When 20-year-old Dan was going through a rough breakup, he needed a change. Fueled by raw emotion and a desire to not spend much money, he sulked into his local Sports Clips and asked for the Orange Is the New Black.
“It was like super hip at the time,” Dan tells me. “They straight butchered it so bad.” When he went to work the next day at Starbucks with his emotionally-driven haircut, “customers thought I was legit on drugs,” he recalls. Then, when he was convinced by friends and coworkers to go get it fixed, his new barber was so appalled that they planned to “go find the Sports Clips and vandalize it.”
Although the strip-mall barber that Dan went to may not have been prepared to talk him down, seasoned hair stylists like Khamis Maiouf know that breakups are one of the most common catalysts of drastic — and often ill-advised — cuts. “I’ve seen clients who get their hair dyed pitch black as an act of revenge, and others who cut off a bunch of hair to signify a fresh start,” he says.
Though getting an emotionally-driven haircut is a well-known cultural trope for women, men are certainly not immune to getting their locks tied up in their emotional messes either. Maiouf has seen distressed guys get haircuts for all kinds of emotional reasons — problems at work, arguments with family members, etc. — but he insists there’s nothing as common and intense as breakup haircuts. “I’ve seen them almost every day in my salon,” he tells me.
Maiouf understands the impulse, but he always tries to make sure his clients aren’t going to do something that will only worsen their mental state. “The first thing to remember is that if you’re making a change because you feel like there’s something wrong with yourself, you’re going to regret the change later on,” he explains. And so, when a woman recently came into his shop in tears and asked him to shave her head, instead of taking her money, he told her exactly that. In the end, she appreciated it and returned a few days later to thank him.
Whether you’re going through a breakup or just trying to get out of a rut, mental-health counselor Josiah Teng insists that “the act of hair cutting itself as a transitional ritual has legitimate value.” And as far as impulsive behaviors go when people are in highly emotional states, an ill-advised haircut may not be ideal, but it ultimately grows back and the consequences are typically manageable. That said, there are other ways to cope that don’t require scissors or hair dye. To that end, Teng recommends staying busy by “flushing the tension out through strenuous activities [read: exercise], in measured amounts.”
And while Dan will never be able to watch Orange Is the New Black again, the experience didn’t turn him against emotionally-driven haircuts. In fact, it’s now a ritual for him whenever a relationship ends. Or as he puts it, “I always get haircuts after breakups. It helps shed the bad karma.”