Celebrity Hairstylist and Educator Vernon François sheds light on the recent rise in lockdown hair transformations.
I lost a bet to my colleague earlier this year. Fresh off my trip to Trinidad for carnival in February, I was positive that we wouldn’t have to work remotely because COVID-19 would go as quickly as it came. After I monzoed her the £5 and set up shop at the desk in my bedroom, the next thing I did was give myself super bright waist-length braids. I’ve never experimented with a colour so bright before but I felt compelled to make the change and it appears that I wasn’t alone in these feelings. According to Brand Advisory Platform Wearisma, in the UK, social media content related to hair transformations has grown by 57% between March and April this year. While many may assume this collective desire to change our hair is simply a side-effect of lockdown boredom, psychological research would suggest that there are deeper factors at play.
For many people, hair is inextricably linked to identity. Whether you’ve had the same style since childhood or are constantly reinventing your look, hair can go a long way to help you express the identity you have forged for yourself and the one you choose to express to the world. Having a good hair day is more important than you may think. A study commissioned by Procter & Gamble revealed that being dissatisfied with your hair can lead to increased levels of self-criticism, social insecurities and can even reduce your belief in your ability to achieve personal goals. When the psychological risks of having an unflattering style are so stark, why are we jumping at the chance to tamper with our tresses in the wake of COVID-19?
One significant reason is control. All over the world, people’s daily lives have been disrupted by restrictions put in place in an effort to quash the rampant spread of Coronavirus. While these efforts are without a doubt vital for our collective safety, they have amounted to a sense of a loss of control. One thing that you do have control of however, is your hair. The instant gratification that comes with making a drastic change to your hair can provide you with a much needed sense of control in a time where many of us feel helpless. To delve deeper into the significance of hair in our lives and how we can safely experiment with new styles during this period, I spoke to celebrity hairstylist and educator Vernon François who has worked with the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Solange Knowles, Serena Williams and many more.
What role do you think hair plays in people’s lives?
Hair is an important part of our identity, how we choose to wear it reflects how we want to be seen or perceived by the outside world. It can change according to the stage we’re at in our lives, our lifestyle, how we see ourselves, how we want others to see us. Hair can also have cultural, historical, social and geographical relevance. It has links with heritage as certain styles and methods of braiding are associated with different tribes in Africa, it can show which “tribe” you identify yourself with from a fashion or societal perspective. Historically certain types of braided styles were linked specifically to Greek, Egyptian or Roman communities, also the Vikings and Celts have trademark styles and ways of braiding hair. Different qualities are seen as desirable depending on where you are in the world, and the symbolism tied with how people wear and decorate their hair is a vast area to explore.
A good hairstylist will always talk with their client about the role that hair plays in their life, whether they do or don’t embrace their hair’s true texture and the reasons around that. Understanding the client, their needs, desires and expectations is crucial to achieving successful outcomes beyond the salon chair. There is always a bigger picture to be explored beyond the style itself, which is as personal and unique to each individual as their hair texture is.
Have you had many clients come to get their hair done after a significant event?
It is not unusual for clients to have their hair done after a significant event in their life like having a baby, following a break-up, or starting a new job. People say the effect is often a sense of feeling reinvigorated, and that particularly going short after having longer hair feels liberating. A change of any kind, small or dramatic, with the hair’s cut, colour or style can be up-lifting. Many women have told me that having their hair cut short has made them feel more confident, expressive and feminine. I’ve always been a huge fan of short hair.
Psychological research has proven that as we get older, life altering events and changes in personal appearance go hand in hand. In 2013, researchers Megan Stitz and John Pierce found that “stressful life events may prompt body image dissatisfaction and underlie motivations for changes in body appearance to promote self-image. Successive or dramatic appearance changes may be an important signal of stressful experiences.” Alongside zoom quiz nights and the pillow challenge, hair transformations are a signifier of this extraordinary moment in history but as Vernon cautions, having a little patience is one of the best things we can do for our hair.
The most important piece of advice I’d give to people experimenting with their hair at home is don’t be tempted to cut or trim your own hair, even a small amount, please wait for your hairstylist to start back. You might end up doing more harm than good which could be costly and time consuming to fix when the salons open again. Also, it’s a skill that takes many years to learn and the scissors that you have at home will not be as sharp as those in salons, which can easily cause split ends and damage.
Another piece of advice is to take the time to prepare and style your hair for bedtime, which will help promote good condition and encourage the shape of your kinks, coils, curls or waves to form overnight. Prepare hair by sectioning then spritzing from root to tip with the Overnight Repair Treatment Oils from my collection, which are fantastic for helping to keep hair moisturised and looking and feeling healthy. Finger twist or two-strand twist a section of hair, then coil it around itself leaving the texture fluffy at the roots to encourage volume, and pin in place. Repeat this all over the head, don’t worry about being neat. Ideally sleep with hair covered in a silk cap so friction isn’t an issue as you move around in your sleep. Unravel in the morning in an environment that’s not steamy or humid and let the hair be free.
Has your relationship with your hair changed during lockdown? Let us know in the comments!