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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.

Me featuring lockdown blonde knotless braids

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.

Celebrity Hairstylist and Educator Vernon François
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!

To say that beards have had their ups and downs would be a huge understatement. During the course of history, beards have been on a real roller-coaster. According to The Effects of Facial Hair on Perception Formation, in ancient Egypt, only the poor used to have facial hair. When it comes to Europe, the perception of beards shifted during the course of several centuries. At one point, only the nobility were allowed to have them and those belonging to lower social and economic classes were forced to ‘take them off’. Minds were changed throughout history, and in the 18th century, beards were “viewed as an option only for people that are old, mad, or clueless”. At times, it even went so far as to signify low morality or even a criminal history. By the end of the 18th century, the verdict was in and beards were cool again, and rocked by such historic figures as American president Lincoln and even Harvard boasted the fact that all enrolled men had them. The rest is history, or better yet, present, because it seems to us, living in this time, that beards have never been more popular than today. Whether you’re a hipster, an artist, a physician – there is no stigma around the amount or style of your facial hair, but what does your beard specifically convey? That is a question we’ll be answering today.

Hello there handsome

The same paper, which used numerous renowned studies as its sources, reveals that there is a strong correlation between beardedness and levels of not only attractiveness and masculinity, but also health and even the ability to make a good husband and father. Translation – bearded men are perceived as ones who have all the qualities a typical woman could ever want in a man. Not only do they look sexy, but also a tad or a lot rugged, capable, reliable and even sexually competent and fertile, which makes them perfect husband and father material. The level of attractiveness is so high that, in fact, bearded men are more likely to ‘get the girl’ than clean-shaven men. On top of all this, beards also convey trustworthiness and it’s a life fact that relationships are built on trust, so there go additional points to bearded men. The only noted downside is that bearded men are perceived as less groomed and dirtier, which could be a repelling factor, but as we all know, the bearded men of today are highly diligent when it comes to grooming – resorting to special shampoos, opting for chemical peel, using conditioners, balms and oils, so perhaps this theory no longer applies as bearded men are actually now more inclined towards grooming than others.

A second opinion

Of course, there are other studies which the paper cited that actually show a negative correlation between beardedness and masculinity. Namely, according to the findings of Dixson and Vasey, bearded men were associated with aging and loss of sexual competency, as well as an increased level of aggression in comparison to clean-shaven men.

More good news

There used to exist a common misconception that bearded men signified rebelliousness and lack of responsibility, but the aforementioned paper cites studies that came to a conclusion that this could not be farther from the truth. In fact, as beards have immensely become associated with kindness and trustworthiness, employers have become increasingly keen on hiring bearded men. The paper states something about profile pictures on platforms such as LinkedIn and the fact that bearded men are a lot more likely to be called for a job interview and actually land a job. Reportedly ‘Bearded men are ranked higher by possible employers in categories that are important in the workplace, such as competency, composure and personality’ as well as expertise and maturity, especially in occupations related to sales and communication with clients and customers as sales highly depend on the level of trust a client or buyer places in the hands of the seller. 

However, an interesting piece of information is that most men in high managerial and CEO positions are clean-shaven men. This is presumably due to the fact that bearded fellas are perceived as more suited for jobs that require less social interaction and aren’t as creative and ‘entrepreneurial’ as shaven men. This is sort of contradicts the study that states that bearded men are generally perceived as more aggressive – which in business terms translates as assertive, but the evidence is still inconclusive, so let’s just say that for now, bearded men will get the job done, but perhaps won’t land a managerial position.

Psychology of fashion

Finally – the mustachedness

Even though they get masculinity points for actually being able to grow any kind of facial hair, when it comes to the level of attractiveness, men with mustaches are way lower on the scale compared to bearded men, as according to the paper, “mustachedness is predicted to have a negative correlation between intelligence and attractiveness due to a stigma that has formed against mustaches and how they are the “mark of the beast.” Goatees are safe, in a way, but they are kind of passé, so if you want facial hair, either go big or go home.

