Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Back to the barber

One of my worries -- admittedly, one that is very low down on the list -- is how barbers continue to make a living in an era of unisex hair salons. It's sort of a fascinating sociological phenomenon: for decades, American men would get their hair cut by men in barber shops, and women would get their hair "styled" by women and gay men* in "beauty parlors." Then, starting with the horrible hair styles of the 1970s, men started going increasingly to "salons" -- essentially, beauty parlors renamed and restyled for unisex clientele, with the big domed hair-dryers replaced by the smaller, hand-held gun style of dryer.

Meanwhile, haircuts at cheap barber-shop prices became gettable at chain hair salons like Supercuts. With barber business drying up, and salons historically offering more financial upside due to the tradition of more expensive haircuts, there would certainly be little social pressure to make room for women in barber shops, which seem to be barely hanging on. It seems like there are a few barbershops left staffed by older men.

I've decided after many years to give the barber another try. I hate getting my hair cut, and I find that I never get one I like whether I spend a lot of money or a little money. I don't like the experience of a leisurely haircut, I don't particularly like getting a shampoo, and I hate making appointments for this necessary inconvenience. So why not make the procedure quick and painless -- barbers are trained to work fast, and make their living through high volume.

I walked into a barber shop this morning at 8 a.m. There were three chairs in the little shop, but two of them had stuff on them, and there was just one barber -- a man in his mid fifties with thick arms and a Harley Davidson bowling shirt.

But he couldn't cut my hair because... he was booked for the day! I had to make an appointment for tomorrow morning. And when I gave him my name, this funny thing happened. (As you know, my real name is not Oscar. For purposes of this story, let's assume it's Steven.)
Barber: What's your name?
Oscar: Steven.
Barber: (Writing in his appointment book.) Can I write it down as "Steve"?
I guess I was glad to hear that he had no openings today, because it suggests that his business is going well. A haircut is $17 -- about $5-7 more than Supercuts. But what's up with the "Steve" thing? And what about making appointments? Does that mean he's not going to give me the quick painless haircut? I have a whole day to worry about it.

*In the 1975 movie Shampoo, Warren Beatty played a hairdresser Lothario who beds Julie Christie, Carrie Fisher, and I think Goldie Hawn, among others. Film critic John Simon wrote something like "this movie will cause a huge increase in beauty school enrollment by heterosexual men."

Having a really bad day myself--first in a long time...and a feeling of blahgness...

Found you, believe it or not, by perusing Google Images for a photo of something that would fit a post I am writing on hitting the wall.

I have just spent a few minutes refreshing myself reading your blog.

Thanks, I needed that.

I looked for your footnote (did you mean to have a footnote for the phrase "gay men*"?) and couldn't find it.

Then, did Steve change mysteriously to Mike in your narrative? I fear you are terrible at dissembling; you can't remember a second pseudonym from one paragraph to another. I suppose that's a good thing.

Other than that, your pre-haircut angst makes an amusing read. I'm sure my new "diet blog" isn't going to attract as many random strangers as your musings, in any case.

And if I seem curt, it's because I'm fasting. And not too happy about it, either.
Glad to see you're stressing now about haircuts and the political economy of hair styling, rather than on receding hairlines and the prospect of needing grecian formula for men. definitely a step in the right direction.
HH, glad you like the blog. Wendy, thanks for the proofing -- I made the relevant corrections. WPK, what makes you think mid-life crisis is overcomable with just a quick acknowledgment? Of course I haven't moved on! I'm going to have to blog about that.
dearest oscar,

quite correct. mid-life crisis doesn't end. but as with the nature of the political spectrum in america, mid-life (like "centrist" or "moderate") is a moving target. since life is of indeterminate length, and since (as the old saw goes) today is the first day of the rest of your life, "mid-life" still lies far in the future for you, half way between now and when life ends. thus, while acknowledging your newfound awareness that mid-life exists (a concept alien to teens, e.g.) you may take comfort in the fact that, looked at mathematically from each day as a new beginning, mid-life is never reached. there are just beginnings, and endings. in between isn't mid-life. it's just life.
That barber is staying in business charging $17 for a cut and then extra for a wash and "style" (drying your hair.) This is as much, or more, as the entry level stylists at the "new age" salon I go to. And, none of the chairs have crap piled in them.

Ask somebody who's hair always looks good, who cuts their hair. Give that person a few trys, and make sure you tell them how you want your hair cut. If you like the way it looks, then you need to stick with that person and get it cut regularly, no matter how much it cost. Always make your next appointment before you leave the salon. One of my guily pleasures is that I get to regularly leave work early to get my hair cut.

You have to wear your hair every day. Don't fall into the bad hair cut and Birkenstocks with socks look.
WPK and Lola,

Cure mid life crisis by applying Zeno's paradox, so you never reach mid life. And get good haircuts by asking people with good hair cuts who cuts their hair. Boy, I wish life were that easy. Make depression and problem hair go away -- snap! And while we're at it, let's cure America's political problems by simply voting the bums out!
oscar oscar you got it! that's it! and see, the folks in virginia just voted for a democrat for governor. they must have been listening to you.
There's a great little barber shop on Atwood that's run by a woman. She did a fine job on my hair, charged $12, and I didn't even have to make an appointment. She and I had a very interesting discussion on the whole "barber shop" vs. "salon" thing, so if you went in to see her, I'm sure you could strike up a great conversation.
Have you ever tried the "College Barber Shop" on State? There's an interesting article on the place here, and it really is a barber shop in the true sense of the word.

Additionally, you don't make appointments, but just walk in and get a cut, usually with no wait whatsoever (on occasion it may take 5-10 minutes). And the cost for a "men's cut" is nice, too - somewhere around $12-13, I believe.
Oh, how I wish you would post a picture of your new haircut. Would a rearview blow your cover?

Another Anom
Well I'm a woman of a "certain age", but I can't speak for WPK. Getting a good hair cut is not cure for your already existing emotional problems, or a politcal statement. You need to look at cutting your hair as a necessary part of being a grown-up, like paying your bills on time. Excatly who are you opperessing by paying a fair price for a service when you get your hair cut????
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