Feike de Jong is a journalist and urban researcher in Mexico City. He is the creator of the app, “Limits: On foot along the edge of the megalopolis of the Valley of Mexico."
Five local hairstylists speak to CityLab about the state of their city’s coiffing preferences.
When it comes to politics in Mexico City’s barbershops, the conversations currently revolve around progressive president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The consensus—and the haircut prices—change from neighborhood to neighborhood; the business elites of Polanco are worried about Obrador while those in the city center express cautious optimism. A haircut runs from 90 pesos ($4.70) in Ecatepec to 500 pesos ($25.77) in Polanco, but the final result looks pretty much the same. All five barbers and hairstylists CityLab surveyed in Mexico City say that local hairstyles are fundamentally conservative.
For 40 years, Alfredo Palacios has cut the hair of stars and politicians from his flagship salon in Mexico City’s posh Polanco District. For the past 28 years he’s also hosted his own radio show, Salud y Belleza. Amid a maze of mirrors, chairs, scissors, and soaps, he explains what makes a fashionable haircut: “It requires exposure.”
On the other side of the megalopolis, Sivel Torres’s small, spare, barber shop stands at the crossing of two dusty roads in the crime-ridden municipality of Ecatepec on the city’s periphery. His clients are workers at the factories nearby, and residents of the self-built neighborhoods around the once-rural village. He used to stay open during the night but no longer feels comfortable doing so.
The Banda Chaca—youths who listen to reggaeton and take their moniker from the Spanish word for jackal—in Ecatepec, wear traditional haircuts with accentuated lines cut into them. For Torres, these cuts, as well as the beards sported by men who listen to Mexico’s country-style Grupero music, are the most clearly spotted subcultures spotted by one’s hair.
Generally, people in Ecatepec copy the haircuts from Polanco, who get their fashions from Europe. And everybody uses images on their phones to indicate which haircut they want. “The best products and fashions come from Europe,” says Enrique Perez, who has worked 26 years among the shopkeepers and stallholders of the city center. Perez says that there has been very little change in styles in his time as a barber, though some may increase or decrease in visibility. “In Polanco, people look for expensive hairstylists because they think an expensive haircut will be better. But we have the same haircuts here, and just as good,” says Torres.
Even in the hip Condesa neighborhood, Daniel Morfin—36 years old with an immaculate beard, ear extenders, and piercings—concurs that hair-fashion fundamentally static in Mexico City. “The whole retro tendency just uses traditional haircuts which have never really disappeared,” says Morfin. “It is like many things in contemporary culture, there doesn’t really seem to be anything new—just the recycling of older fashions and nostalgia.”
Nonetheless, each neighborhood has its own tastemakers. In Condesa, it’s the television series Peaky Blinders and actors such as Johnny Depp and Tom Hardy. In Ecatepec, it’s soccer players, especially Cristiano Ronaldo.
But some things have changed. The lemon juice traditionally used by Mexicans as a fixative for thick, bristly black hair has long been replaced by mousse, then gel, and now, wax. And the profession itself, long dominated by women into the 1970s, is now mostly occupied by men. Miguel Angel Garcia, 65, with 35 years of experience cutting the hair of the cultural and bureaucratic elites of Coyoacan, says the shift happened around the same time as unisex hairstylists started to appear. Beards have also come into fashion, coming to the capital from Mexico's more rural states around 2015 and igniting a boom of barbershops.
According to Palacios, a former master of the beehive haircut in the ‘70s, fashions could—with a lot of effort—come out of Mexico City, but not anymore.
Garcia says that women’s hairstyles now are done so as to require little effort for the customer to arrange their own hair later on. “Women don’t really change their hairstyle until they become about 50 when often a radical change takes place,” he adds. “Men are more flexible between 20 and 30. Afterwards, they will rarely try anything new. That’s why I pay attention to soccer players.”