Rediscover The Barbershop

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Johnny, Dec 7, 2011.

  1. Johnny

    Johnny Little Boy Blue


    For the past few months, I’ve been having my haircut at various barbershops. For most of my adult life, I went to unisex salons that reeked of perm chemicals and mousse. Every time I’d go, I’d walk away with a bad haircut. On top of that, I always felt out of place. Most of the clients were usually women and a woman was cutting my hair. I’d just go in, sit there silently while the person cut my hair, and leave.

    I don’t know why I stopped going to a barbershop. As a child, I went to a barbershop on the main street in my hometown. It was called “Mack's Barbershop.” I remember being fascinated with all the barber stuff. What I remember most though, was the distinct smell of the place. Even as a young child, I could sense that a barbershop was a cool hang out for men. Thirty-five years later, I’m rediscovering the barbershop. You should too.

    A Brief History of Barbershops
    The 1880′s to the 1940′s were the golden age for barbershops. During this time, men socialized in all male hangouts, and barbershops rivaled saloons in popularity. Visiting the barbershop was a weekly, and sometimes daily habit. Men would stop in not only for a haircut and a shave, but also to visit with friends and chew the fat.

    During this golden age, barbershops were classy places with often stunning surroundings. Marble counters were lined with colorful glass blown tonic bottles. The barber chairs were elaborately carved from oak and walnut, and fitted with fine leather upholstery. Everything from the shaving mugs to the advertising signs was rendered with an artistic flourish. The best shops even had crystal chandeliers hanging from fresco painted ceilings.

    Despite this level of luxury, barbershops were homey and inviting. A memorable and heavenly man aroma filled the air. The smell of cherry, wintergreen, apple, and butternut flavored pipe and tobacco smoke mixed with the scent of hair tonics, pomades, oils, and neck powders. These aromas became ingrained in the wood and every cranny of the shop. The moment a man stepped inside, he was enveloped in the warm and welcoming familiarity. He was immediately able to relax, and as soon as the hot lather hit his face, his cares would simply melt away.

    The Decline
    Lakeside barbershop 1954

    Lakeside 1954.jpg

    The first blow to barbershops came in 1904 when Gillette began mass marketing the safety razor. Their advertisements touted the razor as more economical and convenient than visiting the barbershop. The use of safety razors caught on, and during World War I, the US government issued them along with straight razors to the troops. Having compared the two razors size by side, upon returning home from the front many soldiers discarded both the straight razor and their frequent trips to the barbershop. Going to the barber for a shave became a special occasion instead of a regular habit.

    In the decades after WWI, several other factors combined to weaken the place of the barbershop in society. Companies like Sears began selling at-home haircutting kits, and mom began cutting Junior’s and Pop’s hair. Then the Depression hit, and people cut back on discretionary spending like barber shaves. The loss of male lives in WWII and Korean wars also shrunk barbers’ pool of clientele. Then in the 1960′s Beatle mania and the hippie culture seized the country, and hairstyles began to change. Men started to grow their hair longer and shaggier, and their visits to the barber became infrequent or non-existent.

    Even when short hair came back into style during the 1980′s, men did not return en masse to the barbershop. Instead, a new type of hairdresser siphoned off the barbers’ former customers: the unisex salon. Places like “SuperCuts” which were neither beauty salons nor barbershops, catered to both men and women. Many states’ licensing boards accelerated this trend by ceasing to issue barber licenses altogether and instead issuing a unisex “cosmetologist” license to all those seeking to enter the hair cutting profession.

    Why Every Man Should Go To A Barber Shop
    Lakeside barbershop 1964

    Lakeside 1964.jpg

    A barber knows how to cut a man’s hair.
    If you’re like most men these days, you’re probably going to some unisex chain salon like SuperCuts. I used to do it too. Most of the time, I’d walk out of these places with a crappy haircut. Sometimes, my haircut would look decent for the first week or so, but then it would grow out into a horrible mess.
    The problem is that many of the people who work at salons are not trained barbers. They’re cosmetologists. The difference between the two can spell the difference between a bad haircut and a great one.

    A barber is trained to cut with clippers, the main tool in cutting a man’s hair. Cosmetologists, on the other hand, are trained to use scissors. Their training is also geared towards catering to women’s hair. They become experts in styling, coloring, and perming- things a man has no need for. That’s why when you ask the stylist at SuperCuts to use the number 2 on the clippers; you walk away with a bad haircut. She’s probably not well versed in how to use them. But a barber can employ the clippers with finesse.

    It’s a great place to chew the fat with other men.
    When I went to hair stylists, I hardly ever talked to the woman who cut my hair. I’d chat about my family and theirs and that’s about it. The woman who cut my hair usually ended up chatting it with the other women in the salon, while I sat there awkwardly.

