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The perm is back — and some Long Island salons are doing 10 a week

Milly Perez, owner of Milly Unisex Salon in

Milly Perez, owner of Milly Unisex Salon in Brentwood, gives Jerry Fuentes a perm Dec. 18. This photo was on Monday's exploreLI cover. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The perm is back and at some salons and barbershops on Long Island, they’re quite popular … with men.

Inspired by K-pop idols, soccer stars, hockey players and TikTok, where the term #manperm has generated millions of views, guys are publicly and yes, proudly, wearing curlers (well, they’re actually called rods) to add texture, volume and curls to their coifs.

To be clear, these are not the permanent waves of the '80s — those bubble-shaped, frizzy jobs of record-breaking heights that maybe make you shudder a little. "They’re definitely not your grandmother’s perms," says Garrett Munce, grooming editor of Esquire and Men’s Health magazines and author of the book, "Self-Care for Men, How to Look Good and Feel Great."

What today's perm looks like

"You might not even know someone has a perm. They’re not at all like the '80s poodle perm."

- Garrett Munce, grooming editor of Esquire and Men’s Health

What teens today are getting involves a fade cut on the side, not an allover perm. Munce explains today's perms come in a wide variety of textures and waves. "Particularly, if you’re doing Asian-, Korean- or Japanese-style perms, these tend to make the hair more of a looser, tailored curl pattern."

At Hair Salon 51 in Hicksville, where men’s perms cost $65, owner Anna Rahimi estimates that the salon does from five to 10 "man perms" a week on mostly teenagers. "At first, it surprised me," she says of the process’ popularity. "I would ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ They’d say, ‘We play soccer and want the curls.’ Sometimes they’ll bring a picture. And they look very cute."

Likewise, at Haiier Salon in Syosset and Flushing, where the tousled look is definitely in. Here, their perm specialists serve some 10 guys in the 18 to 30-year-old age range each week, says Yvonne Chan, a manager there.

WHAT IS A PERM?

  • In its most basic form, a permanent wave is a thermal or chemical service that restructures the hair. And oh, it’s not permanent, but can last from a few months up to a year depending on your hair type. 
  • In a salon or barber shop, the process can take somewhere between an hour or two and you should make sure the person you’re going to is experienced.

Long Islanders take on the 'do

One client, Siulam Koo, 28, of Mineola, recently got an undercut haircut topped by a wavy perm … not his first. "One of the perks of getting a perm is that it’s easier maintenance. My hair is very rebellious," he says. "The undercut helps. I don’t have to get it cut so often, and I have the volume on the outer layers."

He cites seeing photos of people on social media with hair, "that was sort of neat looking while still having volume," as giving him the push to a perm. As for being embarrassed about sitting in a salon chair with rollers in his hair, he says, "At first I was a little ambivalent about it. But I thought, 'I’m a customer and they offer the service.’ If you take care of yourself and look good, you’re more confident and people appreciate it no matter what gender you are. It’s a good investment," he says of his $140 tab which included a haircut as well as the perm and will last about four months.

THE PERM PROCESS

  • Hair is washed, sectioned, and curled in rods with perming solution (word to the wise: the solution smells like rotten eggs).
  • “Putting the rollers in the head is the most time-consuming part of it,” says barber Jamie Lee Rodriguez of Hair Magicians in Wantagh. “You don’t want to rush it and you have to articulate each strand.”  
  • That sits for 10 to 25 minutes, then hair is rinsed, towel dried and saturated with a neutralizer (“this closes the hair follicle so the curls stay,” says Rodriguez.) The rods are removed, “very carefully. You have to unwind each roller gently.  If it’s pulled you can undo the curl,” she says. 
  • Hands off -- no touching, washing or combing your hair for 48 hours.

Musician Marcus Brodsky, 21, of Freeport is planning his second perm pre-summer at Hair Magicians in Wantagh where perms for men run $60 to $180. Initially, "he was really debating it and I told him I thought it would look cool," says his stylist Jamie Lee Rodriguez whose professional barber name is Jaylee Bladez. "For a guy with straight hair, there are less options with hairstyles in general," says Brodsky. "You get your haircut and it can only sit a few ways. The perm allowed me to have a little more experimentation."

And speaking of experimenting, just a few weeks ago, Connor Centonze, 21, a mechanic from Levittown, amped up his mullet with a fade cut and curly perm, also at Hair Magicians.

"I wanted to go for a curly mullet and started growing it from the end of quarantine," he says. A recreational hockey player, his hair inspo is '90s Pittsburgh Penguin’s hockey player, Jaromir Jagr. "I feel like I’m an older soul and I dress like the styles of the '70s to the '90s," Centonze says. He adds, "I never thought I’d be known for my hair. But when I took off my helmet at hockey the other day, a guy said, ‘Yo, you have great hair.’ "

A change in the process

So, what has actually changed besides volume and frizz in the perm world? The type of haircuts for one thing, explains Anthony Cole, the creative director and general manager of Salon Sans`Egal in Oceanside who has drawn curl-seeking guys, ages 16-18, from Staten Island, Brooklyn and Long Island for his hip "top" perms that cost $110. "They’ve changed dramatically," he says describing long-on-the-top-curls with deep undercuts using "twist cut" and diagonal shearing techniques at the end. "It makes a perm look super beautiful and natural," he says.

Also, while the curling chemicals are basically the same, there have been some advances in the rods (those curler-like things). "The perm rods in the '80s were basic plastic sets. Today, there are fabric rods. Some have wires in them, I call them ‘bendys,’" says Cole. "They come in different sizes from extra small to large and you can roll them in various directions to do a body wave or a messy tousled wave."

Munce points out that perm perceptions have changed too. He says, "The guys getting them now don’t have that '80s reference point. For them, it’s like, ‘I want to look like this soccer star or that K-pop star.’ And they’re not doing it in secret."

HOW TO AVOID DAMAGE

  • Barber Jamie Lee Rodriguez (AKA @Jayleebladez) of Hair Magicians in Wantagh says first, talk through the curl pattern you’re interested in achieving.
  • Most important, she says, “Tell your stylist if you’ve had other services done to your hair like tinting, color or bleaching. Particularly for people with bleached blond hair, a perm can cause damage including breakage.” 

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