What our hairstyle choices say about how the world's changed since Covid

South Africans have literally and figuratively let their hair down, writes Jessica Brodie

02 August 2020 - 00:04
By Jessica Brodie
Months without a visit to the salon has meant that many people now have more intimate relationship with their hair, says a Joburg stylist.
Image: 123RF/David Izquierdo Roger Months without a visit to the salon has meant that many people now have more intimate relationship with their hair, says a Joburg stylist.

My best friend and housemate is a hairdresser. Living with a hairdresser during the lockdown, I can comfortably say I have reached my hair peak. Treated to several blowdries a week as well as a one-on-one six-week intensive course on curling my own hair, I've honestly never looked better.

I finally had the time, and unlimited access to Ashleigh Doveton, to teach me how to work with my hair. She even convinced me to dye my eyebrows, and tinted my grey hairs.

While I was embracing my casual sweatpants-bottom-half-and-fancy-head combo, she was luxuriating in the reprieve from having to look so damn good every day. She, and other hairdressers, have loved finally being a part of the ponytail gang. The relentless polish finally, well, relented.

We both had a hair reset, even though our outcomes were polar opposites. And since the government has lifted the moratorium on hair salons, she's seen that trend continue. Ashleigh says: "People are letting their freak flag fly. Instead of choosing their hair based on external expectations, now that they are choosing what makes them happy for different, more personally authentic reasons, people have gone all kinds of crazy."

Whether it's a man who hasn't grown his hair since he was 17 or a teenage girl who is finally allowed to have a pink streak in her hair, people are living through hair self-expression.

Gavin, a recent retiree in his mid-60s, has grown his snow-white hair for the first time. Instead of a short back and sides, he now has a full beard and a puffball of white hair. That man spent more time talking about his hair than any client Ashleigh had ever had. He proudly said "it was the first time in his life he has had hair options".

Women who wish to touch up their roots are doing so at home with professional, at-home colour kits. "These are totally different from box dye," says Ashleigh. Box dye is a no go - "its a pandemic, not the apocalypse".

The break in societal norms has also resulted in many women making the transition to their natural grey hair, which is notoriously difficult to do. Not having to see as many people has provided women with a time buffer in which to grow the grey out.

"It's amazing to see how people adapt. People have become liberated, there's a trend towards more natural, with the odd bright green outlier here and there."

She credits this to the more intimate relationship people have created with hair during lockdown. While many people waited for the storm to pass, and just let their hair grow during the time salons were closed, many more took matters into their own hands. She says there are many sweet stories.

"Hair became a trust exercise between couples. Whether it's your 60-year-old husband learning to apply colour to your roots, or your 23-year-old girlfriend trying to give her boyfriend a sweet fade.

"There are quite a lot of short blunt fringes walking around, a true testament to why you shouldn't cut your hair with kitchen scissors."

Now, with more clients returning to the salon every week, its clear that hair is still very much on people's minds. Despite the fact that the atmosphere has changed in the salon with all the safety precautions, clients still feel a lift from going to the hairdresser, which is a heady combo of illicit physical touch, connection with another person and a trip out of the house. Plus it's technically a necessity. In fact, it's one of the last remaining justifiable luxuries during these strange times.

• Ashleigh Doveton co-owns The Mix Colab, which is located at 86 6th Street Parkhurst, Johannesburg. Find The Mix Colab on Facebook.