This Thing Rules

I gave myself a $100 haircut with these $50 Amazon clippers

I think it looks good but I haven’t seen it from the back.

My last haircut was on March 14, three days after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. A week later New York City would officially go on lockdown and shut non-essential businesses. Other cities across the U.S. would go on to enforce similar shelter-in-place policies to help flatten the COVID-19 curve.

The hair salon I used to go to get my haircut once a month was virtually empty that Saturday. I was one of three people being serviced. My hair stylist held up a hand mirror and turned my seat around 90 degrees and then back to show me the detailing on the side and back of my head. “Do you want to go shorter? It might be a long time until your next cut.” He put an emphasis on the word "long," half-joking, but also worried about a possible shutdown.

I laughed, shook my head, and gave him my approval for the cut. “It’s already shorter than usual. Even if people are staying at home, if you guys are open, I’ll come in.” I wished him and the salon owner all the best, masked up, and left. Two and a half months later with NYC still sheltering in place (and unlikely to be reopening in any normal capacity for the foreseeable future) I caved and bought a hair clipper — the cordless Woner HC818B Hair Clippers — on Amazon and cut my hair. If I waited any longer I’d look like Krusty the Clown with my hair growing sideways. If you’ll allow me to humblebrag for a second, I think I did a good job considering I’ve never cut my own hair before.

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There’s nothing remarkable about the Woner HC818B; it's made by a Chinese brand from Guangzhou, China and the back of the box literally has "" printed on it. I originally wanted to buy a hair clipper made by Wahl. They’re a well-known brand that you’ll see used in many barbershops and hair salons. And I would have bought one if they weren’t sold out on Amazon.

When it comes to grooming products I’m not big on anonymous online reviews. I prefer seeing a YouTuber be a guinea pig in their video(s) and show me the product working or failing. It’s kind of like a trusted friend’s recommendation — a word of mouth stamp of approval with documented proof.

As I was doing my research (really just watching a ton of YouTube videos) on whether it’d be difficult to cut my own hair, I came across one by Canadian vlogger Jensen Tung. The video has over 1.5 million views, Tung has similar straight and thick hair like me, and he explains in concise steps his process. It also helps that he’s been cutting his hair for 10 years so he’s already gone through the embarrassing process of messing up over and over, and I, as a first-timer, only had to gain from his experience.

Exhausted from reading 4-star reviews on Amazon (it’s really hard to trust ratings when all reviews are mostly positive and many are secretly paid for), I put my faith in Tung’s earnest video tutorial and added the Woner HC818B to my cart. A week later it arrived at my door.

The lining is plastic, but the hardshell case is nice.Raymond Wong / Input

Just as Tung said, the Woner HC818B is pretty generic. It’s light, cordless, has several clipper length controls operated by the ring on the handle, and comes with a bunch of guide combs (the plastic guards that clip on top of the blade). The blades are made of ceramic and titanium. Not that it really matters much to me, but I guess that means they’re somewhat durable.

Most importantly, the clippers are under $50 — less than what I pay for a haircut and I don't need to tip extra. (To be fair, the scalp and shoulder massage and professional wash and cut are worth the monthly trip to the hair salon.)

It's small, powerful, cordless, and quiet.Raymond Wong / Input

But for my purposes (feeling like a proper human being again instead of a fuzzball), the Woner HC818B is more than enough. Flip the switch on, rotate the ring to the desired blade length, and (if you need to) attach a guide comb. Since it was my first time I didn’t attempt to do anything fancy. I wasn’t trying to give myself a dream haircut or try a new style. I just wanted to cut the sides and back and thin out a little of the top. Understanding different techniques like using guidelines for a fade (cutting in layers) and switching between different clipper lengths are essential tips for beginners.

The easiest way to mess up is to rush. While Tung and other YouTubers make cutting your own hair look easy, it’s crucial you take your time and cut slowly. Also an important tip: know your hair type and how to control it. Oily or curly hair cuts differently than straight hair. Do your homework in advance so you’re better prepared to adapt to things if they don’t go according to plan during the cut. For me, I tried to replicate Tung’s 5-layer fade. But it turns out I only needed four layers.

Raymond Wong / InputTop row: 2.5 months of hair and cut sides. Bottom row: Fresh cut sides!

For under $50, I’m satisfied with how my self-cut undercut came out with the Woner HC818B. I'm not saying I knocked it out of the park the first shot — I had to touch up certain parts and take a scissor to a few strays sticking out — but I feel amazing. Way lighter. My head feels less constricted and I'm me again when I look in the mirror instead of quarantined-bum-Ray.

Turns out, I really didn’t need a Wahl, which would have cost more and I wouldn’t have used all the extra accessories. I’ve still got some work to do to cut some hair off the top and texture it, but I’m less comfortable with a scissor than the hair clipper. I don’t know when salons and barbershops will reopen in NYC and now I don’t need to wait. My new hair clipper has already paid for itself and I can now trim/touch up my hair at home and keep it sharp whenever I want instead of waiting a month to go get it professionally cut.

Did I just replace my hair stylist? I don’t think so, especially not when I want a more advanced cut. But I feel like I won’t be so reliant on him anymore. Who knew cutting your own hair could be so empowering (and save you money).