Black ExperienceLifestyle

Hairy Situation: Pandemic Forces Tough Styling Decisions

Since D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered nonessential businesses such as barber and beauty shops to close as of March 25 as a result of the coronavirus, many Washingtonians have been in a conundrum about the appearance of their hair.

In an interview with The Informer, former D.C. Council member Sandy Allen made a confession.

“My hair looks like the devil,” she said with a laugh. “I am having a fit. I have a friend of mine who is a barber who I would like to come to my house to work on my hair and I can’t wait until that happens.”

Even Bowser candidly admitted at an April 8 news conference that she wished her hair could be done professionally but stood by her order and would not consider a partial lifting of it for the barber and beauty industry in the city.

“I know that the beauty business employs a lot of people in the city,” the mayor said. “But we have to slow down the spigot when it comes to this virus. The workers in the beauty industry are eligible for unemployment benefits and the businesses are eligible for grants and loans from the city and the federal government but let me say this. It has been the businesses themselves that have said to me that they would be safer if they were closed during this pandemic.”

Dereck Davis, co-owner of the Davis Barber and Beauty Service in Ward 8, said his barbers have been inundated with calls from customers “begging for haircuts and offering to come to their houses or the barbers come to theirs.”

“But I advise them against that,” Davis, a former president of the National Barber Boards of America and the former chairman of the D.C. Barber and Cosmetology Board,” said. “We don’t know where our customers have been and who they have interacted with. Besides, some of my barbers have preexisting conditions such as diabetes and that makes them susceptible to the virus.

“I know it is tough for a lot of barbers who don’t have an income at this time,” he said. “But I would not recommend they work on people’s hair at this time. It’s just not worth the risk. This about safety.”

Allen respects the intent of the mayor’s order and Davis’ viewpoint but notes that hair professionals visiting their clients’ homes has roots in African American history.

“I remember when I was younger beauticians used to come to your house,” she said. “The beauticians would work on everyone’s hair. I would get my hair done in my grandmother’s kitchen.”

Some people who can’t get to a hair professional have resorted to styling their hair themselves or with the assistance of a family member or friend. Davis expresses reservations with that approach.

“People need to wait for the professionals,” he said. “We are educated and well-trained in all situations with styling hair. We are trained in the principles of sanitation and sterilization of equipment and how to deal with different textures of hair.”

Wanda Henderson, owner of Wanda’s on 7th in Northwest, offers advice for people on what to do until Bowser rescinds her order.

“People should shampoo their hair twice a week,” she said. “That should get the virus, if it is there, out of their hair. This is especially the case if locs or bushes are worn. Also, people should maintain good personal hygiene because that will keep germs away.”

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