It's been months since most Americans have had a professional haircut. Salons have been shut down under stay-at-home orders to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In Los Angeles, the result has been a robust clandestine haircut scene.
Carmelle began cutting hair out of her living room after the salon where she worked closed in mid-March. Her manager incorrectly informed her that she was not eligible for unemployment. She applied for jobs at grocery stores and delivery services but got nowhere. So, with no money coming in, she turned her house in Compton, Calif., into a salon and placed an ad on Craigslist.
"I wasn't expecting a high volume at all," she said. "And when my phone had over 100 texts in one day, I was like, 'Oh my goodness, what am I gonna do?' [There are] a lot of people out there that [need] haircuts!"
Carmelle asked that her last name not be used for fear of losing her cosmetologist license. What she's doing is not allowed: Salons are still closed under California's stay-at-home order. Stylists who cut hair anyway could be penalized by the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.
But Carmelle said she's doing nothing wrong.
"Before you judge, put yourself in my situation first. My hands are tied," she said.
The fear of disciplinary action is anxiety-provoking. Another LA-area stylist said she's completely drained after making a single home visit. She asked that her name not be used because she also fears losing her license.
"It's like I need a nap," she said. "I did one person and I'm like, exhausted, when my average day was 12 people."
People who get clandestine haircuts are anxious, too, but about something else.
"The shaming," said Whitney Coss, an Angeleno who recently had her longtime stylist come to her home to cut and dye her hair on her back deck. "I've been shamed by strangers and friends for posting stuff online where I'm not just sitting at home."
She decided to get her hair cut because she said she needed a little self-care right now.
"I was like you know what? I need this. I need to feel good, I need to have a haircut, I need to do something that feels normal," she said.
Unshorn government leaders
Public officials who look too groomed on camera also risk being shamed. At a recent meeting of the Orange County, Calif., Board of Supervisors, salon owner Melissa Sprout accused officials of getting haircuts on the sly while forcing salons to stay closed.
"As a hairstylist, I can see that many of you have had services done in the last six weeks. If politicians are using our services illegally, surely they find us essential," Sprout told the board.
"I have not had my hair cut since well before this started," Supervisor Don Wagner shot back, "and if you want to get a close-up look, talk to me afterward."
Reporters recently asked California Gov. Gavin Newsom about his hair at a press conference.
"I think it's pretty obvious to you I have not had a haircut," Newsom said. "I'm a little embarrassed having this conversation as publicly as I am having."
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters his wife is cutting his hair at home, with electric shears he bought on Amazon.
What Garcetti is doing may be safer than going to a salon, according to Seth Gordon Benzell, a postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who recently wrote a paper examining the risk of reopening various kinds of businesses.
"What's really dangerous is people sitting around in crowded, small barber shops," Benzell said.
But before you consider a home haircut, Benzell wants people to consider the trade-offs. It is worth it? he asked.
"You should ask yourself, "Do I really want to be spending my limited social contact budget on this? Or is there something more important I want to spend my very few human interactions that I'm allowing myself on?"
Those in desperate need of a trim can always pay a barber to guide them, via FaceTime, while they cut their own hair. Thanks to the coronavirus, one Los Angeles stylist is now offering that service.