For those of us employed in managing appearances, the subject of lockdown hair is an emotive one. Whether we secretly relished the unkempt look or were counting down to the reopening of hair salons, it is a subject that has occasioned acres of column inches over the past 12 months and been the ice-breaker for many a Zoom call. It may be tempting to dismiss it as a question of vanity rather than a matter of national import, but whatever your viewpoint, there are a number of truths to be drawn from the hairy experiences of the past year.
At its simplest level, the state of one’s hair is a conversation starter. Since the 12 April, every virtual meeting has started with exclamations at the latest colours, contours and clean-shaven heads around us – or ongoing frustration for those impatiently awaiting their first post-lockdown haircut. Hair is an opportunity to surprise, make a statement, charm, project sophistication or casualness, and simply to engage an audience.
Beyond this, it is the ultimate rebranding opportunity. The person walking out of the hair salon rarely feels the same as the one who walked in. It might be a light refresh or a complete transformation, but for a nation desperate for change, this is perhaps the most intuitive explanation at the collective sigh of relief expressed as many of us said goodbye to lockdown hair.
It marked the end of months of struggling with increasingly unruly tresses, literally in our faces for hours on end over Zoom, Teams and FaceTime, and replaced this growing frustration with the chance at last to reinvent ourselves again.
We might think that choosing a new hairstyle is a matter of spontaneous fancy, but there is no doubt that haircuts can be used intentionally to create more of a PR stir. Think Billie Eilish’s recent decision to go blonde – vividly announced with a photograph on Insta that generated a record-breaking million likes within six minutes.
Less recently, David Beckham’s hair – and its role in cultivating his almost pop image was credited with winning over thousands more to the beautiful game, while his £300 haircut – the ‘short Becks and sides’ he sported at the start of the new millennium generated international headlines.
If the trim was overpriced, the resulting media exposure certainly represented excellent return on investment. And his hair made headlines again later that year when he arrived at the August Charity Shield with a Mohawk – a style unhappy manager Fergie forced him to promptly chop. By this stage it was evident that Beckham’s hair choices had become an intrinsic part of his ‘PR activity’.
And it’s not just about short-term impact; over the years, we’ve seen that hair is something of inherent – and potentially lasting – value. Take a lock of John Lennon’s hair, which sold at auction in 2016 for the then record sum of $35,000. More recently, a lock of George Washington’s hair fetched $40,000, with both sales giving their new owners the chance to be part of history, while enabling their original owners to continue attracting attention from beyond the grave.
So, the next time you pop for your haircut, remember it’s of far more significance than may first meet the eye. It’s your opportunity to impress, command, surprise and reinvent yourself. Of course, we already knew this but the unexpected suspension of services over the past year has forced growing recognition of just how much looks matter and of their importance in our PR armoury.