A Proper Barbershop
by David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, November 25, 2015
There’s no better feeling in the world than walking out of a proper barbershop having just had a wonderful experience and looking and feeling your best. It’s transcendent. It’s a wonderful experience—when done right anyway.
The problem, for me, is I hate taking the time necessary to get a haircut, let alone a shave. I have to stop what I’m doing, drive to the barber, potentially wait as much as an hour or more, just for the opportunity to get my 20 minute haircut. I don’t enjoy the community of hanging around in a barbershop shooting the shit and arguing about nonsense. It’s not my style.
Even with the resurgence of vintage culture brought about by the hipster scene, it’s increasingly difficult to find a decent barbershop, especially outside of major urban areas. In 2011, it was the fastest growing business in America, and there has been a resurgence in barbershops for men. But I fear that it was just a trend and when the hipster grooming thing ends, so will the interest in barbering.
It was such a big trend, that traditional salons were getting into the mix, putting in barbershops to compete for the male customer. But I’ve found it’s not really the same thing.
Let me quickly walk you through what a proper Barbershop looks like to me.
First off, there is the cost. The price of a men’s haircut at a barbershop can range from $15-25. That same haircut will cost you $35-55 at a salon.
As far as the ambiance, I’m perfectly okay with a throwback, vintage feel. That’s part of the charm. And it should feel manly, not like a beauty salon. Vintage barber chairs. Porcelain sinks. Large mirrors. Oiled wood. Black and white photos. No television. Old blues or jazz on the stereo. Magazines to read while you’re waiting. Decent coffee.
I’ve only been to a few barbershops in my life that lived up to my expectations.
They either have all the charm, but none of the skill, or they have some skill and none of the charm. What you want is both. A place you wouldn’t mind hanging out in, but run by someone who can tell you how you should cut your hair, not wait for you to tell him.
Which leads me to the barber. Your barber should be a man. I know that sounds sexist and I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be allowed to cut hair. I’m just saying if I’m going to a barber, I want a man cutting my hair. Maybe you’re a woman and would prefer a female gynecologist, I want a male barber. Call it personal taste. If I go to salon, I just expect that a woman will cut my hair. Not at a barbershop. The problem is there are not many men going to barbering school. It’s growing, but it’s still a small group.
The most important thing about my barber is most definitely his skill and knowledge when it comes to cutting hair. Does he know how to give you the style you want, taking into account your quality and quantity of hair? Is he confident enough to tell you that’s not going to look on you since that style requires pin straight hair and you have a Jew fro? Is he up to date on the latest hair styles or do you have to school him? Finally, does he take pride in his work, or is he just trying to get you out of his chair so can crank out as many $15 haircuts as possible?
I’m now going to make a series of big, sweeping generalities that some will find offensive. It’s not meant to be. I’ve had both gay men and plenty of straight women cut my hair in a variety of salons. I’m not saying they can’t or won’t do a great job.
A lot of men who cut hair in a salon are gay. Don’t give me any shit, you know it’s true. I’m not saying it’s a rule, I’m just saying it’s pretty common. Male barbers, on the other hand, tend to be straight. Which is ironic if you ask me. The gay men cut the women’s hair and the straight men cut the men’s hair? Seems backwards if you’re just looking to score, but that’s the way it typically is.
In fact, in the current trend, barbers tend to not only be straight, but very masculine. Tattooed. Skaters. Surfers. Bearded. Some of this is the whole hipster influence of course, but still. A barber is a man who acts like a man.
So, why do I want a male barber? In reality, I don’t give a shit about their sexuality, but I do care about their sensibilities. I want to look like a man. I want a masculine cut. But I’m creative and sometimes I want a little flair. I find a masculine, male barber is more likely to give me that balance.
Also there is the vibe. I don’t want to talk about my kids, Oprah, Beyonce, or his kids. I’ll do a little sports, but I don’t want to get my hair cut in a sports bar. I want a light, friendly conversation. I don’t want a girlfriend or a therapist. Frankly, I don’t care if we talk, especially if you already know how I like my hair cut.
A bit about the television. I know this is pretty typical in most barbershops, but I’ve been in a few that didn’t have them and I have to tell you, it was pretty civilized. Good music and a little conversation is all you need. In fact, without the television bombarding you with bullshit, going to the barber can be a sort of zen experience. A little scalp massage, a hot towel, a hot shave and some calm music and you’ll leave a new man.
I’m a little torn about barbershops that take reservations. This is the one aspect of a salon that beats most barbershops. You can make a reservation, show up at the allotted time, and get your hair cut. Relatively no waiting. It’s not a traditional barbershop experience, where you have to wait your turn, but I guess that’s where my traditionalism ends. I don’t want to wait around.
I have heard there are some barber shops that feature overstuffed chairs, and you can have a cognac and smoke a cigar. I might feel differently about waiting my turn for that. I imagine a whole bunch of guys sitting there chatting and looking up and saying, “Oh, you go ahead.”
I’ve been to several barbershops near my office and a few near my home. They’re not horrible, but they aren’t great.
As Bono says, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”