Congratulations Singapore, we've moved into Phase 2, and social distancing is allowed to get a lot more social! This means some style-ups might be in order, so we've put together a walkthrough for those of you wanting to pretty up for those five-person parties but still concerned with staying safe amidst the increased outdoor crowds. Specifically, we volunteered our own Agent JT as tribute to see what going to the salon is like these days.
Hi, I'm Agent JT! Three months and one Circuit-Breaker ago, I got a perm and bleached streak at The Beauty Emporium by The Urban Aesthetics. While I didn't get a chance to go to the salon since, this low-maintenance high-impact makeover thankfully saw me through countless closeups over Zoom.
Like this one (background not included).
Almost four months, zero blow-drying and no curl-cream application later though, my hair is starting to look less than ideal. It was time to go back to The Beauty Emporium by The Urban Aesthetics @ Raffles City.
Just because we are now in Phase 2, doesn't mean that all the Phase 1 safety measures have disappeared. Salons still aren't allowed to serve food from plates (they may be able to serve you limited choices of biscuits or nuts in packets), so I made sure to eat something that would keep me full up for the few hours my wash, cut, dye and styling would probably take.
My appointment was at 6 and I didn't want a full meal at the awkward time of 4.45pm, so I just pretended I was Snow White and ate this apple.
Also, salons still can't serve drinks out of cups and glasses, so their usual menu may not be available, though many do serve packet drinks. I'm finicky about my beverages, so I prepped my own tumbler of Teh Siew Dai.
Then I took a selfie for my stylist Leong, since he wouldn't be able to see my face-shape when I was in the salon with my face under mask. I wanted to come clean with him about gaining all that Circuit-Breaker weight so he could give me the right hair to compensate for it.
Pretty sure my face was smaller before. Help me conceal this, Leong!
Then it was time to put on two essential coverings: One mask (this gorgeous one is from @reymin_masks) and a cardigan, because I didn't know if I would be able to take three hours of shopping centre air-conditioning after barely leaving my warm home for months.
Anyway, with the basic necessities of food, drink, clothing and selfie checked, I put on my mask and headed out.
I got in a Grabcar and rode to Raffles City Shopping Centre. The roads were more crowded than in Phase 1, so it took between 5-10 minutes more than I had expected. This may be something to note so you're not late for your hair appointment - salons are more packed during this pandemic and arriving in time for your slot is important if you want to finish your hair service. I'd targeted to arrive 10 minutes early so I wasn't fazed...yet. The harder part was getting into the mall and up to my salon.
Usually, I go through the Swissotel entrance to get to The Beauty Emporium by The Urban Aesthetics. No dice this time. I scanned the SafeEntry code to get into the hotel, only to be told by an apologetic guard that the access between the hotel and mall were temporarily closed. I spent almost ten minutes queuing for and trying a few more possible entrances before thinking to check the appointment confirmation message that the salon had sent me.
They had specifically texted me the best way to get to the salon and I never bothered to read it. If you make an appointment with your hairdressers, they should be texting you the best directions to reach them too, so don't ignore them like I did if you don't want to waste your precious youth. In any case, it's probably a good idea to add 15 minutes to your travel time from door-to-door, since you may have to queue to get into the mall and take time to figure out different routes.
I arrived over ten minutes late but thank goodness it wasn't a crowded evening at The Beauty Emporium by The Urban Aesthetics. And I wasn't able to head in quite yet - while I had already scanned the SafeEntry code to get into Raffles City Shopping Centre, the friendly masked counter-staff informed me I was required to scan in again at The Beauty Emporium by The Urban Aesthetics, in line with government safety and tracking requirements.
I was also asked to write down my name on a list, while my temperature was checked and I was invited to take a squirt from the bottle of hand sanitizer on the counter. Then finally, I was taken to a cosy corner seat - I noticed it was two seats away from the nearest fellow customer. A masked assistant carefully placed a robe on me with minimal physical contact, and asked me to take a look at the drinks menu.
