Whatever Happened to Visiting the Barbershop?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Photo via Waterbury Time Machine
Being a female, I don't have any personal experience with barbershops; however, I wonder how many modern men today visit one. (Yes, I know that some shops cater to women, but for the purpose of this post I'm talking about the barbershop as a male-centric business.) Back when I used to get my hair cut regularly at a local Supercuts (before I finally realized that they didn't know what they were doing and were butchering my hair) I noticed that the place was loaded with male clientele. It was always a little surprising to me, because in my opinion there's nothing manly about the inside of a Supercuts--there are screaming kids, perfume-y styling products and (often, but not always) incompetent stylists who don't know how to cut hair. 
A modern London barbershop. Photo via The Daily Mail
A barbershop, by contrast, is a testosterone filled establishment. I found a really great article on the blog The Art of Manliness on why every man should visit a barbershop. For starters, the author points out how the local neighborhood barbershop used to be the place where men went to discuss news, politics, women, and anything else on their minds. Secondly, barbers know men's hair and how to cut it properly--and into any style. Thirdly, they can get a shave while they're at it--a close, comfortable shave. The blog author says that getting a shave at a barbershop is an indulgent experience, because they know what they're doing. They have the right equipment (you won't find a single disposable plastic razors in sight), know how to moisten the face with a damp, hot towel first and use special moisturizers and lotions that prevent razor burn. According to The Art of Manliness, after a barbershop shave a man feels ready to take on the world. 
Image via Vintage Metal Art
I'd also like to add that visiting a barbershop can be a right of passage for fathers and sons. I know that today there are a few hair chains that cater to squirmy, frightened children getting their first cut, and that's understandable for kids who are still in diapers. The notion of bringing them into a dark barbershop devoid of balloons and chairs shaped like horses might be too scary for them. However, once a boy is old enough I would think a barbershop visit with dad might make him feel like a big kid. 
Photo via Mr Peacock
The barbershop's popularity definitely took a hit in the 60s when the Beatles introduced the world to longer hair that moved and was free of styling goop. Perhaps it's an exaggeration, but my mother has said that many barbershops went out of business during Beatlemania. The Art of Manliness mentions a few other historical tidbits that decreased the frequency of barbershop customers: the introduction of Gillette's safety razor in 1904, the Great Depression (no extra money for haircuts) and the dip in the American male population caused by WW2. 

Today, I think there are two factors that could potentially hurt the barbershop biz: mobile devices and impatience. In our rushed society, people want to be in and out of the salon chair, while the traditional barbershop is seen as a place where you're going to be spending some time and talking to other people. For those nostalgic guys out there that don't mind and are tired of the impersonal cookie cutter haircut chains out there, perhaps an old school visit to your local barbershop is just the ticket. 

Question for the boys who read my blog: do you ever visit a barbershop? Why or why not?


  1. Pam, the barbershop is alive and well! Trust me--walk into my local shop any Saturday morning & there's a line of a dozen guys or so, reading the newspapers (or Maxim) or talking about local high school teams or what a lousy mayor we have, and there's always a dad or two with a boy (or two) in tow.

    I admit I went to a 'hair stylist' in my twenties (when I was doing a lot of club-hopping) but the only thing I miss about that experience was no waiting, "appointment only". Here's one thing my barber hears at least 3-4 times a day. "Aaron I don't have time to come up here and sit all morning, can't I make an appointment?" The standard answer is either "Check back here on Tuesday, it's supposed to rain & things'll be slow" or "sure you can--at Mary Kay's Salon, right down the street!"

    My local barbershop has the original 1930s art deco-style barber chairs (the guy inherited the shop from his dad & uncle) and for the regular customers, a free bottle of beer & stack of Playboys in the back behind the curtain.

    For 13.00, not a bad deal. :)

  2. When I was 13-14 I found a Kennedy-era barber shop to cut my hair. Top Gun came out on home video; lots of young males wanted flattops and spiky crewcuts like Tom Cruise and his boyfriend Val Kilmer after years of the Adam Rich bowl haircut. The resurgence of short hair made everybody's dad tell us all how barber shops used to be rated by the piles of available skin magazines -- just like in a 1997 issue of Peter Bagge's 'Hate' comics -- and most of us kids felt shortchanged by Mr. Butch and his pile of Newsweeks, Field & Streams, and Gander Mountain catalogs.

    What we didn't know with flattop haircuts was that you've gotta go to the barber shop every 2 weeks, or you begin to look like a fluffy meatball. That's a bit of a problem for the non-driving flattop enthusiast, getting to the far, countryish end of town where a Kennedy-era barber shop could live for 25 years.

    Mr. Butch wasn't much good at other cool old-fashioned haircuts, like the 'fresh fish special.' All he was good at were the wiffle cut, and shaving old men's ears, eyebrows and noses(!). His lopsided sideburn treatment is, so far as I know, still a running joke in the town where I grew up.

    Rockie Bee

  3. Pam, growing up I went to a barbershop until I was a teenager. Then for awhile I got my haircut from the lady across the street who had a salon behind the garage of her house. Once I went to college, it was public places like Great Clips, etc. for me. My hair cut isn't complicated so they do just fine.

    But barbershops are indeed a special memory.

  4. There's a new barbershop that opened in our area that my husband goes to. The bonus for him is that they give him a beer while he is waiting/getting his hair cut.

