When in March did you start to feel like you wanted to do something ill-advised to your hair? For me it was the 9th, the day I saw a video of a popular TikTok influencer bleaching her brunette bangs — just her bangs — and then dyeing them pink. This look, in case it is not already evident, is a risky one, and should only be attempted if you are professionally hot or 19. As someone who is neither, my reasoning was, “Well, we’re all about to be quarantined. What else am I going to do?”
Some people might answer that question with “a productive activity,” like learning a language or writing a novel, which is fine. But only one of those three options would both cost zero dollars (I already had some leftover dye) and mostly zero mental energy and still make me feel like I had done something significant. So on the 12th day of quarantine, I dyed my hair pink. It made me feel cute and fun for a few hours but ultimately failed to solve all of my problems, which is exactly what happens when anyone dyes their hair pink.
It’s now two weeks later, and those of us who can work from home are still in quarantine, where we will remain for at least another month but probably longer. Many of us are bored, or overwhelmed, or lonely, or anxious. Many of us also own scissors.
You can see where this is going. Besides those who need to trim their hair for practical reasons, people have always impulsively cut or dyed their hair in moments of crisis, whether in an attempt to shed a former self or get over a breakup. It’s a common trope in film and TV, where dramatic haircuts act as stand-ins for emotional change (see: Hannah Horvath on Girls, Mulan in Mulan). As Joseph Longo writes in Mel Magazine, “It’s a rite of passage for queer people, specifically naive white gays like myself, to reach for the peroxide bottle when facing a minor inconvenience. It almost always makes things worse.” I’m not sure if anyone cut their hair during the black plague pandemic in 1347, but I bet some of them did.
There’s a new pandemic now, one that requires us to stay home and distance ourselves from everyone except the mirror. Enter: the quarantine haircut (or the bleach, or the buzz). Even celebrities aren’t immune — Bryce Dallas Howard colored her copper hair fuchsia, Chris Evans shaved his brother’s head, and Taika Waititi let his two very young daughters give him a buzzcut. The desperate warnings of “don’t do it!” on Twitter and Instagram don’t help; every time we hear the phrase “You don’t need bangs, you need therapy” generally only serve to put the idea in our heads that actually, we might look really good with bangs.
This is what happened to Hailey Colbath, a 16-year-old in Texas who had seen friends and people on social media do something kind of wild to their hair in isolation. She’d already dyed her hair black, and thought, “That’s still boring, I want to do something else.” So on Saturday, March 28, she grabbed a pair of kitchen scissors and filmed herself cutting her bangs.
“I wasn’t even thinking. Quarantine had me not thinking at all,” she laughs. “I was going to slide the scissors down — I thought I was doing it a cool way. And then impulsively, I just closed the scissors.”
The result was a patchy tuft of black hair sitting atop Hailey’s horrified expression, forever preserved in a video that was only supposed to go to 20 friends on her private Snapchat Story. After they saw what happened, though, her friends encouraged her to post in on TikTok.
Hailey absolutely did not intend to become the face of quarantine haircut fails, but when the video started going viral within an hour after she posted it, she knew the damage was done. “I’ve always wanted to go viral, but not for this,” she says with a laugh. “You know how on TikTok, some of the girls go viral just for being pretty? I’ve always wanted to do that, not for cutting my hair.”
She still thinks people might as well use this time to experiment with their hair, though. “I’m at home because I’m in quarantine, so I don’t even care,” she says. “Just make sure not to be too impulsive.”
Many professionals, naturally, are actively discouraging regular people from taking measures into their own hands. “Please do not attempt (bleach) on your own, so much can go wrong and it will!” read an email blast from one salon. But Brad Mondo, a stylist and YouTuber known for his “Hairdresser Reacts” videos, empathizes with the quarantine hair itch.
“I’m all about having fun with your hair,” he says. “Hair grows back. Just be ready and open to the possibility of it not going right.” Mondo advises asking yourself whether, if you accidentally chop off your bangs or end up with a brassy orange when you were aiming for silver, you’re prepared to spend a few hundred dollars to have a professional fix it once salons are open again.
Trims, he says, are fine, even if they likely won’t leave you with that intoxicating just-left-the-salon glow. But, he warns, don’t use the scissors lying around your house. “Get a cheap pair of hairdressing scissors on Amazon,” he says.
If you’re like Hailey and the many, many other people on TikTok who are using quarantine as an opportunity to experiment with bangs, Mondo recommends starting long and going shorter if you need to. “I see people trying to make the big jump from having no bangs to bangs and they end up cutting them so short and they freak out,” he says. “Start off by wetting your hair, cutting it, then styling it how you usually style it. Then cut it again in the style that you would usually wear your hair.”
Color is a bit trickier. For grays, some stylists are able to formulate custom color and send it to clients, whereas sites like eSalon do the same by using your answers from a short survey. Mondo recommends staying away from the boxed coloring kits you’d find at CVS or Target (he likes Arctic Fox and Overtone), and if you’re bleaching your hair yourself, make sure you’re working with entirely virgin hair. Do not — do not — attempt to bleach your own roots, as adding bleach to already-bleached hair can damage it even further and may even cause it to fall out.
Intentionally getting rid of all your hair, however, is something Mondo encourages. “I think everybody should shave their head once in their life. It’s so fun and it’s liberating — you feel so free and you can wake up and do nothing. It is a big commitment, because to grow your hair back long, it’s going to be several years. But I see girls do it, and I think they’re super badass.”
Aaron Richardson, a 17-year-old in New Jersey, had always wanted to cut his widow’s peak into a forward-facing arrow, like Aang in Avatar: The Last Airbender, but never had the confidence to go through with it. But now, he says, “I was like, ‘Well, I don’t need confidence. We’re in quarantine.”
The process, which his sister helped with, took an hour and a half, and he immediately posted the results to TikTok. He wasn’t expecting the video to blow up, but of course it did. “People have been saying that it doesn’t look bad on me,” he says.
Aaron’s viral haircut even started a microtrend — he’s counted seven or eight other TikTokers copping the look. He thinks everybody should use the time inside to get out of their comfort zone. “I feel like you should put yourself out there, and do something that you were afraid to do if you weren’t in this situation,” he says.
The situation in question seems to get worse every day, with the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US continues to rise and states impose unprecedented stay-home orders to hopefully curtail the spread. Even those who aren’t sick are facing an economic crisis and skyrocketing unemployment. It’s scary — much scarier than possibly screwing up your hair.
Cut your hair, dye your hair, give yourself bangs, or don’t. Let your beard grow really, really long, so long that people ask if you’re okay. Or learn how to give yourself subtle trims that will impress your stylist when things start to return to normal. The point is that there are bigger things to worry about than your physical appearance right now, and sometimes doing something extremely reckless with very low stakes is the best way to waste a couple of hours alone at home.
“Hair is a big part of our personalities for a lot of us, especially women,” explains Mondo. “We express ourselves and the changes we go through via our hairstyles. And right now, there’s nothing to do. You just want to be excited about something, right? You can’t travel, you can’t go to work, you can’t do anything. So you’re like, ‘Well, I have hair and I could color it. That will make me feel something.’”