When the pandemic forced hair salons and the personal care sector to close for months at a time, nature did not abide by our timelines. Hair grew, roots were exposed, greys appeared. People were left with the choice of waiting it out indefinitely or braving DIY treatments at home. Lockdown gave many people space to reconsider some of the beauty standards they were adhering to. Low maintenance looks became the norm. Sales of lipstick and perfume dwindled, while sales of wellness products and leggings soared. In 2017, the average American woman was spending $3,756 a year on maintaining her appearance. After this year, experts began to question if we would ever return to these rituals, or pursue the glamour of the ‘before times’ again.
On 10th May, Irish hairdressers reopened to a virtual stampede for appointments. Salon owners described an atmosphere of ‘Christmas Morning’ as enthusiastic clients showered them with gifts and appreciation. At one point, the Independent.ie reports, Revolut users were spending €768 per minute in hairdressers, barbers, and salons. The sector seems poised for an unprecedented boom just in time for summer. After a year of fending for ourselves in the personal grooming department, many people are eager for a post-lockdown makeover.
The cliché example is a drastic post-breakup haircut, like a new fringe. However research does actually suggest that periods of extreme stress can make people more likely to significantly alter their appearance. Lockdown has been a long process of mourning our old ways of life. However, in the last few months, as vaccination ramps up in many countries, the optimistic shift is palpable. People are eagerly making plans for the future. Pinterest reports that new boards with titles Future Me or Future Life are up 165% and 265% respectively from February 2020 to February 2021. Naturally how we want to look is part of this. According to The Guardian, tattoo parlours are seeing record demand for appointments, citing a ‘you-only-live-once mentality’ as the motivation. Pink hair is having a major moment. Surviving a pandemic feels like a good reason to switch things up a bit—stride into this new era with a fresh bob or laminated brows.
We know Zoom has exacerbated many people’s insecurities and the social media-fuelled pressure to ‘glow up’ is causing some anxiety. GlossGenius, a salon booking software in the United States, noticed that people are not only booking more appointments in 2021, they are opting for services they have never tried before, and getting more treatments done at once. Nonetheless, there is an undeniably empowering side to this desire to pamper and preen. It is deeper than an aesthetic transformation. As Amanda Mull writes in the Atlantic, ‘For many people, 2020 lacked positive, social, in-person opportunities to have their humanity reflected back at them…for people anticipating a return to the physical world, being able to stake some claim on how they will do it is a comfort.’
Beauty services are also the self-care many parents and caretakers have been craving after a marathon of caring for others. Another person washing our hair or massaging our hands, are some of the small intimacies it feels encouraging to reclaim. The challenge for brands and business owners now is to direct this momentum into long-term loyalty. Many people will come back even more appreciative of their hairdressers and aestheticians. However, technology and boredom at home have made many people more experimental. Economic uncertainty could still dampen discretionary spending. Amazon, somewhat unexpectedly, is even trailing a salon business in London this year. Maintaining strong personal relationships with customers has never been so important in getting them to stay.