Some of these hairstyles were already trendy, she said, but with the increased privacy provided by the pandemic, people may feel emboldened to try something new.
Senior Clara Luisa Matthews got a text from her roommate in April asking if she wanted to shave her head with him.
“I said probably not, actually,” Matthews said. “Also, aren’t you worried that you’re gonna look kind of dumb?”
Her friend was persistent and pointed out that since they were going to be in quarantine for months, this would be the time to do it.
After a few days and consultations with friends, Matthews decided to shift from the pixie she’d been rocking for three and a half years to a purple buzzcut.
“I can’t imagine myself having tried this without some sort of drastic event precipitating it,” Matthews said.
And she isn’t alone. A 2013 study found a statistically significant correlation between experiencing major stress events and changes in appearance. There has been no shortage of ‘major stress events’ over the past year, so it’s not surprising people are changing their looks.
Hwang points out that, with most making fewer trips to the salon, people are seeking out low-maintenance hairstyles. Her older customers are letting their roots grow out. Popular among a younger audience, the shaggy ’70s looks require less styling.
“It’s a haircut that you just wake up in and it looks good,” Hwang said.
This convenience factor is reflected in the DIY approach dominating right now, as well. The only part a salon played in Matthews’ new look was providing the supplies via curbside pickup.
A bleach kit from Walmart was UNC graduate Henry Pehr's approach for supplies when he and his friends decided to cut and dye each others’ hair.
“It might take a lot more for me to go back to a hairstylist as long as I still have friends who are willing to cut my hair,” Pehr said.
People are driven to make changes by the freeing nature of privacy, stressful circumstances and practical considerations. But Pehr notes that while quarantine probably catalyzed his decision, it wouldn’t have been out of character for him to do it at some point regardless.
“My hair decisions have been maybe if we’re talking percentages, like 35 percent serious?” Pehr said.
Prior to bleaching and cutting his hair, Pehr was on his second mullet.
For others, a significant change to their appearance can be transformative.
Matthews, being the editor-in-chief of Coulture Magazine, took the change a little bit more seriously.
Going forward, Matthews doesn’t anticipate going back to the pixie whenever she can go to the salon again. Then again, she notes, she didn’t expect to get a buzz cut. The risk paid off.
“I can’t hide and I have to be unapologetic walking around in the world as a visibly queer woman with a shaved head,” Matthews said. “If people didn’t clock me as queer before, they definitely do now, and being forced to own it has helped me out a lot.”