Quiffs, mohawks, and crew cuts were hairstyles Nader Shah was accustomed to styling for image-conscious young men in Afghanistan’s third-biggest city of Herat. But since the Taliban swept to power in mid-August, Afghans have little cash to spare and fear being punished for sporting short or fashionable cuts.
“Before, people came and asked for different hairstyles, but it’s simply not like that anymore,” 24-year-old Shah said at his barber shop, with mirrors covering every wall. “Now they are heartbroken.”
During the Taliban’s first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, the hardliners banned flamboyant hairstyles and insisted men grow beards. After they were ousted, being clean-shaven was often considered a sign of modernity, including in the relatively cosmopolitan western city of Herat.
“Now people come here and they only ask for simple cuts,” Shah said. “They also don’t shave their beards, so it’s a problem now.”
The barber, who has been in the business for 15 years after starting as a young apprentice, said the downturn has caused his daily earnings to plummet from $15 (sh52,000) to between $5 (sh17,000) and $7 (sh24,000).
In the next neighbourhood, Mohammad Yousefi, 32, said he has had to dramatically lower his prices – from $6 (sh21,000) a cut to just $1 (sh3,500) – to keep his shop running.
“Because of the Taliban situation, customers have less income and they pay us less,” he said.
Yousefi said after the Islamist hardliners took control of the country, “suddenly people like to make themselves look like the Taliban”.
“It’s not like the Taliban are fashionable, but people don’t shave their beards because the Taliban will stop and ask them about it,” he said. “They say it’s not in sharia law, and that men should have beards and long hair.”
At 36-year-old Ali Reza’s barber shop, pink spotlights shone down on customers and shelves were crammed with hairspray cans, gels, mousses, cologne and face masks. The barber deftly chopped his scissors over a customer’s beard as waiting clients discussed Afghan politics.
His two apprentices – Reza’s 11-year-old nephew Sobhan and Mohsan, 14 – watched his every move, tidying away brushes, combs and electric clippers, and helping unwrap razor blades.
Reza completed the experience with a flourish, drumming his fingers over the customer’s head, massaging his temples and eyebrows, before scrunching the unsuspecting client’s ears for several seconds.
“In the past, young people would come every one or two weeks to cut their hair or beards, and they were happy,” Reza told AFP, adding many of his clients had fled.
“Those young people who are still here are not interested in cutting their hair or beards anymore because the economy is really poor,” he said.
Since the Taliban takeover, Afghans say job opportunities have dried up.
“Before my income was excellent, and now it’s not,” he said.