The return of the Flowbee?

Dear Willow:

What are you all doing about your hair?

I am not precious about my appearance, particularly my hair, but I’m approaching a point where I may have to do something radical like a, I don’t know…man bun? My state of South Carolina is open for business when it comes to haircuts, but I vowed to wait at least a month from the initial wave of people venturing out before I’d even consider a cut.

Normally I get a cut every six weeks at Great Clips. You probably read that Great Clips is where two stylists in Missouri infected with the COVID-19 virus potentially exposed hundreds of customers and co-workers. It remains to be seen how many others will develop infections. At least everyone was masked. The stylists have come in for much criticism, but I can imagine the pressure on them to show up to work after a period of forced closing. They could easily find themselves replaced, never to get back on the schedule. A system built on efficiency, as these sorts of chains are to be profitable, forces the sorts of decisions that may run counter to public health and well-being.

(Or even individual health and well-being, for that matter.)

Do not tell Kathy I said this because I always deny it when she accuses me, but there was a period, maybe five or six years ago where I made a run at cultivating, for lack of a better word, “professor hair:” a longish, graying mane, maybe something like Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and current Star Trek: Picard series showrunner, Michael Chabon.

Unfortunately, my hair has a tendency to grow larger, rather than longer and the result was more Sideshow Bob than silver fox.

In high school I cultivated “hockey hair,” also known as the “SOSLIB” (short on sides, long in back), or if we’re going to be dismissive, a mullet.

We hockey players actually called it a “Duguay,” after Ron Duguay, a professional player most notably for the New York Rangers. Ron Duguay had excellent “flow,” the long hair in back flapping behind him like a mini-cape. As a Blackhawks fan from birth, I loathed Duguay as a player, but I admired the coif. (He also married Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kim Alexis.)

Some guys on my high school team were so serious about their Duguays, they permed the flow in back, and we did not even make fun of them.

In terms of research and our work at Willow, I start thinking about what sorts of behaviors this period of social distancing and separation from professional services will alter permanently. Clippers are selling out from online stores. If this is satisfactory, there may be some decline in the hair-cutting industry.

Are women who normally color their hair letting the gray have its way because who cares when we’re all largely confined to our houses, or will hair coloring panic buying continue?

Can we expect the return of Flowbee commercials to our airwaves?

What about things like gym memberships? Millions of people have been forced to work out at home, and various apps and online services have made themselves free (for now) to accommodate their new potential customers. What if consumers are getting what they need at a much lower cost?

Of course, the initial wave of the fitness craze was largely an at-home phenomenon. Jane Fonda’s workout started as a book before it was even a video, mostly because home video players were just coming into vogue at the time (1981-82). You could even get the workout on cassette tape![1]

Before this, it seems like gyms were for boxers and bodybuilders, but then for a while anyway, Jazzercise studios were everywhere. Wikipedia tells me that Chicago’s own Bally Total Fitness became funct in 1983. I worked on a project for their ad strategies back in the day at the old place. Bally Total Fitness went defunct in 2016. I remember our research indicated that populating their ads exclusively with models was alienating to potential customers. Maybe that caught up with them.

You gotta listen to the research.

What if it’s the opposite, and all this time sweatin’ to the oldies in our temporary home gyms (read: hallway) is making us long for the chance to huff and puff alongside other humans while up-tempo music blasts away?

(I’ve never been a gym guy, personally. I like a nice solo run or bike ride.)

Even under normal times, our world is constantly being remade. The extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus only accelerates the remaking. Thinking about the Jane Fonda Workout brings me back to the first VCR my family ever owned. It was a present for my dad’s 40th birthday (January 1981), a top-loader, heavy as a Buick with a corded remote which could pause or search forward at a single speed.

It was one of the most thrilling days of my life. The thing was a marvel. The only place to rent movies was the camera shop near my mom’s bookstore (The Book Bin) in the downtown Northbrook shopping plaza. The first two movies we rented were The Goodbye Girl (for mom) and Airplane (for the rest of us). All rentals were for a week. My brother and I must’ve watched Airplane forty times. I haven’t seen it straight through for almost forty years and I can still recite dozens of scenes from memory.

Camera stores barely exist anymore.

There’s one Blockbuster left in the entire world. When Hamilton comes to Disney+ I will be signing up for my fifth streaming service.

What’s going to be gone when we re-emerge into the world? What’s going to be in its place?

And what am I going to do about my hair?


Yours in hirsuititude,


[1] I learned from the really interesting documentary Jane Fonda in Five Acts that Fonda donated all the proceeds from the workout to women’s charities. Tens of millions of dollars. That was her motive to do the book and video in the first place.

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