‘Was there red wine late at night involved?’ the hairdresser asks

I’m more than delighted with My New Hair; now all I need is somewhere to take it

I blame Matt Damon. It's Monday, May 10th, and I'm sitting in front of a salon mirror on day one of our return to normal, my home-made mess in need of rescue.

Rewind to February 28th, the morning after rewatching The Bourne Identity, where Damon cuts chunks out of Franka Potente’s hair in a motel bathroom with a nail scissors. And it looks only fabulous afterwards.

My autumn highlights had become irritating. How hard can it be, says I, thinking of Matt the Knife. With barely a second's thought I picked up a scissors and cut a handful of highlights off. Only, it was a 10cm chunk from the middle of my hair. I had no choice but to keep going. The result was a radical restyle, completed without even the cursory help of a YouTube video.

The result wasn’t too bad, really, if you didn’t look too closely. Especially with a hat on. Several weeks later I liked even more my attempt at a large streak of fire-engine-red through the gruaige. That was an experiment born entirely of pandemic boredom.


And sure, where was I going anyway, even if I did look a fright?

Though we didn’t know it at the time, there were still months of lockdown to go.

Today is the first day hair salons and barbers can open after 4½ months. The Hair Box salon on Patrick Street in Dún Laoghaire is booked solid for socially distanced hairdos. The salon's Dan Egan is rescuing my self-styled locks, just as hundreds of other stylists are doing right now all over Ireland.

He's thrilled to be back, but it's a familiar feeling too – this is the salon's third emergence from lockdown and there's a well-honed system and rhythm to the process by this point. The Irish Hairdressers Federation offers great support and advice on how to reopen safely, he says, and everyone has pulled together.

The routine is smooth. Sanitise, contact-trace form. I’m presented with a plastic bag for my jacket. Gowns and towels are disposable. I’m sorry, I can’t offer you a coffee, or a magazine, Egan says.

Last week was busy, getting ready for reopening: the salon averaged 20 callbacks an hour, making appointments. Like so many other salons, it will take about six weeks for the Hair Box – and its other branch in Bray – to catch up with the pent-up demand.

The first booking of the day is a 90-year-old client. “She brings me luck,” says Egan – she was first in after the last lockdown too. Hair Box clients range across all age groups, and he cheerfully forecasts “a lot of peacocking going on” among younger people over the next while as life restarts.

The atmosphere in the salon is happy and calm, with a steady burble of chatter. They’re at capacity, though keeping it safe means only four of their usual nine styling seats are occupied at one time. It’s one-on-one attention, rather than stylists roving between simultaneous clients. Hair is by booking only and waiting about is not a runner.

Egan looks at my head in the mirror. “Was there red wine late at night involved? There’s been a lot of that,” he grins. Sadly this offender committed stone-cold sober light-of-day activity. I’ve seen worse, he says. The back of my head is in the worst state apparently. Though at the front, the hair on the right is considerably longer than on the left (which makes sense as that’s where I chopped the initial lump of hair off), and there are short wispy bits. The red has faded to an insipid pink. It’s out of balance, Egan pronounces.

He urges me to take the opportunity – or the dog’s dinner, he’s too polite to say – to rethink my hairstyle, go much shorter, add a fringe. He suggests a choppy shape, with layers. And he gets to it, sure fingers moving and snipping, scrunching and shaping, slippery scissors moving with perfect confidence and assured skill.

Egan is a terrific cutter and really astute at analysing what to do – shape, colour, framing, maintenance – with the hair he’s presented with. Oh, the joy of being in the hands of someone who knows what he’s doing. Who knew how much we have missed it?

Colourist Donna Whyte comes over and we decide on a scattering of highlights and lowlights. She is delighted to be back at work today. It's been months since she has done highlights – how is she finding it? It's just like getting back up on a bike, she says, as she artfully pedals through the packets.

Don’t brush your hair, just run your hands through it, Egan warns as I leave.

I’m more than delighted with My New Hair; now all I need is somewhere to take it.

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times