There was once a time when barbershops were ubiquitous. Not just a place for a man to get his haircut, but a touchstone in a given community where guys gathered to catch up and tune out.
Offered a stiff drink and a paper to read while he waited, the barbershop was a respite from the world outside; and as any guy who’s had one knows, a straight-razor shave is tantamount to becoming an entirely new man.
But somewhere down the line the classic barbershop gave way to the ‘Salon’. The barber gave way to the stylist and straight-up skill with electric clipper fell behind an array of nearly medical looking tools. Not a straight razor shave or a cold beer to be seen. Maybe cucumber water and a scalp massage, though.
With the rise of the salon, men of a certain generation failed to ever even know the barbershop as it once was. Instead, the image of the barbershop was – until recently – likely a low-end location: a rundown remnant of a different era that smelled overwhelmingly of Barbasol and dust. No match for the polish of the salon’s populating the more gentrified areas of town.
Thankfully, the traditional barbershop has seen a serious re-imagining and resurgence in recent years; with countless establishments presenting their own updated take on the services our fathers (and their fathers) held in such high regard.
Alongside simple matter of practicality, the return of the barbershop seems to be closely associated with a larger cultural desire to link back to a simpler time. Even trends in men’s haircuts – with substantial favor given to the pompadour and vintage ‘high and tight’ styles – favor the barbershop, where the styles originated in the 1920’s through to the 1950’s.
To create these ‘vintage’ styles requires a barber, who often specializes in creating the perfect ‘fade’ line characteristic of short men’s styles. It’s a technique that when mastered over many years is highly coveted and sought out by those who are in the know. It’s one of the reasons that in street and urban cultures the barbershop never went away: a proper ‘fade’ requires a near-religious devotion to a barber to be properly maintained and looking its best.
In fact, artists like Kanye West have been known to employ a full-time travelling barber, exclusively to cut their hair as often as every few days.
For those of us not as financially endowed as Yeezy, the primary reason barbershops have been popping up with such frequency is their economic practicality for both the owners and their customers. Without the need to provide full-range spa services and complex cut and coloring products the overhead cost of a shop is substantially lower, meaning the proprietors can pass those savings on to you.
Alternately, they might even provide incentives to the customer like complimentary cigars (Virile Barbershop), drinks (Proper Barbershop) or products depending on the outfit and their clientele.
With many cities boasting multiple throwback barbershops within their limits, there’s no shortage of options for most guys when it comes to getting the unique experience they desire. Whether that means a perfectly replicated joint like New York and San Francisco’s FSC Barber, or a hyper-masculine take on the salon like Toronto’s ManKind, there’s a huge span of interpretation when it comes to the modern barbershop. Even some classic men’s grooming product brands like Baxter of California have opened barbershops promising grooming services tuned to make the most out of their products.
As men pay an increasing amount of attention to their grooming regimen, the barbershop will continue to evolve to serve their clients. For many that suffered through the salon era, it’s a welcome shift. A trip to the barbershop is often not only more affordable, but also allows you to experience the kind of attention to men’s grooming that only a barbershop can provide so well.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the best haircut you’ve ever had.