Where will you be on April 12? Boris Johnson might be prioritising a pint in the pub, but for others a professional haircut or manicure is first on the agenda, with days off work booked for beautifying.
“Our customers have been emailing us since [this last] lockdown started and we must have had about 1,000 people on the waiting list,” says Vanita Parti, founder and chief executive of Blink Brow Bar. Luke Hersheson, chief executive of the London-based Hershesons, reports that his hair salons and blow-dry bars are “really full for the first couple of months, we will be at 100 per cent of our current capacity, and that’s higher than usual. We are enabling clients to book up until July.”
It seems, to contradict Michael Gove, that the people of this country haven’t had enough of experts after all. Parti thinks that as we begin to socialise more, DIY grooming just won’t cut it and people will want that professional finish. Her customers are able to tweeze the odd eyebrow hair, but tell her that shaping their brows requires a skilled hand.
And visiting a salon isn’t just about how it makes you look, it’s also about how it makes you feel. It’s a treat, a little bubble of escapism. “When we come out of this it’s all going to be about experiences,” says Hersheson. “We’ve never valued them so much as when they have been taken away from us.”
One friend rhapsodised to me about “the grounding, coddling nature of the hairdressing ritual” in her favourite salon. “The cursory but comforting natter, the cappuccino that appears about 10 to 15 minutes in; the licence to peruse all those trashy tabloid mags I’d otherwise not get caught dead reading. It’s two hours every six weeks that orientates me in my community, and in my life.” Estelle Ayer, 34, corporate strategy director at Condé Nast, says she values “the feeling of self-confidence — it’s not just being visible — it’s being pampered and enjoying the moment.” She left her nails short and natural during lockdown as she couldn’t paint her right hand neatly, but is now keen to get professional treatments again.
There’s also a desire among clients to support businesses that have been hard hit financially. Many people were outraged last summer when MP William Wragg asked the prime minister whether he would review the decision to keep beauty salons closed and numerous MPs responded by guffawing. Between March and December last year, 4,578 hairdressing and beauty salons closed across the UK for good, according to Local Data Company, a retail analytics firm.
While most people I spoke to are counting down the days till they can sit back and have their hair styled by a professional rather than, say, a scissor-wielding spouse, there is a question mark over whether the initial high demand will continue. One longer term symptom of the pandemic could be a return to supporting more local businesses, especially as fewer people are working full time from offices in city centres.
The past year has also seen people taking more of an interest in skin care and attempting increasingly sophisticated self-care routines at home. Laura Ferguson and Hannah Measures, co-founders of The Light Salon, saw sales of their Boost LED Face Mask device (£395) increase 400 per cent over the past year but they still predict that most of us will take a hybrid approach rather than continuing to DIY. “We have always had people who come in for facials then do treatments at home in between. Cost per use and convenience is great with an at-home device, but like with restaurants versus meal kits, people actually want to experience a professional touch too.”
There are those who will opt for lower maintenance routines. The last year has given some women I know the social and psychological space to think about why they do certain treatments, and to ignore internalised social pressures to look perfect. Some have gone back to their natural hair colour under cover of lockdown, or become less assiduous about covering greys.
“I had professional blow dries around once a month at Duck & Dry, and I am quite excited to use them again, but I will only do so sporadically now as I feel there is just so much less need,” says Rachel, a 38-year-old consultant in London. “However, I can’t wait for someone to do my eyebrows professionally.”
Others are choosing treatments with more permanence, such as laser hair removal over waxing, while one friend who waxed her legs herself for the first time in years was surprised at how easy and effective it was.
Of course there’s also the critical issue of budgeting. “I’ll never waste money on getting Shellac polish on my nails ever again because they’ve never been healthier,” declares a colleague in her forties. “I am shaping them and putting nail oil on them. I started doing this as a ‘recovery’ treatment but it’s saving me around £450 a year. I’ve just spent the same on a new pair of birdwatching binoculars.”
Hersheson adds that “something that’s come out of lockdown is this desire to have a great haircut that requires as little styling as possible, just air drying or embracing your natural texture. It’s cultural moments like this that cement people’s behaviour.”
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