A few weeks ago, Samuel Logan, a fashion executive, put on a protective mask and took a short subway ride to Greenwich Village for a highly anticipated, clandestine tryst. In the middle of a sunny afternoon, he covertly met his barber on a deserted street to get a haircut and beard trim.
The appointment had little in common with a typical trim. They walked silently up an empty flight of stairs, through a darkened hallway and into the vacant barbershop, its window shades drawn to conceal the activity inside. Mr. Logan brought along two items that seemed essential: disinfectant spray, in case the barber’s chair needed a germ-busting spritz, and a baseball cap to hide the evidence of newly shorn locks when he left.
“It felt like I had just made a deal to buy a case of bathtub gin,” Mr. Logan said.
He was understandably furtive. Salons in New York have been closed by government order since late March, as they have across much of the country. (In a few states, including Georgia, they’ve recently been allowed to reopen.) Since then, a longing for professional grooming has become a leitmotif on social media, with a deluge of images of scraggly, overgrown hair and sad attempts at self-administered haircuts, along with instructional videos on how to do a trim at home.
Inevitably, some hairstylists and their regular clients have, like Mr. Logan, been skirting governmental restrictions.
“In terms of barbers getting out there to cut hair, they’re going to do that,” said Damon Dorsey, president of the American Barber Association, a nonprofit organization with several thousand members across the country. “There are going to be some people who are just going to say, ‘I’ll take my chances’ and some barbers that are saying that, too.”
Getting a haircut at the moment tends to be focused more on efficiency than on pleasure. Recently a loyal client of a salon in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles — let’s call her Michelle since she asked for anonymity because she was dodging government regulations — met her stylist for an overdue trim in his shuttered space.
Michelle had washed her hair at home to speed up the process; their usual relaxed banter was curtailed, in no small part because their faces were covered by masks.
“I was anxious to get it done,” she said. “I didn’t want to lean into that moment. I wanted to be in and out.” She left the same way she arrived: sneaking through an alleyway to her discreetly parked car for a drive down a traffic-free highway.
Some hairstylists are seeing regular clients on house calls, often in a client’s yard or garden. Joey Silvestera, the owner of the Blackstones salons in downtown Manhattan, did his first such appointment a few days ago. His barbershop was the backyard of a client’s home, a 15-minute drive from East Hampton, where Mr. Silvestera has been staying with his family since both Blackstones locations closed in mid-March.
Instead of his usual work wear of a black T-shirt and leather jacket, he dressed in a de facto hazmat suit: a Dickies cotton jumpsuit he described in a phone interview as “a onesie.” The appointment was a test run for a weekly cut he plans to schedule with a faithful client, vetted through a list of health-related questions that, in calmer times, would be reserved for a doctor’s office.
“I’m not playing around,” Mr. Silvestera said. “If I don’t feel that they’re on the same page, I’m not going.”
Julien Howard, a barber who lives in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, is planning to cut hair quietly on the roof of his apartment building, or on clients’ terraces. He has done one such haircut already, upstairs from his top-floor apartment, wearing a makeshift version of personal protective equipment that included black nitrile gloves and a pair of round Saint Laurent sunglasses.
“I feel like in the open air there’s less chance of getting a germ than if I’m in a closed environment like someone’s bathroom,” Mr. Howard said.
For the rooftop service, he brought an array of equipment, including a hot towel machine and a glass bottle of disinfecting Barbicide. “I had the whole experience of the barbershop but outdoors, in the open air,” he said.
In lieu of cash or a Venmo transaction, he was paid with a handful of N-95 masks, along with a protective contraption that a graffiti artist might wear to keep spray-paint fumes at bay.
Mr. Howard is accustomed to cutting hair outside of a salon. Before the lockdown, he was making house calls through the Vélo Barber, a business he founded. Those appointments have been suspended since salons, including Blind Barber in the East Village where he also worked a few days a week, closed.
Other businesses that usually facilitate at-home haircuts — like the on-demand app and website Glamsquad and Paul Molé, the venerable barbershop on the Upper East Side, which normally send stylists to people’s homes — have similarly halted house calls for the time being.
While most salons are following government orders strictly, the temptation for both stylists and their customers remains.
“Until there is enough testing, we can’t in good conscience break with the social distancing protocols,” said Steve Marks, the owner of Persons of Interest, a chain of three barbershops in Brooklyn. “That said, people can’t wait till July to get a haircut, so they’ll find a way.”
He has heard, he said, that one of the barbers from his Williamsburg salon is planning to see clients in his backyard nearby. He’s not standing in his way.