As a child you might have had your hair cut at home by your mother. Maybe you’re still doing that now to save money. Maybe you frequent unisex salons where they specialise in everything from haircutting to perms and hair colouring. Salons can be excellent, but men’s hair is usually an afterthought and not the main priority or specialty of the hairdressers who work at them. Salons tend to focus on women, who are a much larger and more lucrative market when it comes to cutting and styling hair.
Barbershops on the other hand specialise in men. They can be kind of intimidating spaces to enter if you’ve never been into one before. They’re about all things manly after all. The barbershop however is well worth a visit. Not only is it a relaxing, hang-out space for men, but it’s also the perfect place to get an amazing haircut and styling tips. Barbershops specialise in men’s hair and they know all about it, so they’re best placed to give you helpful advice and guidance on managing your hair.
For a period of time the neighbourhood barbershop had begun to disappear but they’ve experienced a renaissance as of late. There has been a resurgence of interest in the humble barbershop, and business owners have begun to innovate. It’s now possible to enjoy a whiskey while you get your haircut, or buy t-shirts, get your beard trimmed and relax with a book. The experience of the barbershop only gets better as time goes by and business owners begin to recognise what makes customers happy. If you haven’t been in to one in years, or if you have never been to one, then it’s time to give it a chance. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good the results for your hair will be in the hands of experts and you’ll get some time to relax – rare in today’s modern world.
A short history of barbershops
Barbershops were prolific during the period of the 1880s to the 1940s. This is what is known as the golden age of barbershops. Over this period of time, barbershops were a popular hang-out for men. They were an all-male space perfect for socializing with friends and other local community members. Just like ladies salons were a hotspot of neighbourhood gossip and a catch-up space, the barbershop played a role in the social fabric of every neighbourhood. The barbershop rivaled the local saloon in terms of its popularity and importance as a social space. For most men, a visit to the barbershop for a haircut or a shave was a weekly or sometimes even daily habit.
Barbershops during the golden age were luxurious places, with the best of everything, like marble countertops, oak or walnut barber chairs and fine leather upholstery. Some even had impressive crystal chandeliers. They were classy spaces designed for men to relax and unwind. Back then men could smoke inside, so barbershops often smelled of manly tobacco, wood and old school hair tonics, pomades and shaving creams.
The barbershop was an inviting space for all men, and a necessity because safe, disposable razors were not yet available or mass produced. Shaving had to be done with a sharp razor, and there was a bit of an art to it. Most men preferred to leave it in the hands of an expert.
The barbershop suffered a blow to its popularity after Gillette brought out the first safety razor in 1904. The razor was advertised as being more convenient and economical then regular visits to the barbershop. The use of these safety razors became popular and then during the First World War, the US government made them standard issue for their troops. Once the soldiers returned home, after having used the straight razors for long periods of time, many soldiers abandoned their trips to the barbershop in favour of the cheaper alternative. Barbershop visits became more of a special occasion visit, rather than a regular thing. The same happened to women’s salons, under the more austere environment of wartime rationing.
In the following decades after the war other factors intervened to lessen the hold of the barbershop on neighbourhoods, damaging its role in society. At home haircutting became a norm, especially after the depression hit. People could no longer justify extra expenses like visits to the barbershop and so began to do it themselves more often. The death toll of continuous war had a noticeable impact on the clientele of barbershops as well. Hippy culture and the popularity of shaggier, longer hair also stopped people from frequenting the barbershop. Later on down the line, when short hair came back into style, commercialism saw men trying out unisex salons and chain places, like ‘Just cuts’. Changes in the way that hairdressers were licensed also made it more difficult to specialise in only men’s cutting. Most people were taught unisex haircutting practices. This trend has continued and there are now plenty of men who frequent unisex salons, or super salons because of their cheap prices.
The top reasons for visiting a barbershop
Modern day barbershops are bringing back some of the old nostalgia, with new twists and service extras.