    Barbers, on the other hand, are interesting guys with interesting stories to tell. On my visits to the barbershop, I’ve met all kinds from all walks of life. Each of them had fascinating stories to share. And I in turn feel at ease to say what’s on my mind. There is conversation about politics, cars, sports, and family. Guys read the newspaper and comment on current events. In between the banter, jokes are told and laughs are had. And everyone is involved: the barbers, the customers getting their haircut, and the customers waiting to get their haircut. Adding to the enjoyment is that a variety of men take part in the conversation; young, old, and middle-aged join in the mix.

    I think there’s a good argument that barbershops are among America’s last civic forums. Where do people go today just to talk with others in the community? Coffee shops? Every time I go to a coffee shop, people are at their own tables minding their own business. The only other place that I can think of is a bar, and I won't take my grandson to one of those. So, if you want to get your thumb on the pulse of civic life in your community, head over to the barbershop.

    You can get a great shave.
    Many barbershops still give traditional single blade razor shaves. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the pleasures of a great shave at a barber. This past weekend, I went to a barber here in town to get a shave. I reclined in the plush old school barber chairs that had ashtrays in the arm rests, a throw back to a time when people could smoke in public places. Then my shave commenced. The barber first wrapped a hot towel around my face. Next, the barber massaged in a cream to clean out my pores.

    After that, several more hot towels were applied. By then, I was feeling nice and relaxed, on the verge of falling asleep relaxed. The barber then massaged in some cream to soften my beard. Next, the barber brushed a warm lather into my beard that smelled like man and not like that crappy artificial goo you buy in a can. The barber then took a piece of razor sharp metal and scraped my beard off for the closest, best shave I’ve ever had. Allowing another man to hold a razor to your neck is a good way to remind yourself that you’re alive. To finish it all off, I got another hot towel wrapped on my face along with a final face massage with a soothing cream. When I stepped out of the shop, I felt like a new man, ready to take on the world.

    It’s a great activity to do with your father or son.
    Men need traditions that can help bond them together. Visiting the barbershop with your father or son is a great tradition to begin in your family. Many men have been going to the same barber all their life and have introduced their sons to the same chair and the same barber. What a great way to bond with the men in your life!

    You’ll feel like a man.
    Every time I go to the barbershop I just feel more like a man. I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it’s the combination of the smell of hair tonics and the all-man atmosphere. But more so, it’s the awareness of the tradition of barbershops. Barbershops are places of continuity; they don’t change with the shifts in culture. The places and barbers look the same as they did when your dad got his haircut. It’s a straightforward experience with none of the foofoo accouterments of the modern age. Just great haircuts and great conversation.

    When you walk out of the barbershop with a sharp haircut, you can’t help but feel a bit of swagger creep into your step. So next time you spot that familiar red and white striped pole, stop in. You’ll be glad you did.

    Footnote: Portions of this article were copied from an article written back in 2008 on The Art of MANLINESS. Some content was removed and my thoughts and pictures inserted.

    - Johnny -
  2. fishcrow

    fishcrow Birdman of TSD

    Johnny, excellent article very well written.

    Here in Fort Smith, where I get my haircut is a traditional barber shop. You are right about how you feel afterwards. I have had my hair cut in unisex salon for years. The one thing they never do is straight razor shave the back of your neck and your sides. The takes place in a traditional barber shop, that makes a great finish to my haircut.
    Sodapopjones likes this.
  3. Sodapopjones

    Sodapopjones Well-Known Member

    I agree, I mean hair saloon's can't compare to a good barbershop... I have been going to the same shop now for about a year, granted they have moved locations and changed staff but its still a decent place... My original barber Manuel could barely speak a word of English but I never had a better hair cut, he and his wife were taking classes at the local college to learn English; I wish him the best.

    I also have no problem if a women cuts my hair, I've had some interesting conversations and experiences to say the least hah, the only problem I have though, for whatever reason they can't ever line up side burns or the back of my neck to save their life....
    GrantA likes this.
  4. Latherman87

    Latherman87 Well-Known Member

    Honestly I have never even been inside a genuine barbershop.....even as a kid I went to unisex salons that did have a male barber and thats who cut my hair but then my mom went to cosmetology school and for the past 12 years she has owned her own salon....however I must say that my mom can achieve an excellent fade with her male clientel's haircuts......she is good at what she does but not too long ago I felt kinda bad when I mentioned I wanted to go have my hair cut into a 50's style slickback.....she however thought it was better if I did go to a "barber" who was skilled in the art of this hair with her encouragement I went to him and he did looked awesome....however he is a barber in a unisex salon as well......and there are very very few legit barber shops around here....and if there are....they usually dont give shaves....there is one around here that I can think of but he is bout an hour away from me and his appointments are always at least 2 weeks walkins...and I cant commit to appointments usually cuz I have a busy life....I wish I could experience a barber shave but as of right now it dont look like its gonna happen anytime fellas are lucky to have such shops around you. maybe next vacation I can get me a barber shave.
  5. Williams Warrior