  5. There's several barber shops around here. I go to two of them. One's a three seater, and one's a one seater.

  6. I'm married to a cosmetologist now, so I haven't been to a barber shop in a very long time. I was in the military which meant you went to a barber on base or locally. I preferred the locals for that reason, the military barber shops were, well, military. The locals would have the skin magazines and free beer along with razor cuts and neck massages. They would also trim the hair that was growing in places you didn't want it to be (nose/ears); even my wife won't do that. If it wasn't for free haircuts, I would still hit the barber. BTW, you're very correct about the chop shops, my wife turns up her nose at those places.

  7. I worked for a company that had an on-site classic Barbershop w/Barbers - make an appointment, and then skip down during work. My very first cut was classic B/W photograph of the screaming kid in a barber chair, right across from the legendary Post and Kelloggs cereal factories - I still remember the spicy lotion/smell, razorstrap, hanging where, on the chair?. And, if the barber found a lesion or skin tag he would dutifully, without warning, swipe it off for you; no extra charge! I now go to a place run by the local ladies as I can no longer easily find one; walk-in price just jumped from $9 to $11 dollars after many years.
    Cheers! s-a-h-d

  8. I love going to my local barbershop! It's a throwback to another time—a wonderful cliché in the best ways: they talk sports, girls and politics (I mostly nod in agreement—as a gay guy, I know so little about the first two and I'm too left on the last topic).

    There's interaction amongst everyone in the place that I don’t see in salons. It's an incredibly welcoming and inclusive environment--it's very fraternal. On Saturday mornings, dads come in with their sons so each can get a cut. It's sweet and endearing to watch.

    I get a very basic buzz cut--it takes an hour. I used to go to a salon and was in and out in 15 minutes. However, when I leave the barbershop, not a hair is out of place. They shave the back of my neck and sideburns. Bottom line: it is a perfect cut. The same with every other guy in there--it's the attention to detail I find salons miss with their male customers.

  9. What an interesting post. However, in Jamaica Plain, there are 3 barbershops in a 1/4 mi radius. There are also about 6 beauty salons in a 3/4 mi radius however. There is one that is always full and young boys in the chairs along side the young/old men who are getting a cut and a shave versus a cut/color. I had a girlfriend who went to a barbershop to get her hair cut because it's so cheap. I asked her why not Super Cuts or the like and she said her Barber was still cheaper. What I liekd about your post was that you do not find barber shops like the pictures you posted today except for in Beacon Hill. I love looking in that one because it's a true babershop as we knew them as kids.

    One of your commenters said that he went to a salon in his 20's but then started going to the barber again later (in his 30's?). I've noticed when I talk to men who are out of the clubbing scene, they no longer go to a hair salon. Unless of course you're talking about the Barber Shop Salons! Then that's a whole different story...

  10. I only go to regular barber shops... no Fantastic Sam's or Supercuts for me. Of course, I also shave with an old Gillette safety razor and a brush, so I go for the old school things. Real barber shops are a nice place to go to be reminded it's okay to be a guy, plus you get more attention for less $$ than the salon-ish places.

  11. I go to the hairdresser only twice a year cause I like to let my hair grow a bit long.
    But I'd love to go and have a shave in a proper barbershop if it was cheaper. It has been coming back for men here in France who care about themselves to shave properly with soap and a shaving brush (which I do). And several barbershops have been opening in Paris recently. I'll tell you when I try!

  12. Yyyyyyup. I go quite often, and plan on writing about it soon. In fact.. the barbershop I frequent is one of the businesses I'm going to write about in that retro series I was telling you about. They only cut Men's hair, and guarantee you at least a half hour in the chair. A Hot steam towel over your face while they wash your hair is just the ticket. They also offer you something to drink if you have to wait like soda.. or BEER!! It's definitely an old school type of barbershop!

  13. The barbershop is alive. It's just a matter of finding the one you like best to go to. It's nice to think that you've had interest in writing about this.

  14. I've realized I never responded to everyone's comments--thanks, everyone! Very interesting to hear about everyone's personal experiences. In my suburban town, there is still a barbershop in business.

  15. When I was three years old in the mid-60s I lived in a small town in Indiana. Across the street and kitty-corner from our house was a little barber shop in what used to be a train depot. The barber shop still had an old model train on a post by the door. I learned years later that when my stepdad first met my mother things did not go very smooth. You see, I would come home with a sucker and mom knew I had crossed the street to go to the barber shop to get it. She went to berate the barber for giving me a sucker and thereby encouraging me-- just a toddler-- to cross the road. One day she learned the truth when she saw the barber crossing the road to give me a sucker. I would stand there and wait until he brought me a sucker, which he kindly did. That's how I introduced my future dad to mom-- and my method worked. As I got older I always hung out in the barber shop listening to the old-timers spin their yarns. Of course I did, because I was visiting dad after school-- and still getting free suckers. Mom and dad are still married. Dad is now retired after almost 50 years of barbering. Now I occasionally buy dum dum pops by the bag, but it's not the same.

  16. In the 60's and 70's I could not find a barber who could do anything but a GI shavehead haircut. No matter how carefully I instructed them, I came out bald. I would go 6 months to a year between barber visits. Now, no one but my wife has cut my hair in 32 years. She is better as an untrained amateur than all but 3 barbers I ever encountered, and every bit as good as them. Barbers as a profession made themselves useless, and nearly nonexistent.

  17. Thanks for a wonderful share. Your article has proved your hard work and experience you have got in this field. Brilliant .i love it reading.
    local barbershop near me


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