Barber’s know men’s hair
A lot of men now days visit unisex salons and hairdressing chains and a lot of the time they find themselves walking away with a less than stellar haircut. Even if it looks good on the day, it might eventually end up looking fairly average as it begins to grow in. This is because most hairdressers are not trained barbers. Men’s hair and hairstyles are different to women’s. Specialist knowledge is required to understand men’s hair texture and styling. Barbers know how to work with men’s hair, whilst a lot of hairdressers are taught to specialise in colouring, perming or styling women’s hair. Barber’s know how to use clippers expertly; this is the main tool when cutting short hair but the average hairdresser doesn’t understand how to use the number 2 setting with finesse. A hairdresser with a pair of clippers in their hands and no knowledge of how to use them is dangerous, it’s a quick way to end up looking like you went a couple of rounds with a lawnmower!
It’s a great place to socialise with other men
There are relatively few spaces left for men to mingle with each other and get to know each other in a non-unisex space. When visiting the hair salon, most men will find themselves in the hands of a female hairdresser. The conversation in these types of environments can be stilted and awkward, and it’s often not a comfortable or relaxing experience and it’s certainly not fun. Barbershops on the other hand are a low-key relaxed space. Most barbers are male, so you’ll find yourself socialising with another guy. You find a lot of other guys in the store, most of them ready to tell stories and share insights. The barbershop can be a very social atmosphere and a fun way to meet other people with similar perspectives, or even vastly different experiences. Barbers will out you at ease with interesting conversations about common men’s interests. The magazines in the waiting area will be about men’s sports, fishing, and cars rather than the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. You’ll hear fascinating stories and find people to have conversations about current events, family and even politics at the barbers. The barbershop is also a perfect way to spend time with friends. Some of them even serve booze now. Spend a bucks day with your mates in a luxurious barbershop setting, sipping fine whiskey or catch up with them in a low-fuss social atmosphere.
Barbershops have a way of getting everyone involved and interacting, young or old. For some men, it’s their only chance to interact with men of another generation and it can be a great way to learn about the past and gain a different perspective. They’re a much more exciting hang out spot then the local coffee shop, and offer a better opportunity for people to inter-mix. They also have a different feel to your local pub or bar. If you want to socialise, then a barbershop is the way to do it.
They offer a great shave
A lot of barbershops still offer traditional single-blade shaving. Most men will tell you that there isn’t anything quite like getting a single-blade shave. A lot of young men will have never had the opportunity to experience it, having always used disposable safety razors. Single-blade shaves can be wildly relaxing and a much more sensory experience than a home shave. There’s nothing quite like reclining in a comfortable chair whilst a barber gives your face a warms steam and carefully applies shaving cream. The creams in barbershops are often beautifully scented with smells like hazelnut or cherry wood or citrusy lemon to clear out your pores. You’ll get a nice hot towel application which will likely have you feeling ready to fall off to sleep, before the barber massages moisturiser into your face and beard. The razor sharpness of a single shave gives you a much closer shave then you could ever achieve at home. It can be a bit daunting at first, to have such a sharp razor so close to your neck and face, but the results are well worth it. Your face and skin will thank you, and you’ll leave the barbershop feeling fresh and clean.
It’s a good father/son activity
If you’re a dad, then a visit to a barbershop is a great bonding opportunity with your son. Many men will remember the tradition of visiting the barbershop with their fathers and it’s a great tradition to continue with the new generation. There are a lot of men that have remained loyal to the same barbershop all their lives and have introduced their sons to their pleasure of visiting the barber. It’s a great way to teach boys about grooming and self-care and to give them the opportunity to learn more about older generations of men and different topics or interests.
You’ll walk away feeling more masculine
Unisex hair salons smell and look girly. The products are designed for women. The posters on the wall are geared towards women. The magazines are women’s magazines and the atmosphere is very much designed to put women at ease. Barbershop’s on the other hand feel like manly spaces. The tonics and hair products are all designed to include masculine scents. They’re woody, tobacco smelling places. The interiors use masculine colours and materials, like rich reds, leather and woods. Barbershops are classic spaces that have stood the test of time; they look the same and feel the same even as the decades fly by. The experience is a simple one, without any of the unnecessary over the top annoyances of a normal salon. There are no appointments, no colouring, and no waxing and no awkward conversation. Just haircuts and great shaves in a social atmosphere. Most men walk away from the barbershop feeling relaxed, and just a little manlier.