“He looked like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber,” Reed recalls. “His bangs were cut straight and short across his forehead, and the hair in back was a blunt cut. ‘It’s a long story,’ he told me. ‘My wife actually thinks this looks better than a mullet.'”

Since March 2020, hair has joined mortality, the meaning of life, human rights, and health care as topics of intense discussion. Some have hacked at their hair themselves or decided to let it go gray. Others used the pandemic as an excuse to try once-popular but long-­discarded looks.

Reed’s client, too young to grow a mullet when they were in fashion, figured the time had come. But his wife hated it so much that when he asked what she wanted for her birthday, she had just one request: to let her cut his hair.

All those missed cuts and colors made the pandemic “a very hard time for people in the hair and spa industry,” says John Coy of Fran Coys Salon & Spa. “Our stylists’ business is down as much as 40 percent, and they have to set aside fifteen minutes between clients for sanitation. Facial technicians and spa operators are down even more.” Some places closed temporarily after potential Covid ­exposures—Terri Dyer shut down Terri’s Place for two weeks last fall after a client who had just left called to say “she couldn’t taste and thought she might have Covid.” Others, like Brenda Steiner’s Unique Hair Salon, closed permanently (“The Pandemic Year,” March).

Stylists say that about a third of their clients never returned after last year’s pandemic shutdown. Now, with most adults vaccinated, those holdouts are crossing their thresholds again. Recently, after a thirteen-month absence and two vaccine shots, one of Reed’s older customers returned, sporting gray hair that stretched down past his shoulders. “I kinda like this look,” he told her and asked her “just get my hair out of my eyes.” She gave the eighty-year-old a layered cut, maintaining the length. He gave her a good tip and left the shop with a spring in his step.

People who colored their hair faced a dilemma when “skunk stripes” began to appear on their heads: dye their hair themselves or surrender to gray. Dyer says five customers chose the latter—­although one changed her mind as soon as she was vaccinated. “When someone decides to go gray, the challenge is to get a really good cut and have the stylist strip the earlier dyes, to get a uniform color,” she says. “A good way to ease into it is by adding highlights to blend with the gray. I’m doing a lot of highlights these days.”

One woman in her sixties, who had worn the same basic short cut for decades, now sports a long, platinum-white ponytail. “I felt frumpy ever since I started to dye my hair brown twenty years ago, but now even my close friends don’t recognize me when they first see me. I’ve had complete strangers come up to me and tell me how lovely my hair is. I feel like a new woman!”

Her fifty-something friend (all the women asked to be anonymous) decided to take the plunge and dye her hair herself, with interesting results. “This was the first time I had a homemade job since my mother gave me a Toni perm when I was little,” she says. The results were unfortunate: “I was so appalled I cried.” She immediately slapped a hat on her hair and a mask on her face, then hurried to the pharmacy—where she found the shelves empty except for one box of bright red dye.

She bought it. “Now people just think I did it on purpose, that I’m fun and trendy instead of a complete idiot,” she says, smiling.

Another woman, who wears her seventy-something years well, gave herself a haircut last spring that was less than flattering. When additional attempts didn’t improve the look, she decided to highlight her silver-white hair with a splash of purple.

“I was so tired of looking in the mirror at my sad-looking hair,” she explains, adding with satisfaction, “Now my grandchildren think I’m cool!”