Is the FaceTime Haircut Here to Stay?

One Saturday earlier this month, my mom grabbed a pair of dull shears, a comb, and a spray bottle; sat my brother in a wicker chair on our back porch; and FaceTimed her stylist, Isabelle Goetz. My brother’s hair was pure entropy. The only part that all pointed in one direction was the front, which crashed down his forehead like a tidal wave. At some point the determination had been made—by whom, no one is quite sure—that this could not go on, and so here we were. Goetz looked my brother over and started issuing instructions.
“So you take the comb, and then you cut,” she told my mom in her French accent. She held up a mannequin bust and combed its long russet hair to one side. “Now don’t take too much off this part here. Be sure that this corner here is not too high. If you take too much from the top, you're going to have a funky face!”
As the pandemic has forced hair salons and other nonessential businesses across the country to close, Americans have fast realized that, without intervention, we will soon be a nation of haggard castaways. Google searches for “how to cut your own hair” have multiplied tenfold since mid-March, and I can understand why. Over the past couple of weeks, co-workers have told me, “Jacob, your hair is so long” and “Jacob, you’ve got the quarantine look going”—by which they really mean “Jacob, you look like crap .” The situation is not good.
And yet, while the stakes might seem high for the novices hacking half-blindly at their hair (or, if they’re lucky, their loved ones’) with kitchen scissors, the stylists are the ones who really stand to lose. For industries that depend on in-person interaction, the economic consequences of the pandemic have, unsurprisingly, been dire. Revenue has tanked. Almost everyone I spoke with for this story had either just been laid off or just laid someone off.
[ Read: How to cut your own hair ]
From this mutual desperation—cosmetic on the one hand, financial on the other—the virtual haircut was born. Across the country, out-of-work barbers and stylists—and pretty much all barbers and stylists are out of work—have begun offering online consultations and videochat hair cuts. Hair care isn’t the only service industry going online; all sorts of businesses that until now have depended on in-person interactions are reinventing themselves for life under quarantine. Aestheticians are offering virtual facials. Acupuncturists and massage therapists are teaching modified classes via Zoom. Practitioners, unable to practice, are remaking themselves as teachers. These transformations, from in-person to online services, had begun to a lesser degree even before the pandemic, and they may well outlast it.
“Society is building habits right now,” Patrick Evan, a San Francisco–based salon owner, told me. “It’s hard to know whether [a salon] is going to be something people are going to be running back to, walking back to, or wary of.” In the face...