Make That At-Home Trim A Little Less Hairy With A Virtual Salon Visit

May 6, 2020
Originally published on May 6, 2020 8:44 pm

As weeks of staying at home have turned into months, and salons and barber shops in most states continue to be closed, many of us are getting a little shaggy.

If you want to go the DIY route but need a little guidance, haircuts are the latest services to make their way online: You can now invite a professional into your home through video chat for a virtual haircut.

That's what I did on week six of stay-at-home orders in Washington, D.C. — when my boyfriend, Noah Caldwell, wanted a haircut. We're both producers on All Things Considered, and we're quarantining together.

We threw a sheet over a coffee-table-turned-barber's-chair and rounded up some tools: a comb, a spray bottle and sewing scissors — barber shears are a hot commodity right now and sold out many places.

And then we called in (virtual) reinforcement: JaBarie Anderson in Brooklyn.

Home tools for a virtual haircut: a spray bottle and scissors — though barber shears are preferable.
Kat Lonsdorf/NPR

He's a hairstylist who's led more than a hundred haircuts via Zoom in the last few weeks. He's worked with clients all over the world: Germany, Dubai, China and Paris, France. One day, he said, he was so busy he had nine back-to-back appointments.

I found Anderson through a website called YouProbablyNeedaHaircut, which launched in early April. It's a side project for tech entrepreneur Greg Isenberg. He got the idea after talking to a friend in New York City who had lost his job as a barber due to the coronavirus.

At the time, Isenberg needed a haircut. But he wasn't thrilled with the idea of his girlfriend taking scissors to his hair.

"So I was like, how about you hop on FaceTime, you teach her, and I'll give you some money. And we did it, and it was pretty cool. And I realized, maybe other people out there might want a similar service," he said.

After Isenberg built the site, it took off almost overnight. So many hair professionals wanted to apply that they eventually had to take down the application page.

The site now has dozens of stylists and barbers from around the world. The price is similar to that of a normal haircut — about $1 per minute of the stylists' time.

That might seem a bit steep — paying that much to do the actual cutting yourself — but essentially all the money goes directly into the pockets of the barbers and stylists, who are otherwise not working.

Anderson said the income has taken a big weight off.

"Now I'm able to provide for my rent, I have a younger brother in college, if he needs my help, or my mom, I can do that," he said. "I just wanted to make sure I was financially stable enough to help myself, and help my family."

Isenberg's site isn't the only place offering online cuts. Virtual barber shops and salons have started to pop up locally, too, from San Francisco to Ottawa to Tokyo.

There are also a slew of free haircut tutorials online, which is another option for barber newbies like myself. But the weird, and great, thing about having a professional peeking over your shoulder on the webcam is that they can walk you through it in real time.

Anderson (patiently) taught me how to section the hair, to pull it 90 degrees from the head and then trim — and how to go back and check that everything was even.

Plus, he was just a good-natured cheerleader the whole time. It was fun.

And the haircut itself? Well, aside from one near-nick (sorry, Noah), it turned out great — and bloodshed-free.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As weeks of staying at home have turned into months and salons and barbershops in most states continue to be closed, many of us are getting a little shaggy. Well, if you're too worried to take clippers to your own hair or your partner's, you could invite a professional into your home through video chat. Yeah, virtual haircuts are now a thing. NPR's Kat Lonsdorf gave it a try with a little help from NPR's Noah Caldwell.

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: On Week 6 of D.C.'s stay-at-home orders, my boyfriend wanted a haircut.

NOAH CALDWELL, BYLINE: It's getting unruly. It's getting way too long. It's starting to poke out the back and curl, which I hate.

LONSDORF: That's him - Noah Caldwell. He's also a producer on this show, and we're quarantining together. And I don't think he's alone in this feeling. I bet there are a lot of us out there, myself included, who are wishing we would have gotten a haircut in, say, early March, especially with all the video conferencing these days. Anyway, I was really his only shot at a trim right now, so we threw a sheet over a coffee-table-turned-barber's-chair, rounded up some tools - a comb, a spray bottle and sewing scissors. Everywhere is sold out of barber shears right now.

Wait.

And then...

There we go.

I called in reinforcements.

Can you hear us?

JABARIE ANDERSON: Yeah. I'm JaBarie.

(LAUGHTER)

LONSDORF: Hey there.

JaBarie Anderson - he's a hairstylist in Brooklyn, and he's given more than a hundred haircuts in the last few weeks all over the world...

ANDERSON: I've done Germany. I've done Dubai. I've cut hair for people in China, Paris.

LONSDORF: ...On Zoom.

ANDERSON: OK, so let's spray the hair down first. Let's get started there.

LONSDORF: OK.

ANDERSON: So you have your comb.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPRAYING)

ANDERSON: We're just going to spray the hair down.

LONSDORF: I found Anderson through a website called youprobablyneedahaircut.com, which started just a few weeks ago. It's a side project for tech entrepreneur Greg Isenberg, who got the idea after a friend lost his job as a barber when the coronavirus hit.

GREG ISENBERG: I'm like, well, I need a haircut, and my girlfriend has been telling me that she wants to cut my hair. I was like, how about you hop on a FaceTime? You teach her, and I'll give you some money. And I did it, and it was pretty cool. And I realized, you know what? Maybe other people out there might want a similar service.

LONSDORF: The site now has dozens of stylists and barbers. And for about the price of a normal haircut, you'll be connected with one from around the world. That might seem a bit steep, paying that much to do the actual cutting yourself. But essentially all the money goes directly into the pockets of the barbers and stylists who are otherwise laid off. And Isenberg's site isn't the only place doing this. Virtual barbershops and salons have started to pop up locally, too, from San Francisco to Ottawa to Tokyo.

ANDERSON: OK. So now we're going to take our scissors that we have - or our shears. Well, I have shears. You have scissors.

LONSDORF: (Laughter).

ANDERSON: It's going to be palm to palm, so our palms should be holding our shears.

LONSDORF: Is that good?

ANDERSON: Yep, that's good.

LONSDORF: OK.

ANDERSON: OK.

LONSDORF: Anderson says the income from doing all this has been really helpful.

ANDERSON: It took a big weight off of me because now I'm able to, like, provide for my rent. I have a younger brother who's in college. If he needs my help or my mom, I can do that.

LONSDORF: And the haircut...

Oh, God. Did I cut you?

CALDWELL: No - getting close.

LONSDORF: Well, for the most part, it was a success.

ANDERSON: Yeah, looks pretty good.

LONSDORF: So is that done then?

ANDERSON: Yes. You are all set.

LONSDORF: Did we do it?

CALDWELL: Cool.

LONSDORF: What do you think?

CALDWELL: Yeah, it feels great. I'm relieved there was no bloodshed.

LONSDORF: Same - and if anyone out there has an extra pair of barber shears, we would happily take those off your hands.

Kat Lonsdorf, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE HAIRCUT SONG")

RAY STEVENS: (Singing) When you get a haircut, be sure to go back home. When you get a haircut, get a barber you have known since you were a little, bitty boy sitting in a booster chair, or you might look like Larry, Moe or Curly if a stranger cuts your hair. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.