Sunday, November 08, 2020

Barber Shop

My wife has cut my hair since we were married, and in the years before that, the fashion was to avoid the barber as much as possible.  I must have gotten my hair cut somewhere between 1971-1976, in Sudbury, Williamsburg, or Manchester, but I don't remember a one of them.  My knowledge of barbershop culture comes from childhood. But whatever went on in these outposts of male culture was not readily shared with the young.  I heard somewhere that barbers had connections to bookies, so if you ever wanted to put down a bet, that was the place to go. But whether that was all barbers or merely some of them I never knew.  There was also a barber college downtown where you could get your hair cut much cheaper.  Whether they taught how to be a bookie on the side at that college I never knew either. Also, did they make suggestions for what magazines you were supposed to put out, or did they let you figure that out on your own?  There were sports magazines, including old-style ones like boxing or horse racing, and true crime or vaguely racy ones. Not Playboy, but Man's Life, or Argosy.

The shop's were called by the owner's first name, not by any "Supercuts" or hair stylist name. I went down to Louie's until sixth grade, except for the years that my mother tried to do it herself.  Adult males who worked in offices would get their hair cut weekly. Occasionally I would see one getting a shave as well. I always figured those guys must be rich.  Of course, everyone looked rich to me then as the child of a single mom in the 1960s. When she remarried a more prosperous (and eventually wealthy) man, I was deeply impressed when we moved in that everyone had his own washcloth. He got his haircut every week, downtown.

Junior high and highschool my friends and I went to Roy's if it was allowed, or Stan's if we had to.  Roy would cut it the way you asked, but cleverly enough that your parents couldn't quite object.  Stan was older, and after you told him what you wanted would say "I make you look good," and do what he wanted. You could actually tell at school which boys got to go to Roy's and which to Stan's.  And even more, you could tell which kids had their dad put a bowl on their head every Saturday and cut it himself. But despite the general cruelty and teasing of boys that age, there was nothing but pity or commiseration about haircuts.  It was a war between our parents' culture and our own.  Your losses were our losses, and your victories were ours.  We might be envious off those who got to go to Roy's but sorrowful rather than disdainful for the others.

A few boys had mothers or aunts who were hair stylists who would cut their hair.  There were definite mixed feelings about that. They were often the boys who were allowed to have longer hair, and the girls certainly seemed impressed.  We noticed that.  But it also didn't seem very butch, in both the hair sense and the masculinity sense, to go to someone who usually cut girls' hair. There was a fear that they just wouldn't understand what was needed, wouldn't get it in some important sense and might give you a haircut that looked girly. Gulp. That you might get teased for. An ugly bowl cut was less shameful than an attractive one with even a hint of femininity.  That was part of the deep suspicion of boy bands as well.  Their hair was clearly styled, not done at Roy's or Stan's or Louie's. 

I have little idea what barbershop culture is like now.


Christopher B said...

My brother, father, and I went to an old-style barbershop for a few years while I was a kid. It was in the county seat a fair distance from our farm so we only went every couple of weeks for a butch cut. It was a three chair shop down under one of the business buildings downtown. I remember a few of the same things, sports magazines and the like, and the all male clientele and barbers. Don't remember if I ever saw someone getting a shave but it's possible. In my teen years we shifted to a one man shop in a small town a few miles away from us. He was a bit younger than the guys in the old shop and did slightly trendier cuts though everything was pretty conservative in northern Iowa. After getting out on my own I've gone over to the chain barbers. It's hard to even find a straight barber shop any more.

Aggie said...

Sudbury? Let me guess: The Barber-Shak, amirite? Right next to the Boston & Maine RR tracks?

My barber is retiring this year, have to break in a new one. He specialises in the Razor cut, finishing touches on the hair with a razor and comb, and then shaves around the ears and back of the neck using hot lather. Good old fashioned haircut.

PenGun said...

Hair cuts. An interesting idea. I had one in the late eighties and that was enough for me. Now my hair is about 18" long and mostly white. I can offend whole rooms, just by walking into them. ;)

Harold Boxty said...

In Southern California, most of the barber shops are staffed with South-East Asian men and woman. Probably a quarter to a half of the barbers are women. The cuts are $12 to $15 and it's a volume business. Lots of hair on the floor. Maybe the scissors and combs are sanitized but not the clippers. Not much conversation with the language barrier. Decor is minimal and often appears feminine. Usually there's a small Buddhist shrine in a corner.

I think in response there are a number of hipster barbershops have popped up. The barbers are all tatted up and their shops have a vintage look to them. Many are by appointment only. Business seems good despite the $30+ prices. Almost all include a hot towel treatment and a perfunctory massage with a handheld massager. Some offer beverages including beer. Most of the clientele are young white men. I went to one a few times and since I don't follow sports we talked about work and the barber's car restoration hobby.

RichardJohnson said...

My father cut my hair, though the conflict over hair length in high school resulted in my going to barbershops more. I recall the barber trying to converse, while I didn't want to, as I was not happy at having to get my hair cut. By my senior year my father had stopped telling my when to get it cut. For 2 decades I used barbershops. By then barbers had learned how to trim long hair to the satisfaction of their customers.

One spring I happened to be working in the oil drilling biz in Oklahoma near my 88 year old grandmother's home. Unsurprisingly, my grandmother said she wanted me to get a haircut. She had been saying that for the last 15 years, so no big surprise.Like my mother said, my hair wasn't that long- after all I had a professional job. Nonetheless, I told my grandmother I'd get it cut if she paid for it. She agreed to pay for my haircut. The woman who cut my hair was from New England, about a 15 minute drive from my childhood home. She had been in Oklahoma long enough to pick up an Okie accent.

I haven't been to a barber for decades. It's faster to spend 2-3 minutes trimming it in front of a mirror, instead of a half hour and back from the barber.

james said...

I never knew. When I was little I was mostly in and out with the barber shops--the Lebanese proprietors didn't talk much, especially with the kids. Haircuts were never a weekly business, and when I started paying for them myself, they got much less frequent. (One year I just never got around to it. "My face--I don't mind it, because I'm behind it; it's the ones out in front that I jar.") My wife reminds me from time to time, and I generally go to Cost Cutters, where I rarely see the same lady twice.