Flowbee, the '90s home hair-cutting gadget, makes a pandemic comeback
‘It's kind of terrifying because it feels like you're going to cut off your ear,’ Tom McKay says
This article was originally published May 8, 2020.
The Flowbee, a home hair-cutting gadget from the '90s, is making a comeback mid-pandemic, but one tech-writer says a pair of hair-clippers attached to a vacuum cleaner is probably not going to give people the quarantine look they're after.
Tom McKay, a staff writer at Gizmodo, managed to get his hands on one of the elusive devices, which has steadily been selling out online. He wrote about the experience for the technology news site.
He told As It Happens host Carol Off the pandemic inspired him to use the Flowbee because "like a lot of people right now, it's almost impossible to get a real haircut."
"I am a huge idiot who didn't get a haircut for 2 ½ months before [the pandemic]. For some reason, the infomercial just popped into my head one day and I thought 'You know, I could try that out.'"
Here is part of McKay's conversation with Off.
Some might remember the TV commercial in the 1990s for the Flowbee, but for those who don't, can you tell us what it is?
The Flowbee was invented by a California man named Rick Hunt. Basically, it is a set of pretty big clippers that have a hose attached to it. You can just plug it into any vacuum as modular.
The operating principle of it is like clippers, except you also turn on the vacuum at the same time and it sucks all the hair down the tube and prevents creating a mess.
The suction supposedly allows you to get an easier mid-length cut because it pulls the hair up and there are spacers so you can adjust it to the length you want. At least that's how it's supposed to work in principle.
Since the lockdown, the Flowbee has made a big comeback and it's a very hot item to get. How did you get your hands on one?
We lucked out because, as you said, it is completely sold out on their website. There's none on Amazon. There's a bunch on eBay, but they're running for hundreds and hundreds of dollars.
There was a man in Virginia — Antonio — who was listing one $80. We were able to scoop it up before someone else could.
Walk us through your haircut.
So the first thing that you notice about the Flowbee is that with the vacuum on, it's extremely loud. The clippers are very large and unwieldy. It's kind of terrifying because it feels like you're going to cut off your ear.
What you do basically is you stack the spacers and put it on top [of your head], then bunny-hop around trying to get the hair to a certain length.
It works well on top and it sort of worked OK on the sides, but what I found was that the further toward the back of my head it got, the worse the job it did.
There is an angled attachment that I don't think works very well at all. It was responsible for totally destroying the back side of my head. It would work better if you had an assistant or somebody to help you.
But it occurred to me that at that point, why wouldn't you just go with clippers?
There's not a lot of finesse to using it. I think it's mostly just if you want to get rid of your hair and you don't have many other options. It just ravages your head.
If you look at all the advertising in the commercials for it, everyone kind of has like a mullet. So I think that's why.
Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by John McGill. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.