Haircuts in Harvard Yard

Aaron Kang’s Grays common room salon had the feeling of a meditation sound recording: the pitter-patter of the rain, the slice of scissor blades meeting, the hustle of students walking past the window.
By Proof S. Reed and Dina R. Zeldin

Aaron J. Kang ’25 lives in Grays Hall, but you’re more likely to spot him in the middle of Old Yard giving haircuts to fellow students for a suggested price of $10 a head.

We meet Kang in the Grays common room to see his expertise in action; one of us, Dina R. Zeldin ’25, is getting a haircut. Kang typically sets up shop outside, right in the middle of the Yard, but the rain forced us to improvise. He sets up methodically — he puts a plastic tarp out on the floor, and motions for Zeldin to take a seat.

Laying out the rest of his supplies — several pairs of scissors, a spray bottle, wireless clippers, a cape, and an apron — it’s clear this is no makeshift operation. Kang soon transforms the kitchenette into a salon. He tapes to the window a piece of construction paper with his Instagram handle, “@kangs.cuts,” which students can direct message to set up an appointment.

Kang’s Grays common room salon had the feeling of a meditation sound recording: the pitter-patter of the rain, the slice of scissor blades meeting, the hustle of students walking past the window. For Kang, the appointment was indeed a meditation on patience, persistence, and symmetry — skills that he first developed while making origami. “Spending a lot of time staring at the same thing, working at it incrementally, I think, is a very important skill for haircutting,” he says.

Kang isn’t the only freshman snipping away his peers’ split ends. Alex N. Lee ’25, scrolling through a list of names on their phone as proof, gave 27 haircuts in the span of a few days. “I have one for tonight, two for tomorrow, so I’m going to hit 30 this week,” they boast.

Lee’s haircutting ventures, which they run through their @harvardhaircuts Instagram account, began out of a desire to help students elevate their atrocious mops. “Sometimes I just walk around campus and all I see are split ends, you know what I mean? Harvard students do not care enough about hair care, and I’m here to remedy that,” they say.

For Kang, the motivation to start an on-campus hair cutting venture was more serendipitous. “It started off as a joke, because one of my friends had suggested to me, ‘Oh, you should cut hair in front of the John Harvard statue because, let’s think about it, how many people in history have had their hair cut in front of the John Harvard statue?’” Kang recalls. “We took that idea and ran with it.”

Both Kang and Lee traced the origin of their ventures back to the spring of 2020, when Covid-19 lockdowns necessitated makeshift haircutting at home.

“We sort of learned how to be self-serving and self-sufficient in certain ways during quarantine, and cutting hair is one of those,” Lee says.

Kang explains he and his dad started cutting each other’s hair while barber shops remained closed, and grew closer as a result. “I talk to my dad while he cuts my hair, and they’re very different conversations than if we were just sitting around,” he says.

Now at college, Kang thinks that his business model can serve as a bedrock for friendships. “I get to hang out with my client, start conversations,” Kang says as he snips away at the back of Zeldin’s hair. “There’s a very special bond between the client and their barber.” Though we had met just an hour ago, it’s evident that like all good barbers, Kang carries a certain je ne sais quoi that makes him adept at slow yet thoughtful conversation.

His customers agree. “I’ve had good and bad experiences with local barbershops before, but I thought getting a haircut from a student might be a bit less intimidating,” Michael Yin ’25 says of his recent cut from Kang. Yin walked away not only with a fresh cut, but having had a lively conversation. He says he would definitely return.

Cheap prices are also driving students to their classmates for help managing their hair.

“I got a really crappy haircut from another place that I paid 20 or so dollars for. And 20 dollars was too much for a bad haircut,” recalls Frank T. Berrios ’25. Berrios sings in the Harvard Glee Club with Kang, who jokes he’s trying to become the club’s official barber. “I already knew Aaron and he was like, ‘Hey, want to get a haircut in front of John Harvard?’ And I was like, ‘Sure.’ I had a nice haircut with a view, but definitely the main reason was because everything else is too damn expensive.”

What fees he does collect, Kang says he saves as pocket money or puts back into the business. He’s currently saving for a wider variety of combs and brushes that will let him diversify the range of hair textures he can work with.

Ultimately, the haircuts mean more to Kang than the money he makes. “I can just tell you I snip hair and I make money,” he quips, “but that would be quite a boring story, wouldn’t it?”

The sun had set by the time we left, Zeldin’s hair eight inches shorter than when we started, sleeked with water into a shoulder length “u-shape” cut. Kang told us not to worry about the locks that littered the kitchen floor, and we parted ways as he headed to Yard Ops for clean-up supplies.

Students looking to don a new ’do or just in the mood for a good chat need only step outside their dorms for help. Kang says it best: “Something that would ordinarily be just a chore has become a social event.”

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