It was definitely different from the drinks menu I remembered before - I used to always order the hot chocolate when I was there, but this time there were no warm beverages listed. The assistant explained that while only packet drinks and snacks were allowed to be served, they still wanted to provide a nice selection, so they designed a new menu with refreshed options. I chose green tea, and they also brought over a complimentary kit-kat. Meanwhile, I was gloating to myself over the tumbler of hot teh I'd brought for when I started feeling cold.
Once I was all settled in, my stylist Leong (left) came by, masked but dapper as ever in a sand-coloured suit. He asked how I was and what I'd like done, and I told him that my hair was worse-for-wear, and also that maybe it was time to lose the blonde streak since I was going back to work. He said my perm had plenty of life in it yet, and that a cut was best to refresh it. He also suggested dyeing the blonde an easily camouflageable violet - still edgy but simpler to hide. He then brought in colourist Kenny (in the black t-shirt), who agreed with his assessment.
I appreciated being the centre of attention for not one, but two hair experts, and told Leong that I was glad the safe-distancing measures seemed to have cleared up everyone's schedule.
He looked at me with disbelief. "I'm actually busier than ever," he said. "The salon looks emptier, but a big part of that is because our stylists and technicians are divided into Teams A & B to prevent possible cross-contamination. Today, this team has been on our feet ever since 11am."
So while poor Leong remained on his feet, I was ushered to the hair-wash sinks by Kenny, who made sure to seat me in the furthest possible space from the other customer having her hair rinsed - she was all the way on the left, I was all the way on the right, with two sinks between us. After a thorough wash, he coated my streak with some peroxide and left it on just for ten minutes, just to make sure it would be receptive to the new colour.
After that, he took me back to my nice corner seat where I had a view of the window leading out to the rest of the mall. Even though the blinds were down, I thought I saw a flash of a face outside.
"That's probably the Safe Distancing Ambassador," said Kenny. "They peek in every now and then to make sure that we're following all the measures, so don't worry, you're very safe." The expression above his mask was extremely neutral.
In the meantime, he had mixed up a customised colour for me, in between biro-blue and plum-purple, and showed me some samples on a piece of tissue.
I said I liked it, and he got to work. In the meantime, I decided to test out my strategy for drinking under my mask.
Aside from the fact that the mask getting pushed up a bit meant one of my eyes got temporarily squished (my mask is pretty firm and fitted) using a reusable straw to drink the warm teh from my tumbler worked very well. No need for mask removal, and no stains ended up on my mask either. I'd highly recommend straws for outdoor-drinking during this pandemic, especially reusable ones so we don't generate so much plastic waste.
Kenny said, 'You're allowed to take off your mask when you're drinking, you know.' But I said I preferred this way of drinking, for science. He nodded. Again, his expression was very neutral.
In about 15 minutes, my streak was coloured, and the dye washed off. I was entrusted back to Leong.
The moment I got back in my seat, I asked Leong if he wanted to see my selfie. "No need," he said, explaining that over the past few years of haircuts, he's literally seen me through thick and thin, and that selfies are more useful if you and your stylist and new to each other.
"Then yes, selfies are useful. Though I still prefer to see my client's actual face since photographs can look quite different depending on angles and lighting. So what we do here is to observe our clients as thoroughly as possible when they pull down their masks to take a drink before the hair service. Of course, it's their right to not remove their masks at all if that's what they prefer."
What if the clients went home, took off their masks and decided they didn't like the way they looked? Leong looked thoughtful for awhile.
"That hasn't happened with us," he said. "But if that is really the case, they can make another appointment within two weeks to fix things that they think they're not happy with, and generally, we're happy not to charge extra. As long as it's reasonable. In the past, I've heard of clients damaging their hair quite badly with home experiments, or coming back after a year, to say they didn't like the haircut they were given and to fix it, when really it wasn't the same haircut anymore."
I reassured Leong that I would not do that, but that I would be keeping my mask on through the evening for science.
"It's fine," he smiled. "Most importantly, your mask is the type with ear-loops, not those with straps tied round the back of your head. With those, it's hard to reach your hair without extensively adjusting your mask." With that, he began the precision cutting he's known for.
Some of my hair had got caught in the mask at some point in the evening. Without missing a beat, Leong used the teeth of his thin comb to effortlessly fish the strands out and ensure an even cut.