    Williams Warrior Well-Known Member

    Well done Johnny.
  6. Latherman87

    Latherman87 Well-Known Member

    Oh and Johnny...I could not even begin to fully explain to you how enticing this story is..... this read literally took me into an actual barber shop..... a place (like I stated above) that I have never been.... pretty much the same thing when I read books like Treasure Island .... its such a good read that it actually puts you in the hot seat! Great write up!
    macaronus, Shayne Redfearn and ajdhn like this.
  7. Hank

    Hank Active Member

    Very nice article reminded me of going to get my hair cut with my dad when I was a kid. I shave my head as well as my face so I don't go to a barber any more.
  8. GDCarrington

    GDCarrington Burma Shave

    Hank brought up the fact that many men have chosen to shave daily and have really no "actual" need to go to the barber shop anymore. Unless you were with someone that needed to go to the barber shop, you would only be occupying space that could be used to seat the next client.

    I head shave and that is why I don't need to go anymore.

    Well written article.
  9. ajdhn

    ajdhn Well-Known Member

    Great article, really brought me back to the sixties...

    In Rotterdam a brand new barbershop opened a little while back, just take a look & have fun :)

    vegasvics and Shayne Redfearn like this.
  10. theblindog

    theblindog Active Member

    very nice writing, sir. Thanks for posting.
  11. Shayne Redfearn

    Shayne Redfearn Active Member

    I totally agree! while I was reading this I had a grin on my face from ear to ear, imagining what it would have been like to walk into one of these great shops back in the day. I really hope someone invents a time machine soon :) lol.
    on the other note,
    I do have a barber shop here in my town called blue star. there are a couple females who work there but there are also two fully licensed barbers there as well. after cutting your hair they apply a thick hot lather on the back of your neck and around your ears and shave it with a straight. the only down side is they use shavettes! I asked why this was and he told me that in ontario, canada, health canada prefers barbers to use shavettes so they can change the blade for each customer....this kind of makes sense to me because if there was ever a nick on someone who was carrying a disease and it was then used on another person who also got a nick...this would be blood to blood contact! although not to many barbers should be nicking people that often lol....just my thoughts! thanks for the great article johnny!!
  12. Williams Warrior

    Williams Warrior Well-Known Member

    I picked up some Chinese food for dinner last night and the barber shop I went to as a kid is still there. If I didn't buzz my hair I probably would drop in for a cut. The video was cool, and I loved the Derby. I've gotten into wearing Ivy and Newsboy caps lately and am getting a little collection going. If I tried to wear a Derby I'm afraid I'd look more like Oliver Hardy than someone with style.
    Alebrewer likes this.
  13. Latherman87

    Latherman87 Well-Known Member

    One thing thats cool for me is one of the artists in the tattoo shop I work at went down to Texas to pick up some chairs for tattooing.... turns out they are all old school barber chairs like the ones Johnny has pictured above.... however they are a nasty looking green so we will get them recovered with black material and they will be like new!! Cant wait to have that cool little feel in my tattoo booth.....I also have a bunch of old tattered up and rusted shaving gear that I will be putting up in my booth soon just gotta find the right kinda shelves to display them on. People wont know if they are comin for a tattoo or a straight shave :cool:
  14. Johnny

    Johnny Little Boy Blue

    That video makes me want to buy a plane ticket to Rotterdam. I also found it interesting that good music is universal. Thanks for sharing the video.
  15. ajdhn

    ajdhn Well-Known Member

    Well, in July there's The North Sea Jazz Festival (formerly in The Hague, but already quite some years in Rotterdam) ....;)
    GDCarrington likes this.
  16. fatkid

    fatkid Well-Known Member


    VERY nice write up Johnny! reminded me of when I was a kid going to an old barber shop with my dad. I can barely remember I was very young but I remember thinking it was the coolest place EVER!
  17. Johnny

    Johnny Little Boy Blue

    Haircuts, tattoos, and good jazz. How could I pass that up. I will ask my well off son if he would like to buy me a plane ticket for my birthday in July. But I won't hold my breath.
    ajdhn likes this.
  18. alpla444

    alpla444 That's sweet!

    Another nice article Johnny, well done, Turkish barbers is all I have near me, hair cut is ok though
  19. lradke

    lradke and doggone it, people like me

    Hey Johnny, I enjoyed the article. As I read it I was reminded of when my dad, two brothers and I would pile into the car to go to XL Barbershop. I went there for years! Then one day it just stopped. That was almost 20 years ago. Since then I have only been to one true barber, a shop in Wallaceburg Ontario where the son was taking over the trade from his dad. If I remember right I think he was the third generation to run the shop. It was great fun and now I am seriously considering tracking down the closest barber to where I am now.

    Anyway thanks for bringing back those memories! :)
  20. battle.munky

    battle.munky Has the menthol.munky on his back!


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