A little more off the sides, and the chat

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
The chat-free salon session is now a thing, but is it really that hard to feign a bit of interest in your stylist’s love life and holiday plans? asks Barbara Ellen.

How important are you? So important that only other important people are permitted to speak to you? So eminent your hair must be snipped in monastic silence?

I ask because hair stylist Kati Hakomeri has introduced a "silent service" at her salon, Parturi Kati, in Helsinki. Clients can book the online option: "A haircut without talking. After the consultation you can be on your own, recharge your batteries and relax". Hakomeri says she’s an introvert herself, and her clients could be busy professionals or exhausted mothers.

What’s interesting (and perhaps telling) is how the idea of the silent chop has been embraced in some quarters as a long overdue liberation from a terrible ordeal. As in: finally to be granted some peace — a moment of serenity in my arduous existence!

Is a little perspective in order? I doubt people’s stylists have been demanding their views on The Iliad as they plug in the hair-straighteners.

It turns out that silent haircuts have been around for a while: there are salons offering the service from Australia to North Carolina. A couple of years ago, it was suggested the pandemic had an effect on how quietly people wanted their hair cut.

Then there’s the unofficial silent haircut. There are plenty of cutters/colourists who are naturally introvert. If you dig their elective-mute vibe, stick with them, and enjoy your complimentary coffee in peace. However, actively booking a silent haircut? Let’s call a paddle brush a paddle brush — it’s rude.

I’ll give the truly fragile/overworked/shy out there a pass. The rest of us: how much effort (really) is it to be friendly to a stylist? How mortifying would it be to have your fringe trimmed after requesting they keep their traps shut. What makes you think they want to talk to you anyway? About "going anywhere nice", or anything else. As if anyone on God’s sweet Earth is interested in the all-inclusive holiday you booked when you were tipsy a few weeks ago.

In my experience, the turbo-over-chatty non-self-aware stylist verges on an urban myth. These are front-facing professionals trained to tune in to clients. It’s called small talk, and it’s painless. You fake back interest in their holiday, and it’s over, unless you strike gold and get loads of juicy intel about infidelities, tweakments and in-depth analysis of reality TV stars. What fool doesn’t want that?

To my mind, the silent haircut catastrophises an everyday interaction. It’s a low-end version of the urban myth of Tom Cruise ordering co-stars not to look him in the eye. It also gives men the excuse to humblebrag about their cheap haircuts and naturally taciturn barbers.

Except, when I peek in modern barber-shop windows, there’s everything from candy-cane poles to exposed brick to booming music to motorbike hubcaps. What’s going on in there? Are they getting their hair trimmed or regenerating as Hunter S. Thompson?

By comparison, salons are an oasis of no-frills minimalism. Traditionally, they represent escape (work/family), but also a kind of levelling. There’s a certain brand of unspoken feminine camaraderie to be found among the highlighting foils.

Sad then to see an Upstairs, Downstairs mentality creeping into the egalitarian arena of the salon. After all, this "silent treatment" goes only one way: down the class ladder (not only stylists, but also manicurists, cab drivers, et al). There’s a hierarchical "lower orders" energy to it: "I don’t have to talk to you, so I won’t". Would the same people demand GPs button it? Would lawyers be required to conduct their business via the medium of mime?

It has the dubious whiff of viewing others as staff, even serfs. It’s a little too close to being impolite to waiters. And what’s the betting these are the same people hypocritically bemoaning the rise of AI and lack of 21st-century human contact?

Perhaps stylists should retaliate with their own version (no tip; you zip). The rest of us could do worse than follow the golden rule: remember your manners. Let’s face it, the very last person you’d want to offend is your hair stylist. Burn the immortal words of Fleabag into your heart: "Hair is everything". — The Observer