The sad news– at least for beardless men – is that in this climate, they are definitely perceived as less intelligent, rugged and attractive, but trends come and go, so perhaps the American Psycho clean and sleek look will come back in style once again. For now, dear men, groom those beards and get those girls.  

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To celebrate World Afro Hair day The Psychology of Fashion Blog™ takes a look back at the history of the illustrious hairstyle, its symbolism and significance in the present day.
 

​A firm affirmation to explain my admiration for World Afro Day is “I rock rough and tough with my Afro puffs!”, by the great lyricist Lady of Rage.  Afro is derived from the term African-American.  The hairstyle is widely know for hair being in it’s purest form of existence.  Linda Frost, author of Never One Nation: Freaks, Savages, and Whiteness in U.S. Popular culture 1850-1877, found a similar style worn by Circassians.  In the early 1860’s, wearing an Afro was common to black women in North America, Egypt and throughout cultures in Africa.

As time progressed, the Afro’s popularity shifted during slavery as Africans were stripped of their culture and forced to assimilate, styling their mane into a suitable look for their masters.  Chemically altered hair and braids arose which led to Madame CJ Walker’s invention of the hot comb in the late 1890’s.

Unruly and nappy were two common words used to describe black hair during and post slavery.  The Afro made a resurgence in the late 1960’s due to the exhaustion of subjecting European beauty standards that did not fit the mold of African Americans.  Black folks reclaimed their natural hair back and the newfound self acceptance started the Black Is Beautiful Movement, which sprang the Black Power Movement.

 

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​The Black Power movement was filled with dynamic activists such as Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale who fought oppression styling their Afro to symbolize black beauty, liberation and pride!  The black activists did not agree with the injustice of racial inequality that was supported through Jim Crow laws, and went against the grain of Martin Luther King’s nonviolent philosophy.  As the Black Power Movement rose into The Black Panther Movement, the Afro was the main staple to the full ensemble.
 
 

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​All members of the Black Panther Party wore colossal afros with an all black costume to show their unity and willingness to go down as one if adversity presented itself.  Beyoncé used this same strategy in her widely acclaimed “Formation” music video as well as her Super Bowl 50 performance where she decked her dancers in afros, all black body suits and berets.
 

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​Now as great as that event was for the black culture, it doesn’t show and tell the appropriation that having an Afro has endured over the years. Like most fashion trends that are notoriously started by black women, the Afro trend was culturally appropriated in negative lights as well.

In 2015, Allure Magazine created a hair tutorial titled “You, (Yes, You) Can Have an Afro*” The asterisk reads: “even if you have straight hair.”  The tutorial featured white actress Marissa Neitling in a beauty feature named “Back to Cool” by Danielle Pergament.  The article aimed toward white women which caused furious commotion throughout the black community.  Considering the importance of the Afro to the African American identity, Allure’s failure to reference adoration is presumably the worst part.

 

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Now in this millennial generation, the Afro embodies all facets from the past culture good and bad in today’s society.  It has become more normalized from the ranks of corporate employment, television, film, and performing art entertainment.  Don’t get it twisted, there are still situations where black women and even black kids are shamed for their natural hair.  Nonetheless, wearing an Afro or any kind of natural hairstyle requires daily maintenance and commitment for the best look.

Thanks to social media evolving over time, women from all over the world can share hair tips and formulas to enhance their hair care regimen.  The afro’s cultural trajectory went from being a political statement to a fashion staple in high fashion and underground streetwear.  All of this credit is deserving to 1970’s Blaxploitation films, including Coffy, Shaft and Foxy Brown.  Not only film but The Jackson 5, and Diana Ross had their influence in music culture donning the afros which portrayed the hairstyle as less militant.

​There are many celebrities still wearing the Afro, but the most controversial person wearing it is Colin Kaepernick who is being blackballed by the National Football League because of his stance on the National Anthem and the views of the current president. Kaepernick has continued to be an activist for Black Lives Matter and donating his $700K of his $1 Million dollar pledge to 24 different organizations. The grind does not stop and until justice is served the work will be put in.

The media can seek to whitewash the Afro like their seasonless chicken recipes but it will always be black as hell! For the culture. By the culture.