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When Craig Berns Salon Spa in Pewaukee reopened in May after being temporarily closed over the pandemic, hairstylist Meghan Helm said “pretty much all” of her teenage boy clients were asking about the same thing:

Perms.   

These clients usually want “the flow” or “the lettuce” haircut, she said, which is medium or long hair that flows back. Pompadours, mullets and bowl cuts have also been increasing in popularity.

But most of the pictures her clients were showing her were of people with these hairstyles, plus curls. 

“If they want their hair to look like that, they kind of have to have some kind of texture already, or they’re considering perms because they want it to look like that,” she said. 

Connor Macleod, a freshman at Waukesha North High School, got his hair permed for the first time earlier this month at Spargo Salon & Spa in Pewaukee after seeing “quite a few” of his classmates with them. 

“It’s just kind of trendy right now,” said Connor, 14. “A lot of boys are getting it, and I think it looks pretty cool.”

His mom, Monica Macleod, said he had been asking to get one for about a year. 

Her first reaction? “He’s crazy,” Monica laughed. 

When she talked to her friend, Laura Chapman, owner of Spargo, about it, she said Chapman told her about the perm making a comeback. So Monica let Connor give it a go. 

“I just figured, why not?” Monica said. “If anything, if he doesn’t like it, he can shave his head.”

Monica, herself, had a perm when she was a teenager. 

“It’s a teen thing, maybe,” she said. 

Asking for the same style

Chapman said the teen boys who have inquired about perms at her salon are asking about the same style: Shaved underneath, and longer with curls on top. 

“It’s a curly hairstyle that boys with curly hair are doing,” she said. “So boys with straight hair are wanting to duplicate that, and the only way they can do that is a perm.”

One of Helm’s clients at Craig Berns Salon Spa is a senior at Kettle Moraine High School who has a pompadour-style haircut. 

Since he has “stick-straight” hair, it grew forward, and he couldn’t get it to push over the side the way he wanted it to, she said. 

To help him achieve the look he wanted, she did a partial perm on the top of his hair to get it to go over to the side and give him texture. 

She said her clients are usually good about bringing in pictures of what they want, and she takes it from there. 

“Depending on what kind of look they’re going for is going to depend on how far back you’re going to go, if you’re just going to do the top, or if you’re just going to really do the underneath.”

The appeal

Amy Larsen, who owns Shear Dimensions in Hartland with her sister, said she thinks teens are getting the perm idea from celebrities and athletes they see on social media like TikTok and Instagram. 

Multiple publications, including GQ and Allure, are also crediting TikTok for the trend. 

Helm said a lot of the boys she’s talked to who are interested in perms are baseball, hockey or lacrosse players who want their hair to show under their hats or helmets. Like Helm, Larsen said the look seems to be more popular among athletes. 

This rings true to Connor, who wrestles, rock climbs and does track and field. 

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Helm thinks perms are appealing to teens because of how easy they are to maintain. 

“They can literally wake up and not deal with it, and it always looks good,” Helm said. 

“You can put some product in and go,” Larsen said. “It makes it easier for you every day, and I think that’s kind of what teenagers want.”

‘A time nobody was coming in for perms’

Chapman said over the past couple of months, more and more perms, in general, have been scheduled at her salon. 

“There was a time nobody was coming in for perms,” she said. 

While it used to be primarily an “older generation” getting them done, now it’s a “whole variety of ages,” she said.

Larsen has seen the same shift at her salon. 

The last time Larsen remembers male perms being this big of a trend was about 15 years ago, she said, when actors were wearing their hair curly and with highlights or bleach. 

Perm process

Chapman isn’t a fan of perms, personally, so she said their comeback has been “hard” for her. 

The ideal candidate for a perm is someone with healthy, soft “virgin hair” that has not been processed with color, she said. Otherwise, she’s concerned about the damage the perm solution could cause hair that’s already been processed. 

The perm process begins with detoxing the hair and getting it wet, Helm said. Then, the hair is rolled with rods. Next comes the “perm procedure,” in which perm solution is put on the hair. After it processes for 10 to 20 minutes, the solution gets washed out, she said. The hair is then air-neutralized, and a neutralizer is applied. She tells her clients not to get their hair wet for the next 48 hours.

Perms on shorter hair typically last six to eight weeks, she said. The tighter the curl, the longer it lasts. 

“It’ll start to fade off, where the curl will go more relaxed and into a wave,” she said. 

The end result

Connor said he usually goes for a “skater” hairstyle, with longer hair in the front that’s pushed to one side, and short on the sides. 

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Before perming Connor’s hair, Spargo hairstylist Hailey Van Hulst shaved the sides and back of his head. Then she got into the perm process, which, in Connor’s case, involved rolling his hair in all different directions “to make it look as naturally curly as possible.” Afterward, she shaped his longer hair up with scissors. 

“I was kind of nervous, but it looks really good,” Connor said. 

And, his mom agreed. 

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Connor said he plans to continue keeping up with it. 

Contact Hannah Kirby at hannah.kirby@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HannahHopeKirby.  

Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.

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