It doesn’t matter where you live or what you do for a living, if you’re Black, you most likely get your hair cut and/or styled by a Black barber or beautician.
For the most part, Blacks still do Blacks’ hair. The weekly, or twice monthly visit to your stylist is a cultural staple in Black communities. Black Barbershops are well known as a sanctuary for Black men; a place where you can hang out, network, build friendships, and just shoot the breeze.
A trip to a Black beauty salon is more like a social outing. It’s not just you and your beautician, the shop interaction includes other stylists in the shop, their clients, a few other clients in various stages of getting their hair “did,” and the occasional neighborhood character who stops by with commentary or to sell something.
For nearly two months, these cultural havens in our community have been closed and African Americans fretted with how to keep their line or weave tight, their roots from being too crunchy and their grey from taking over. When the announcement came that shops were opening up again, we celebrated, but then we gave it some thought. How, going forward, will we feel and be safe in a place where we once felt so comfortable.
We realized, it’s a new day that will require a new way.
At The Beauty Shop
“It really is different,” says Erin Garcia, a Wichita-area stylist who works out of Simply Soulful Hair Salon at 40th and Woodlawn.
Compared to the typically bustling shop, the atmosphere is almost zen. That's just the beginning of the changes. In adherence with Kansas-issued guidelines for stylists, Garcia and the two other stylists in the shop are each only allowing one client in the shop at a time.
Adherence to this policy constitutes a big change for Black beauticians who are well-known for juggling two, three and sometimes four clients at a time, all in different stages of the often-complicated Black haircare and styling process.
Now, instead of scheduling her clients an hour apart, Garcia says she’s scheduling them two hours apart. That allows her plenty of time to complete the client’s services and time to clean and sanitize her station before the next client arrives.
Other policy changes include a rule that restricts clients to bring another person, including children, with them to the shop. They also require clients to wait in their car, until the stylist comes out to get them. Clients are also required to wash their hands when they enter the shop.
However the biggest change of all has to be wearing a mask. All of the stylists wear masks and all customers in the shop are required to wear masks. If they don’t have one, the shop will provide one.
“The whole mask situation is uncomfortable,” says Garcia. “You can’t really hear, and working around them with a client can be a struggle.
Particularly difficult to work around are masks that tie in the back of the persons head.
“What happens is they end up holding it up against their face the whole time," says Garica.
At The Barbershop
At his shop, Deez Kutz in Lee Summit, MO, DeRon Davis not only wears a mask, he also wears disposable gloves that he changes between clients. He also requires his clients to wear a mask and gloves.
"I actually have a sign out front that says ‘no mask, no gloves, no service, no exception,’” says Davis.
A solopreneur, Davis is only taking clients by appointment, is having customers wait outside until he’s ready for them, he's keeping the door to the shop locked to make sure no one enters, and he’s totally eliminated the sitting around “shooting the breeze” barbershops are so well known for.
“I’m taking a lot more precautions that other shops,” says Davis. “I would image there are some shops that are just letting people sit in the waiting area or things like that, but everybody that I know, even if they aren’t, like, practicing the basic guidelines, they are still only allowing minimal people in the shop at a time."
Barbershops in Kansas City are required to follow the city’s basic "10/10/10/10” rule which requires them to have no more than 10 people in the shop at a time including employees, or no more than 10% of the building capacity, whichever is larger. For a shop with a lot of chairs and square footage, the rule still allows for a rather large gathering.
“It’s not worth your life to hang out at a barber shop,” stresses Davis as he contemplates what it might be like at some shops this upcoming Saturday, their first since reopening.
Another major revision Davis has made in his services is eliminating beard grooming and razor work. Beard grooming requires the client to take off their mask and for him to work closely with them face-to-face, exposing him to more bacteria and viruses than he feels comfortable with.
He says experts are recommending men cut off their facial hair during the pandemic.
“For those people who want to keep their facial hair, I’m going to do a tutorial showing them how to maintain and upkeep their beard," Davis says.