I skipped right over the bread-baking stage of quarantine and went head first into at-home haircutting. Not my own, though–my mom’s. My ever-growing medium length curly hair would sail through lockdown just fine in a bun, but my mom’s bob was looking scraggly enough for her to start asking about when she could get a hair appointment. Afraid she’d be tempted to venture out too soon (I’m in Colorado, where personal care businesses just reopened), I volunteered to cut it. To my surprise, my mom agreed with zero hesitation and way more enthusiasm than my inexperienced hands deserved.
While I’ve never cut a hair on an actual human head, I do have to admit that there’s hair-styling experience in my blood. My mom permed, trimmed, and styled my grandma’s hair ever since I could remember and it seemed it was now my turn to pick up the baton—err, scissors. Here’s how it went down.
First, I FaceTimed with a hairstylist through the whole thing.
I called in reinforcements: My close friend and experienced hair stylist, Nancy Keegan. Until she moved across the country to Fringe Salon Studio, I’d been going to her at Salon AKS in New York City for cuts and occasional color since 2010. She agreed to video-chat me through a trim with one disclaimer: “Your mom’s shape and hair is not all that easy.” It gave me pause, but she said doing a quarantine companion’s cut was better than having my mom try to do it on herself.
I needed four things: Scissors, a comb, a spray bottle, and a sheet.
I wrangled the at-home haircut supplies Keegan said I’d need and forged ahead with the virtual appointment. Worst case, I completely butcher her hair and she stays safe at home longer, but I had confidence that my friend wouldn’t let me down.
The sheet I mentioned above made for a make-shift cape, and the scissors did not come from the kitchen drawer. (Keegan warned me that those were too large and bulky—not ideal for cutting hair.) Kitchen scissors also tend to be dull, which can cause more split ends according to Keegan. Luckily my mom already had some real-deal hair-cutting scissors, but if you don’t, Keegan recommends a good-value pair like these at Sally Beauty. “They do have cheaper ones available, but you get what you pay for,” Keegan warned. “Keep in mind that your stylist’s shears are usually $300 plus.”
After a quick catch-up, Keegan checked out my mom’s current hair style from all angles and asked a few consultation Q’s to help plan. Then, I sprayed down my mom’s dry hair so it was damp but not soaked. It would allow more precision cutting with my mom’s fine hair texture and the shorter haircut, per Keegan. Dry cutting works for longer cuts with straight hair. The dining room didn’t have a fancy shampoo station, so we went straight to cutting.
I mastered some pro techniques before getting started.
While I didn’t practice on paper as my husband suggested, Keegan did give me a few pointers and I demoed what an inch looks like to make sure I wasn’t cutting any more or less before getting started. Techniques that are second-nature to her, were totally foreign to me. For example, she taught me to cut up (parallel to the strands of hair)—never straight across—to ensure an even line.
I took it one section at a time.
Armed with my mini lesson, it was time to get to it. This bob trim would start from the nape of the neck, but first I sectioned off the face-framing pieces and tucked them in front of the ears. Keegan directed my mom’s head and my hands step by step. I combed through and held the hair tight in my fingers and close to her neck to set up my first cut. Snip, snip, snip and small hairs fell to the floor. My mom didn’t flinch, and I felt hopeful. Together, we could do this and, fingers crossed, she wouldn’t be stuck rotating through her hat collection.
Slowly, I worked from the back of her head around to the sides matching one new section at a time to the freshly trimmed ones. My perfectionist self got used to hearing, “that’s enough combing,” before each new cut. Keegan helped me make a subtle angle, so the front ended up ever-so-slightly longer than the back.
My virtual stylist watched my every move on the screen, checking the angle of my fingers and confirming each snip before I clamped down the scissors. The face-framing layers required a new technique, so she demonstrated with her own hair so I could copy her motions. I compared both sides and trimmed a bit more to match the length.
Then, it was time for bangs. (Note: My mom already had bangs, this was not a brand-new style.) I sprayed them down and section by section trimmed the tiniest bits of hair off. You can always trim a little more, but you can’t put it back—aka my mantra for this whole process.
I fixed any strays after blow drying it out.
About 90 minutes later, I blow-dried her hair and checked for strays, any asymmetrical spots, and uneven lines. Of course I found all three, but was able to fix them fairly easily thanks to my on-call hair pro.
My mom was a good sport through it all, my squeaks and slow cutting technique included. We laughed our way through our (extended) virtual cut. At times, it felt like we were having a gal’s day at the salon. It didn’t matter that I was a total amateur, or that 1,000 miles separated us from the pro.
While my experience was a success, I don’t recommend going at it alone.
If you don’t have (or trust) a quaran-teammate to wield the scissors, there are plenty of DIY tutorials and hair hacks popping up. But, it’s easy to really mess up your style according to Keegan. A better option? Talk to your stylist, who is likely happy to help just like mine, and keep your hair healthy and hydrated with masks and leave-in treatments, instead of reaching for the scissors. (Consider Kristin Ess Strand Strengthening Reconstructive Moisture Mask, Salon AKS Lightweight Hair Serum, or Kerastase Le Masque.) When your salon does open up, your stylist may have less time than usual for haircuts and fixing at-home uh-ohs takes much longer than touching up your go-to style after a few months away.
I can say my first day “behind the chair” was a success and my client had a big smile. My mom’s updated ’do will hopefully tide her over until she feels safe heading to a salon hair appointment, and I have a newfound appreciation for every stylist and the skill that goes into even the simplest trim. The highlight, however, was a full afternoon of mother-daughter quality time.
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