Anyone who’s known me more than approximately three months, will most likely have seen my hair undergo a sudden and drastic change. In December 2017 I walked into my neighbour’s home-based salon and asked her to bleach my long, healthy, previously uncoloured hair. She begged with me not to commit this crime against keratin, but I was adamant. It took over four hours to achieve the bleach blonde I wanted on hair of my thickness and length, and two days later I chopped off more than half of that hard work to a shoulder-length cut. Goodbye long, healthy, previously uncoloured hair, hello hair dye addiction.
Blonde, brunette, pink; waist-length, shoulder-length, bob – I’ve pretty much DIYed myself a new wig on a triannual basis. My hair has been an ongoing experiment in self-image, a visual diary of my changing persona. Dyeing my hair essentially became my answer to any problem, though it is yet to solve any. If ever I had a particularly difficult week or month, this would almost always culminate in an evening in with my two true loves: red wine and hair dye.
Yet for someone so prone to changing their hair, I am unequivocally opposed to visiting hair salons. The very thought is enough to make me want to shave my head entirely, but I know that my disproportionately pea-sized head would look ridiculous bald. Thus, like many people, I have spent years trying to find the perfect salon, or even a decent-ish salon with affordable-ish prices. These salons are about as common as Bigfoot, particularly in London, hence, once they find one they like, many people will stick to the same hairdressers for years. It’s a fool proof formula. And so, these salon-goers book in on a regular basis, for a three-hour gossip and a head massage that they didn’t ask for. They take out a small mortgage for the opportunity to flick through shitty magazines, with a cup of tea and a stale custard cream, whilst someone faffs around their split ends like a clucking hen.
If the process of finding a reliable hairdresser weren’t so heinous, perhaps I would be less cynical. But personally, I cannot think of anything worse than giving a total stranger free reign of a pair of scissors and my mop. Then again, even with a hairdresser I trust, there is little appeal in sitting in a fancy chair munching on digestives, with the latest issue of OK! begging me to read their ‘exclusive’ interview with Prince Harry’s au pair’s mum’s uncle’s dog. Heaven forbid any stylist given the task of cutting my hair as I sit in silence and scowl. In hell, an audio reel of awkwardly personal haircut chit-chat plays on loop, and the cuttings on the floor remain eternally unswept.
At this point, I should probably include the disclaimer that I do not hate hairdressers themselves, I simply hate going to the hairdressers. For me, it’s a long and expensive procedure, that almost always ends in disappointment. You must understand that my hairdresser-hating regime is not without good reason and if some of my more traumatic experiences had been avoided, I might be less inclined to do all of my mane-maintenance myself. There was the time the left side of my hair ended up half an inch longer than the right, or when I went in with ice-blonde hair to get my roots done and came out grey all over. Not that cool silver-grey that only influencers and models appear to be able to pull off, but a dull, granny-ish grey that added 50 years to someone about to turn 20. There is nothing satisfying about leaving a salon with layers, feathers and fringes you didn’t want nor ask for, especially knowing that you wasted a large amount of your day and an even larger portion of your student loan in the process. And there is simply no disguising a hair disaster to which your housemate replies: “Don’t worry, we can fix this”. I have been to far too many hairdressers that suggest something totally different to what I had in mind. Once this happens, it’s a losing battle, the hairdresser inevitably believes that they know best, and your protests will fall on deaf ears. A hairdresser’s creative vision is more persistent than a Magaluf club rep, so if the dreaded “How about…?” is uttered, you best know that it could not matter less what you have asked for. Run for the hills. Don’t even stop to take off that ridiculous black cloak they make you wear, as though you are some back-to-front Hufflepuff. And if you choose to stay, just know that you most certainly aren’t leaving with the straight cut, one-inch trim, no wash, no blow-dry that you desperately want.
It is the inability of 99 % of all hairdressers I have experienced to listen to what I (the customer) wants that forces me to avoid salons at all costs. This is the reason why I only use box dyes, why I refuse to spend more than £25 on a haircut. It may not surprise you that the best haircut I ever had was at a unisex shop in Sheffield, offering £6 snips. Because when you opt for these budget barbers, you simply aren’t paying enough for them to waste their time with all the add-ons you didn’t want in the first place. The hour long head massage, the miraculous hair-repairing mask that smells like your nan’s cough sweets, the burn scars on your scalp because the salon sinks only seem to alternate between artic and four million degrees. And if it doesn’t turn out they way you envisioned, at least you didn’t have to sell your spare kidney to cover the cost.
Dyeing your hair at home is pretty simple. I’ve had some pretty dire results at times, mainly through my own ineptitude and inability to read instructions, but otherwise it’s pretty simple. Cutting your own hair, however, is a little more difficult. The trim is a dreaded act that comes around every couple of months, forcing me to leave my trusty bedroom in favour of a professional salon. Being well past the age of mum’s garden bowlcuts, I recently took a friend’s recommendation and braved a haircut at Hurwundeki in Shoreditch. The website boasts 15-minute cuts at a reasonable price, with a minimal approach that encourages hair to grow naturally with little maintenance, so I was excited (if a little nervous) to try it out.
It was everything you could ask for in a cheap trim, and it was over in less than 25 minutes. A handprinted sign in the window advertised £15 cuts for men, £20 for women, cash only. The salon’s all wood interior gave off a stripped back, minimalist vibe, indicative of what the haircut itself would go on to be. The booking system was uncomplicated: a chalkboard hangs on the wall and customers write their names on it as they arrive, though I did not have to queue at all on a Monday lunchtime. With an eclectic playlist that yo-yos between fusion jazz and Nando’s bossa nova, I enjoyed the calm sensation of not being assaulted with deeply personal questions, nor berated for killing my hair with box bleach. Though arguably not the most technical haircut I’ve ever received, the barber fulfilled all of my hopes and dreams of allowing me to meditate whilst he chopped off an inch or so of hair, only stopping to check if the length was as I wished. He high fived me as I left, satiated and somewhat more relaxed than 25 minutes prior. It reinstated my faith that, even in London, fast and affordable haircut are still available, if only you know where to look. Perhaps if you are looking for the skinny caramel soya Frappuccino of haircuts, Hurwundeki is not for you. But for me, it was perfect.
Unfortunately, coronavirus has claimed hair salons as another of its many victims, so most of us will be forced to grow our hair out until Hurwundeki reopens. It’s not the end of the world. Many salons are also offering vouchers that can be redeemed post-pandemic, helping them to stay afloat amidst the madness. Me? I’ll be #STAYINGHOME, going crazy, and possibly dyeing my hair blue within the month.