Zahir Robb and his wife, Noel Garcia, decided to give their 9-year-old son a haircut. Neither had barbering experience in late April, six weeks into the family’s self-quarantine in South Pasadena. They were hesitant but desperation, fueled by two months without a visit to the barbershop, foiled their doubts.
So they proceeded. It went poorly.
They left their son with a bowl cut, and the client, young but not that young, wasn’t pleased. Therefore, the family ordered proper hair clippers online and tried again the following week. The second try went better. Short on the sides, long on top. Not bad.
Their impromptu home hair salon was going to close but Robb’s daughter wanted her hair cut to her shoulders for her sixth birthday. The nerves doubled. A mistake wouldn’t be as easily rectified. Mom passed the test.
“My eldest, who’s 13, I think is a little more wary of letting Mom give her a cut,” said Robb, an educator and South Pasadena school board member. “Thirteen-year-olds are a little less forgiving.”
The Robb household’s resourcefulness is a window into an inconvenience that pales in comparison to the devastation the coronavirus pandemic has produced. It might come across as trivial but the lack of access to personal grooming professionals — barbers, hairstylists, nail technicians and eyebrow specialists, among others — in recent weeks remains a burden for some nonetheless.
People are increasingly yearning for crisp shape-ups, fresh fades and satisfying manicures. They’re braving the pain to pluck their own eyebrows and summoning the courage to buzz their heads as a quick fix. They’ve left stores sold out of hair clippers online and gone to YouTube to study tutorials on how to use them.
On the other end, the professionals they’ve realized they took for granted are struggling without incomes since the government closed their workplaces in mid-March. Some state and local governments around the country have allowed barbershops and hair salons to open. A barbershop in Laguna Hills recently opened against a statewide order, but that has been an outlier in California.
“Self-care, I think, right now is a necessity,” said Mia Zdjelar, a 31-year-old hairstylist in Hermosa Beach. “Even though getting our hair done is a luxury, we’re really realizing that it is essential to us feeling good about ourselves.”
The predicaments don’t discriminate. People from all walks of life are appearing on social media and video work meetings and behind masks at the grocery store with different looks. Some are using the time to experiment while holed up at home.
Zdjelar dyed her hair yellow and her husband’s hair blue. She has given her husband, a barber, two haircuts, although the clippers died the second time and it turned out they had left the charger at the hair salon they work at together.
Lakers star LeBron James recently shaved his head bald to complement an unruly beard. The Dodgers’ Kiké Hernández is sporting a thick mustache. Dodgers play-by-play man Joe Davis hasn’t gotten a haircut in more than two months. It’s the longest his hair has ever grown.
Wes Phillips, a senior neurosurgery resident physician at UCLA, has gone over a month without a haircut. He’s been lining himself up to not let it get out of hand. He joked his hair is getting long enough to braid for the first time since high school.
In normal times, Jose Ramirez gets his haircut — a 1 on the sides and a 3 on top — every two weeks. Now his hair is the longest it’s been in 15 years. The 47-year-old Gardena resident hasn’t had a haircut since the middle of March. He wears a hat in all of his Zoom calls. He had a beard but shaved it and is rationing razor blades to save trips to the store.
“I’m just letting it grow out until all of this is over,” said Ramirez, a division manager for Associated Students UCLA. “I’m just trying to figure out what to do with it later on. Screw it. I might as well save some money and not buy clippers or anything.”
Nick Stelzer, a Highland Park resident, finally couldn’t handle his mane and asked his wife, Nella, to cut it. His hair is usually wild and unkempt — his job as a freelance videographer doesn’t require detailed maintenance — but he tried something new, going tight on the sides.
“It was more of a bonding experience than anything else,” Stelzer, 33, said. “I wouldn’t call it a great cut, though. I have worn a hat most days.”
Ralph Moreno, who lives in Eagle Rock, is taking a different approach. In normal times, he’s at the barbershop every two weeks to get a taper fade with a zero on the sides, combed up top, and a trimmed beard. But he’s used the last two months as an opportunity to see how his hair and beard look grown out.
“I’m welcoming it with an open mind,” Moreno, 34, said. “Though sometimes I just want to cut it all off.”
Not everyone is as adventurous — or patient. As an increasing number of barbers and stylists crack and agree to house calls to pay the bills, more people are letting them into their homes to address their needs. The option is tempting.
“If I talk to my barber, I would be tempted into going to her spot and getting a haircut,” Ramirez said. “She’d totally be down for that.”
Robb is looking forward to taking his son back to Ben’s Barbershop — and not just because cutting his son’s hair was a stressful exercise. The South Pasadena shop has been a staple in the community for decades. It’s the same spot Robb grew up going to for his haircuts. It’s a place of comfort. The space represents normalcy.
However, Robb doesn’t get his hair cut there anymore. He’s been shaving his own head for years now. The grooming routine has continued the last two months in quarantine with one addition: He shaved off his beard for the first time in seven years. At first, he thought he made a mistake, but the cleaner look has grown on him.
“I think my wife appreciates a new look,” Robb said. “If she’s going to be quarantined with the same person, it might as well be someone with a fresher face that she hasn’t seen.”