"This is how we work around hair getting caught in masks," he explained. "It's really not a problem. With short, men's length hair, it's a bit trickier if the hair gets obscured under the mask, because there isn't enough length to just use one bit to fish out the whole strand. What I do in those cases is to briefly unhook the loop from my client's ear while still pulling it so the mask still rests against the front of my client's face. That way his nose and mouth is still covered while exposing the hair close to his ear. Once that is dealt with, I hook the loop right back."
I have to say that I was hoping for more mask-related haircutting hiccups to write about - like the comb or scissors being caught on the mask, my ear loops accidentally getting snipped, etc. But maybe because my mask was snug enough against my face to not get in the way, I didn't notice anything different in the haircut process from pre-Covid days at all. Leong's fellow hairstylist, the lovely Leslie, even popped by to say hi (from a safe distance) because he was done with his final customer for the evening.
And of course, Leong gave my hair the same attention as he always did. In this case, that meant blowing my permed hair straight to ensure the shape of the cut would remain immaculate even while straightened, even though I told him I was so lazy it was highly unlikely I would ever bother to flat-iron my hair. And when after that, I told him I had work the next day where I would actually prefer my hair to be in its permed, curly state, he proceeded to curl it back.
Which brings us to the final step of the evening:
To quote a famous fast food commercial: I'm lovin' it.
I really like the inky violet streak in my hair. It's subtle, but not predictable. The surprising tint gives it real zing and attitude.
Of course, the cut has lots of attitude on its own. This shape, with the curls, is full of movement and energy.
And because Leong previously blew it straight, I also know the cut would also look kickass if I ever needed my hair flat-ironed.
And one more thing I was really happy about? Wearing one of my favourite patterned masks to the salon. I usually take selfies after seeing Leong because I love his cuts. Having my designer mask on meant that Phase 2 or not, I was insta-ready after my do (my eyebrows could use some work, but that will have to wait until my long-awaited Phase 2 brow appointment). If you also like commemorating your stylist's skill with some snaps, consider wearing a patterned mask to your hair service too.
And with that, my visit was at an end. Leong, Leslie and Kenny bid me goodnight (from a safe distance), and I paid at the counter (using Paywave for minimal contact). I also took a giant dollop of their hand sanitiser before leaving.
One last thing - My phone had run out of juice because of all the photos I was taking, and from reading stuff online when I wasn't chatting with Leong. Since salons aren't allowed to distribute magazinse to clients during this time, either bring your own book, a portable charger, or try to make sure your phone is fully charged before you head to the salon. And always bring your IC or Passion Card - since I couldn't check out of the salon and mall using my phone, it was a good thing I had my cards with me to complete that step with.
To sum up my recommendations for your Phase 2 hair service:
While most salons will still try to stock packet snacks to serve, you can't expect their pre-Covid selection.
Not all salons will be serving drinks during this period, and even those who do can only serve packet ones, which are generally cold.
...Unless you don't mind briefly taking off your mask to consume liquids, which is allowed. However, for those more safety-minded among us, a straw fits nicely under your mask so you don't even have to remove it, though it might get a little bit pushed up.
This helps him/her understand your face shape for a better cut. Also, expect to be examined by said stylist if/when you remove the mask to take a drink. If you're with your long-time stylist though, don't worry about it, they probably know your face well enough by now.
It probably has directions on the best way to get to the salon, which might have changed since SafeEntry routes have been established.
Travel now takes longer than in Phase 1, plus you often have to queue to check into the building where your salon is, before then having to check into the salon itself. And since hair establishments these days are often packed with back-to-back appointments and have quotas on clients in the space at any one time, you want to make sure you get your full share of the stylist's time.
If you wear one of those masks that are tied behind the back of your head, the stylist can't get at your hair. And if your mask is pretty nice and snug, it stays out of the stylist's way.
Salons can't distribute magazines these days, so your hair-service time is likely to be harder on your phone. Or, bring a book and give your mobile a break.
Some places do need your identity cards to scan you in and out. Or even if not, it's good to have them with you anyway, just in case your phone does run out of juice.
We're excited to see your Phase 2 do!