Do Barbers Still Exist?

About once or twice a year, I consider going DIY on getting my hair cut. My wife has been doing it for decades and cutting mine as well. Do barbers still exist? Or are we now calling them stylists? I grew up in the era when males usually sat in dim waiting rooms with a few rickety chairs around a beat-up table gaily decorated with coffee cup ring stains, cigarette burns, and old sports magazines dated from the Eisenhower administration. You waited for your favorite barber as the one you were leery of from past bloody buzzcuts loudly snaps an apron over his empty chair, staring at you.

Anyway, I usually go through about a half dozen on-line instructions in text and videos. The gist of most of them is usually polarized between two main viewpoints.

Writers on one side command you to never go DIY on anything as crucial as getting the right haircut because that’s why hair stylists (they almost never call them barbers) go through years of training. The message is that if you try to cut your own hair, you’ll be shamed for the rest of your natural life because you’ll certainly goof it up, wind up in the gutter and eventually have to move to Antarctica where you can at least hide your head in an oversized hooded parka, not that the seals and penguins care much about your hairstyle.

The other side generally says anyone with a kindergarten level education and a pair of garden shears can and should cut his own hair and do it right now for the sake of our economy. The instructions usually contain about a dozen or so steps and several disclaimers which sound like empty reassurances (“Remember, it’s just hair; it’ll grow back!”).  If you see an article in which the expert doesn’t know the difference between “perpendicular” and “parallel,” regarding cutting with a pair of scissors, you should probably just ignore it.

There is a third approach, which might fit an old guy nervous about hitting the barber scene after so many years. It’s advice about how to talk to your barber about what kind of haircut you want. I used to ask for a knuckle cut, which I think means different things to different barbers. I found one YouTube video about not cutting past the second knuckle which likely explains why some barbers gave me a funny look whenever I asked for a knuckle cut. It’s just a general principle about how to cut using a pair of scissors, not a specific cut per se.

So, talking to your barber would involve knowing the language of the art. The minute you get in the chair, you should confidently state, “Los libros están en la biblioteca.”

Seriously, there are a number of terms out there on the web about haircuts that barbers suggest you not use if you don’t know what you’re talking about—like the “fade.” The definition according to one author is that your hair is cut all the way down to the skin at your hairline. Most writers recommend readers not ask for it because they probably don’t want it. OK, I don’t want it.

Another cut I don’t want is a buzzcut, something I mentioned that old timer barbers used to give me when I was a kid. That was my first ever haircut at the barbershop. I remember it because he tied a piece of paper around my neck which I was really nervous about because it was tight. In fact, there are on line DIY suggestions that you can use a belt for the same purpose—which I think is just to mark the boundary of your neck hairline and which sounds a little creepy. Interestingly, the buzzcut is what some writers recommend for DIY beginners to haircutting. Just for the record, I’m opposed to cuts that involve chainsaws. I’m also not too keen on seeing what my scalp looks like after all these years.

I see the difference between the block and tapered nape cuts, the latter being preferable since the blending with the natural hairline makes for a longer-lasting neat look as the hair grows out.

I’m not as sure about the other kind of taper which is more technical and involves tapering the hair length gradually from the top of your head down to the neck. If I want my hair about the same length all the way around, I probably don’t want a taper—right?

I don’t know how to talk about texture with a barber. “Please cut my hair so the texture is like, you know, hairy.” But there are terms for texture, such as “razored” which some experts swear gives you a “badass” look, I think because the barber uses a straight razor. The associations elicited using words like “badass” and “straight razor” in the same paragraph tend to make me a little edgy.

I don’t know how that would even look, but that reminds me of another suggestion for how to talk with your barber about what you want which doesn’t involve words but pictures. You should bring a photo of your favorite movie star sporting the cut you want.

“To look like Yoda, you want?”

I think I’m on safe ground if I tell my barber I would like my arches natural, referring to the hairline around my ears. If you ask for high arches, you might risk getting the loving cup look. I can handle my own sideburns, thanks. I have a trimmer for that, but if you have to mess with them, just trim them a little.

For now, all I can say for sure is that I’m not going DIY on my haircuts as a New Year’s resolution. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Author: James Amos

I'm a retired consult-liaison psychiatrist. I navigated the path in a phased retirement program through the hospital where I was employed. I was fully retired as of June 30, 2020. This blog chronicles my journey.

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