England’s hair salons reopen and the big chop begins

“It’s a bit of TLC … it makes you feel a bit like your old self,” said Streeter, a 50-year-old worker for Britain’s National Health Service.

Salons, pubs, restaurants, libraries, museums and cinemas opened Saturday in England for the first time since Britain went into lockdown on March 23.

The grand reopening of England, dubbed “Super Saturday” by the media, added another place on the globe trying to strike the tricky balance of keeping the virus under control and kick-starting the economy. (The semiautonomous governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have set out different timetables.)

A few days ago, the British Treasury tweeted — and then deleted — that Britons should “raise a glass” on Saturday for the reopening of pubs. Some said that it was insensitive given that Britain has the highest covid-19 death toll in Europe at more than 44,000.

Despite all the safety precautions — or perhaps because of them — early signs suggested that, at least with hair salons, the shaggy haired, the unruly maned, the dye seekers and the home-cut DIYers were not holding back.

“Trim-dependence Day,” declared one BBC presenter, hair akimbo.

What first: Pub or cut?

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose blond mop is a known entity in its own right, referenced his plans for a haircut when he announced the lifting of lockdown.

“Almost as eagerly awaited as a pint will be a haircut, particularly by me,” he told Parliament.

Similar reopening rituals have taken place in Europe and elsewhere — odes to the simple joys of just getting a haircut or having some pub grub — in the slow return to a new kind of normalcy with social distancing, masks and other precautions.

Britain, however, is just at the beginning. It went into lockdown later than most European countries and is coming out later. The spirit on Saturday seemed almost festive.

Celebrity hairdresser Richard Ward said that his salon in west London had a waiting list of 3,800 people.

“It’s crazy,” said Ward, who is known as one of Kate Middleton’s favorite stylists.

He said that over the last months, clients have texted him, saying things like: “‘I mucked up my color,’ ‘omg, my hair has gone green!’ ‘Can you advise me what box color to get my husband doesn’t know I’m gray.’”

At Ward’s eponymous salon, the scene was buzzing, although the manager said they were only running at half capacity to help with social distancing, recently relaxed from two meters to at least one meter. Clients wore masks and had their temperature taken at the door. Stylists, who wore visors, met their client at the entrance. There were no magazines to flip through. Only half of the work stations were being used.

Some clients politely declined to have their photograph taken and broadcast to the world.

But others agreed to a socially distanced chat and photograph.

“It’s a massive, massive relief. I finally get to look civilized again,” laughed Rima Connelly, 55, a soon-to-be 100 percent blonde who was sitting in a chair with foils on her head. “Your hair, particularly for women, is a part of your identity. It’s how the outside world sees you.”

In a separate room, Annethe Nathan, 53, said that getting a cut felt “amazing — the thing I’ve been looking forward to most.” She didn’t cut her hair during lockdown, but did have a go at her husband’s locks.

“He said it was the worst haircut he ever got,” she said.

‘Unbelievably busy’

There’s no guarantee that the pent-up demand will enough to turn around the fortunes of the British economy, amid reports that it is heading into its worst recession in 300 years.

The government’s furlough initiative has helped many businesses stay afloat — but not all. And the industry is concerned about what will happen once the initial rush subsides.

“Yes, we will be unbelievably busy for next three, four weeks, but how the financial landscape will look after that is anyone’s guess,” Ward said.

Nigel Darwin, chief executive of Toni&Guy, which has more than 160 salons in England, was hopeful that people will continue to return in droves as long as they feel safe.

“We’re a service business. There’s many things we can do in the digital world with our clients, but no one can deliver a hair cut or hair color digitally,” he said.

Katie Hancock, owner of The Chair salon in Canterbury, worked through the night after the reopening. And she plans to stay open every day to cope with the demand.

“I’ve seen some very interesting haircuts,” she said of the homespun variety.

In some cases, she said, parents “practiced on their children first to see how it goes. In other cases, you hear of conversations like, ‘oh, yes, that is a bit of gray there, that is my natural color dear.’”

Streeter, the first client in the salon in Canterbury, said she felt “very safe” during her haircut and would return soon for a color, having had mixed success with one she bought at a supermarket. She and her husband, a cancer surgeon, were joining other health-care staff on Saturday night for a free stay at a local hotel.

She’s been a client of Hancock’s for the last decade. The two of them would normally chat about “anything and everything” during an appointment. But on this night, they decided not to talk too much, to be extra safe.

“And it was midnight anyway,” she said, “so it was quite nice to be quiet.”

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