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Mario Palmer of Toronto poses with his latest self-made hairstyle, near his home in Toronto on May 20, 2021. Palmer says he's had five distinct self-cut haircut styles since CV-19 came into our lives in March, 2020, including completely bald to blonde to the current fade with a beard and mustache.Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

Locked down without a barber, Mario Palmer took his hair into his own hands. Early in the pandemic, the 29-year-old digital media specialist in Toronto grew out the first afro of his adult life. But those two inches “made my head look super big,” he says, especially on Zoom, which inspired a hat phase. Next, a set of drugstore clippers and a DIY trim resulted in clumps in the back with bald spots on the sides: “I looked like a hot mess.” By winter, he was bleaching from a box –“I rocked that hairstyle for a couple months” – until his hair started falling out. So he gave himself a buzz cut, calling it his Britney Spears look. “Now I know why she did it,” he says. “It was liberating.”

Perhaps we weren’t all as adventurous as Mr. Palmer. But judging from the tousled, woolly mops on social media, Canadian haircuts definitely got more free-spirited during our year of confinement. Our pandemic why-bother hairstyles were a definite mood. Who needs to blow dry if you never leave the house? Why brush if you can hide it with hairband headphones on Zoom? In a year of lowlights, the blonde faded and the bar fell. Mountain Men took up residence in the living rooms of the nation, and Silver Sisters chose nature over nurture. But fast forward through one-dose summer to two-dose fall, and do we return to fussy coifs? Do our trims get prim again?

“My hair is living its best life,” says Toronto lawyer Breanna Needham, 33, who vows to return to the office with the naturally wavy hair she grew long during the pandemic. “And I am less fussed about it.”

She hasn’t cut it since last summer, and she stopped highlighting; it’s now honey blond instead of platinum white. The pandemic, she says, was a great time “to dial back on a lot things I was just in a routine of doing” – including the 35 minutes she took to get ready each day. (A 2012 U.S. survey suggested that 38 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men spent more than 30 minutes on their morning routine.) Now, “it’s five minutes in the shower, and I’m ready.”

There are finally enough women in power, she hopes, that these relaxed standards can be maintained. “I am hoping there will be a broader movement.”

That’s a shift Black women have long been waiting for, says Hope Maitwe, a program facilitator with Black Canadian Women in Action. During the pandemic, Ms. Maitwe has continued growing out her hair, using protective styles such as crochet braids, to help protect it from Edmonton’s weather. Without access to a hairdresser, she relied on YouTube to help deal with knots. “While that’s been challenging, it has also been good time to get to know my hair,” she says.

For Black women, going “natural” is complicated – both in terms of care and because of a long history of discrimination around their hairstyles. “Our hair is a big to-do,” Ms. Maitwe says. “It is still a touchy subject.” She recalls how at a previous job she was advised to straighten her hair if she wanted to fit in and get promoted. One reason Black women start their own businesses, she says, is so they can be free to express themselves, including their hair.

Having the salons closed has also meant losing a supportive gathering place. “We have all had one experience or another with our hair – in the workplace, or a boyfriend dumping us because of our hair,” Ms. Maitwe says. “The salon was a community where you could come and talk and feel beautiful.”

A lot of us will be rushing to the hairdresser for one simple reason: Hair is a human obsession. Just ask Toronto Mayor John Tory, whose haircut – or lack of one – has been getting mixed reviews on social media. “My mom would be a dissenter,” he says. He’s heard his hair, which became especially fluffy after an ill-advised encounter with his wife’s new Dyson hair dryer, likened to that of Beethoven and a seventies gameshow host. But there are no plans to trim it until lockdown lifts and he can go back to his barber of 50 years.

Hairstyles – mainly women’s – have often been influenced by world events and judged against the current politics and culture of the country.

After the Spanish Flu and the First World War, women rebelled by lopping off their long tresses, trading chignons for the flapper bob. Fashion historian Einav Rabinovitch-Fox says the act was a way to rebel and represented a desire for life to be fun and lighter again. In many cases women were actually lighter. Losing all that heavy hair took pounds off instantly, she says, making for “a different experience in the world.”

During the Second World War, “victory rolls” – big curls on the top of the head – were popular, reportedly both as a show of support for soldiers overseas and to keep women’s hair out of their faces and easily tucked under scarfs at the factory.

When we all get around to cutting our hair this time, perhaps some good can come of it. Melanie Rodriguez, 40, is one of the Canadians who have donated their pandemic ponytails to charity. The Toronto special-education teacher recently chopped off 11 inches of her wavy, brown hair and donated it to Chai Lifeline Canada, an organization that provides support to families of seriously ill children.

“Volunteering wasn’t an option,” she says. “So what did I have? It just felt nice to do something during the pandemic.”

As for Mr. Palmer, he’s off to the barber for a professional cut as soon as possible. And he says the effort that he had to put into his pandemic hair and the influence it had on his mood has made him more empathetic toward his female friends. “I have a new appreciation for wigs.”

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