Project Quarantine: Home Barbering Is a Necessary Life Skill Now

After more than a month of self-isolation, your hair looks terrible. Here's how to fix it.

how to give yourself a haircut
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By Luke Winkie / April 8, 2020 8:20 am

Disaster has struck one month into quarantine. My sideburns have started to stick out horizontally in a clumpy mess after I smear the usual finger-full of pomade on my Brooklyn Standard long-on-top. Reader, it’s true. I am totally overdue for a haircut. Unfortunately, barber shops exist deep in that nether realm of “nonessential businesses;” they will be shuttered for the foreseeable future; it is difficult to work scalps while adhering to social distancing regulations. This has put us all in a bind. Obviously, there are greater concerns right now than looking like a caveman in quarantine, but it still feels like an injustice that we won’t be presentable for the… months? years? ahead. So there’s a chance that you, like me, have considered something truly drastic. What if we tried to cut our own hair?

This is heresy, I know. The act of cutting your own hair is typically drilled out of your senses in childhood. I totally took a pair of scissors to my head when I was like, 8, and I remember my parents escorting me to the local SuperCuts for a buzzcut and a lecture on how I was to never attempt anything like that again. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and all of us will eventually succumb to the dark arts of self-grooming. Luckily, Stephen M. Meawad, the CEO of the men’s hairstyling self-help business Tips For Clips, says that with a little guidance, this is something we can all learn.

“[Cutting your own hair] is in fact very easy. It takes a little courage at first. Unfortunately, practice makes perfect, which means you might face a hiccup here or there, but it’s a skill worth practicing; it requires and cultivates patience,” says Meawad. “If you have a loved one who can help, that’s worth considering. The average person can cut someone else’s hair, and if you know someone who’s artistic or has a good eye, chances are they’ll do a good job.”

Meawad tells me that a single pair of clippers can do the trick. You can try out some other accoutrements — think scissors, trimmers, and combs — but for our apocalyptic core necessities, a novice is best off focusing on the sideburns. A basic pair of clippers will come with a variety of attachments, (called guards,) which are marked by numbers that measure their length. So, the larger the number, the more forgiving the cut will be; size number 4 is a half-inch long, size number zero will basically shave you down to the scalp. As for what clippers you want to buy, you can find a decent pair on Amazon for around $30, which is a sensible investment given the elongated timetable of quarantine. But again, actually taking the leap is a whole ‘nother story. How do you put these reputation-altering tools to your head with confidence? How brutally will our wives and girlfriends make fun of us when we invariably screw up? 

Well, for a medium-to-short haircut that isn’t trying to impress anyone, Meawad offers the following instructions.

  1. Pick up your clippers, snap the “number 4” guard on them, and buzz away at your sideburns until you approach the crown of your head. When you’re getting close, start flicking the clippers “away” from yourself, which will blend your hair neatly into your scalp.
  1. Swap out the “number 4” for the “number 3” guard, and do the same thing, stopping about an inch below where you finished up the process with “number 4.”
  1. Same thing, now with “number 2,” stopping an inch under where you ended with “number 3.”  
  1. Clean up your sideburns, ears, and neck. And if you’re feeling very saucy, try snipping away at the hair on your head with some beautician scissors. (Meawad says to measure out each cut to around an inch.)

There you have it. A crash course in cutting your own hair. Who knew it could be that easy? If you want a more visual perspective on what this looks like, check out Meawad’s YouTube channel. In general, he asks us to start with the longest guard your clippers come with, because as a rule, the shorter you go with your clippers, the more dexterity is asked of the barber. Also, don’t go overboard. Remember: It’s easy to take hair off your body, it’s much harder to put it back on. 

“You can definitely overdue it by going too short on the sides,” adds Meawad. “It’s much harder to fade and blend at the lower number guards.”

Maybe this will be a boon for all of us. We can leave quarantine with a genuine new skill -— a way to touch up our manes before a night out — finally freeing us from the hegemony of the once-every-two-weeks barbershop visit. Meawad says that by mastering the basics, you’ll never again need to translate what you’re looking for to a third party holding the clippers. The days of showing a photo of Matt Damon to the disinterested man tying a bib around your neck are long over. That’s worth something! The coronavirus has afforded us all a lot of time on our hands. Why not convert our bathroom into a cosmetology school?