drastic change. If your regular barbershop doesn’t do appointments, call once it reopens to ask how they are dealing with walk-ins. Some will likely still take them, but you’ll have to wait outside.
Some states have offered business capacity guidelines and some, like Texas, have only noted social distancing precautions. In most cases, both of those guidelines will mean fewer active chairs in the barbershops. Buffa expects New York City to implement capacity guidelines and says Fellow Barber “will be at about 50 percent capacity and where we have outdoor space, we’ll be cutting outside.” And while Texas only recommended barber chairs stay six feet apart, Applegate says he chose to open Shed at 50 percent capacity as an added precaution. “We have eight chairs per shop, but we’ll only have four barbers at a time.”
But having fewer barbers working at one time poses problems not just for the clients but for the business. To offset the decrease in how many haircuts they can perform in a day (thanks to fewer appointments), most shops will extend their hours. “We’ll be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” says Buffa, and there will be different shifts of barbers who switch mid-day. In the case of Fellow Barber, shift grouping will never change, to avoid possible cross-contamination.
Appointments will be longer, too, but not for the client. Most barbershops will stop booking appointments back to back in order to allow time for barbers to sanitize their stations between clients. “I’ve changed haircuts to book 15 minutes longer than usual so I have plenty of time to clean and sanitize, but also so there’s not overlap from client to client,” says Paster.
One of the biggest changes for many men is that beard trims and shaves will be off the table for the foreseeable future. “We won’t do anything where we are touching the face,” says Buffa, though barbers will be able to teach customers how to trim their beard themselves (or direct them to online resources). The biggest reason, of course, is that a beard trim or shave requires you to take your mask off, which in most shops will be prohibited. Chances are, if you have a beard, you’ve already attempted to learn to trim it on your own, but if you haven’t, now is the time. “We do an insane amount of beard trims,” says Marks, “so that’s a big change.”
In some cases, people may be skipping the barbershop completely. Paster conjectures that some barbers and hairstylists might start offering private house calls or renting their own private spaces, as he does, in order to have more control over the sanitization of the environment and minimize the amount of other people around. Some clients may also feel more comfortable having their barber come to them, perhaps to cut their hair in their backyard, instead of going to a (somewhat) crowded barbershop.
As barbershops reopen across the country, all of these safety precautions are likely to evolve. “There are going to be things we didn’t anticipate,” says Applegate. “Now that we’re open, we’re encouraging clients to tell us if they notice something we’re not doing.” But overall, barbers are most interested in providing a safe environment for both themselves and their clients while still offering the services we all want.
It’s important to remember that while some of these precautions may be inconvenient at first, it’s ultimately a safety issue. “I don’t anticipate anyone not being willing to work with what we request,” says Marks. And if you do take issue with wearing a mask or not getting a beard trim, ask yourself: Is it really worth the risk? As Paster says, “at the end of the day, everyone just wants to feel safe.”
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