I find going to the barber stressful for a host of reasons. You’ll probably have to make small talk. It’s difficult to articulate exactly what you want. And sometimes your hair gets painstakingly butchered as you sit there, helpless, studying your newly awful reflection in the mirror. But perhaps the greatest anxiety lies in dreading the limbo that awaits you once the cut is complete. If, like me, you’re a guy who doesn’t spend more than $35 for a trim, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. The fresh haircut just isn’t right at first.
The phenomenon feels nearly paranormal: It’s not a matter of simply acclimating to the new cut — it’s more like the hair doesn’t behave how it should. As if your hair is still in shock from the scissors. Then, after a couple of days (or showers), it’s pretty much perfect. During the transition, you assure yourself the issue will work itself out. Yet the wait is excruciating just the same. My friend Matthew notes that you often look like a kid.
When I brought up the funky post-haircut phase with my social circle, a few people said that it only makes sense. A good barber styles your hair with an eye toward how it will grow out — so a good haircut is truly great a few weeks later. (A related circumstance is the discovery that your hair looks its best right before your appointment to have it cut.) Others had similarly common-sense theories. It’s “because the ends of your freshly cut hair are blunt and need to soften a little bit to be normal,” says Jaime. Endorsing this idea, Benjamin notes it was “also the basis of the ‘if you shave, it grows back thicker’ myth — your hair isn’t thicker, but it feels like it, since the ends are no longer tapered.”
Some, meanwhile, criticized barbers who “fight” the texture of your hair. It’s as if the fresh-cut problem could be explained any number of ways, depending on experience.
Eventually, thank god, some professionals chimed in. While my requests for comment from celebrity hair artists like JC Tha Barber and Johnny Cake went sadly ignored, Dario Angel Carlino, a salon stylist in New Jersey, blamed the awkward first days after a haircut on inferior handiwork. “Try a different barber if it doesn’t feel right when you get it; usually people have the opposite effect,” he says. “Or maybe you like it a little longer, and the added time makes it ‘lay’ better.” Indeed, for all the complaints around new cuts that take 48 hours to settle, there are those who consider this the high point of the hair cycle.
This opinion appears quite prevalent, moreover, in communities of color. If you wanted to argue that temporary haircut depression is a mostly Caucasian woe, specific to our usual hair texture and white barber/salon culture, I imagine you’d have a case.
Nevertheless, Afro-textured hair is no guarantee against a weekend of mild haircut anxiety. Adrian Fanus, proprietor of Brooklyn’s well-reviewed Adrian Fanus Grooming, says he knows this pain “all too well” and is sorry for anyone going through it. He, too, believes that immediate satisfaction all comes down to quality service. “If the haircut looks a little off, then it can be that it isn’t cut and layered right,” he says. “Each haircut needs to be tailored to fit the client, and unfortunately, a lot of barbers and hairstylists use a one-size-fits all model that doesn’t work.” This is the thinking that informs his salon’s philosophy, which states that “each haircut is a personal statement, a brand, a visual fingerprint of who you are … an expression of individuality and uniqueness.”
The customers seem glad to get a trim from someone who has these ideals in mind.
Fanus suggests you approach the haircut with clearer intent and expectations in order to avoid disappointment. “I would recommend getting a few pictures of a hairstyle that you like and scheduling a consultation with a few barbers or hairstylists. You’ll know who knows what they’re talking about — give them a shot,” he says.
He reminds us, too, that you get what you pay for: “A great haircut will cost more than the average place. Instagram is a good place [to comparison-shop] and use hashtags that are specific to your location and check out their work and see who you like.” For example, #brooklynbarbers if you happen to live in Brooklyn.
Point is, whatever the scientific reason you end up wearing a hat until a hairdo normalizes, the condition isn’t inevitable. With a little research and a bit more cash, you can walk away from your next clipping totally unashamed. Have some faith, and trust the process. Once you stop treating the haircut as an errand to finish as quickly and cheaply as possible, you’ll understand that it’s really more of a gift to yourself — investment in a striking personal transformation.
No sense in half-assing that.