It’s hard to imagine Jacob Vincent ever questioned his calling. Standing behind the chair back at The Loft salon in November, he made quick work of my lank after-thought of a haircut, manipulating his shears with practiced confidence. When I saw my smart-looking finished cut in the mirror — an inverted bob, one of Vincent’s favorite styles — I assumed the person who gave it to me had been doing hair for a very long time.
At 36 years old, however, Vincent has only been styling hair professionally since August 2019. “I’ve always wanted to do hair,” he tells me, “since high school.” But he felt pressure to go to college, so ultimately he “did what everybody said” and got an undergraduate degree in interior design. “I wasn’t happy,” he says. It took Vincent years of experience in other fields to decide, at last, to follow his dream and sign up at the Aveda Institute, where he graduated last summer.
Since the coronavirus pandemic told hold here in March, temporarily shuttering The Loft, along with all other beauty salons in town, Vincent has received an inordinate number of requests from quarantined clients to help make their longest-held hair dreams come true. “I’ve had clients that are like — when I get back in the chair, I want this.” Gray hair, shaved heads, edgy short styles, bold colors. Once the salon reopens — it’s eligible to reopen Friday — it seems Vincent will be busy not with bang trims and highlight touch-ups, but with total hairstyle overhauls.
Jacie Petty, who graduated alongside Vincent from Aveda Institute last summer and now cuts hair at The Refinery Downtown, has had a similar experience since March. She thinks the sudden desire for dramatic makeovers has to do with the boredom of sheltering in place, or perhaps the change in seasons.
But Vincent has another theory. “People are forced to be home, to focus on themselves,” he says. “I think they’re like: why didn’t I do this sooner? What am I waiting for? Stopping work and stopping life has made them able to make a decision that they would have never been able to make before.”
There’s always been a bit of a mythos around people making bold hair choices to signal significant life changes, but the anti-social nature of the current pandemic might lend some credence to Vincent’s view. The cancellation of Festival International, the closure of bars and restaurants, more folks working from home — it’s left Lafayette, a fairly gregarious city under normal circumstances, with a sudden dearth of places to go and people to see. Along with this lack of social life, however, may also come something more welcome: a temporary lifting of the pressure to conform. Taken with a hefty dose of free time for introspection, it’s possible people in Lafayette will emerge from lockdown sporting not only more idiosyncratic looks, but ultimately, looking a little bit more like who they are inside.
Licensed clinical therapist Corey Porche of Lafayette’s Camellia House was willing to weigh in on what this collective inner shift might entail, though he was upfront about his level of qualification to speak on current trends. Porche, who claims to be “pretty dumb to hair and fashion and style,” does think the pandemic provides a potential opportunity for some folks to break from their norms. He notes that day-to-day routines have a tendency to keep people feeling somewhat trapped, disconnected from their own thoughts and dreams. “A lot of things go unquestioned,” he says. “I think rocking those routines allows us to kind of ‘control-alt-delete’ — to restart and re-question what we value.”
Porche guesses that the temporarily decreased social pressure might have something to do with the lowering of inhibitions around major hairstyle changes. “I think it can make us curious, this break without the restraints of social norms and possible judgment,” he says.
As the lockdown lifts and people find themselves returning to their social worlds, though, Porche wonders if “people are gonna go and dye their hair back.” He laughs. “Or maybe we’ll have a new normal. That’s a huge possibility, that people may value even more independent forms of expression instead of unquestioned ones. Maybe you’ll have a lot more people who are living in a more value-driven way.”
Maybe there is a Lafayette feminist out there who values a woman’s right to age naturally but felt pressured to stay competitive by looking young at the office. The stay-home order, however, may have lifted those pressures somewhat, provided some time to reflect on her beliefs, and allowed her to re-evaluate her decision to keep her own grays at bay. Or maybe it’s lower stakes but still meaningful, as with someone who’s long encouraged others to pursue happiness deciding to chop all her hair off for the simple reason she knows it will make her feel good.
In the LGBTQ+ community, independent expression through nonconformist haircuts is nothing new. For many of us, our first such style was a rite of passage, a quick and effective way to out ourselves to the world and gain recognition from the rest of the queer and trans community. It’s not just us, however. InStyle found that 72% of women equate feeling good about their hair with empowerment. And men worry over their look, too — close to a third of men in this study were in favor of coloring to cover up their gray hair. No matter your gender or sexual orientation, if you’re at liberty to choose your own hairstyle, you’ve likely chosen it for more than mere aesthetics.
“Hair is such a neat thing,” Vincent says, smiling. “I went to the grocery store today, and I always look at hair, because that’s what I love. And I’ll see people that have a certain hairstyle, and they’re rocking it. They have confidence. They don’t care what nobody thinks, you know? This is them.”
Imagine what kind of “new normal” Vincent might see in Lafayette’s supermarkets in the coming months — a full gray mane here, a jade-colored mullet there. Above our masks, behind the plexiglass barriers, perhaps our peculiarities will have a little more room to breathe, the monotony of balayage and beach waves broken up by these bright renegade flashes of who we actually are.
“I think that when you make that decision to wear your crown proud,” says Vincent, “your whole life changes.”