Here’s a little-known fact: I’ve been cutting my own hair since I was 13. My buddy had a set of clippers, and like any idiotic / brave / curious 13-year-old, I attempted, and failed, to give myself a decent haircut. Unfazed, I slowly learned how to tame those unwieldy things and make them do what I wanted.

It was probably never a great haircut, but most of the time I had short-cropped hair anyway, so practicing that blending (aka “the fade”) was pretty easy and I got the hang of it quickly.

At some point last year, I wanted a change.

The thing about cutting your own hair is that it’s messy. Like, really messy. Cleanup is such a pain in the ass and hair gets everywhere. I found myself delaying my own haircuts for weeks past the optimal time. I really hated doing it. At the same time, I also disliked getting haircuts from barbers. I never found one that did the job I wanted, despite how clear my verbal instructions were… so that was discouraging as well.

But if you think about it, every guy goes to get his hair cut, right? Some actually like the end result.

So half a year ago, I embarked on a journey of sorts. I told myself F it, I’m going to find a good barber even if I have to go through weeks (or months) of terrible haircuts. I was determined to find one that did a superb job, not just a decent one. I wanted a barber that would listen to my instructions, anticipate how my hair will grow, and cut accordingly, so that in a few weeks (or months) my hair will do what I want it to do.

I mean, is that too much to ask? Basically, I didn’t want some hack barber pretending he’s listening to me but then gives whatever kind of haircut he feels like giving. That’s just annoying. I experienced a few hacks and a few overpriced “barbers” that weren’t worth the money. Eventually though, I found a great one who understood what I wanted and did what I asked. Oh, and I don’t even have to pay an arm and a leg for his services.

Why you should have a relationship with your barber

1.) It’s like having a dependable girlfriend (or significant other)

When someone is in charge of shaping the way the mop on top of your head looks, you want that person to know your struggles, your aspirations, and your dreams (for your hair, anyway).

Seriously, if you jump around from barber to barber and never develop a relationship with one, it’s like going on a first date every time. And even if you like first dates, after a while, it’s not as fun as it sounds. You and your hair need stability and predictability, believe it or not!

2.) Your barber knows what you like…

You don’t want to explain your usual cut every single time, do you? Your goal should be to get to the point where you don’t even have to say anything. You just sit down in the chair and let the casual conversation begin.

3.) …and understands what you’re trying to achieve

Are you trying to grow out your ‘do? Maybe you have this crazy cowlick you’re trying to tame. Or perhaps you want to try something completely new, and you need an expert’s opinion?

If you’ve been with your barber for a while (at least a few sessions), he can help you achieve the style you’re going for. After a couple cuts, he’ll understand how your hair acts as it grows. Sounds crazy, but if you picked a good one, he can anticipate these things and help you get the look you want.

4.) You get engaging conversation

You know how when you first meet someone and you’re forced to converse, it’s super awkward and you want to leave immediately? Well, if you find an awesome barber and form a relationship with him, after a few sessions you’ll no longer experience that weirdness! You’ll always pick up from where you last left the conversation. It’s pretty great.

And assuming you didn’t pick an asshole for a barber, you just made a new friend. Bam!

5.) He can be a great connector

Barbers meet a lot of people. If he knows what you do and what you’re into, he may be able to introduce you to one of his clients with mutual interests. Who knows, you may be able to form a new partnership, a new business opportunity, or maybe just make a new friend.

I’m not saying this happens all the time, but hey, anything’s possible.

Tips for finding the right barber

1.) Check out barbershop websites and the barbers who work there

If you’re lucky, your local barbershops may have websites, and even better, profiles of the barbers and stylists who work there. It’s a longshot even here in SF, but give good ol’ Google a whirl and see if you can find any info on them. Maybe you’ll read up on a barber who sounds interesting. Try him out and see how you like him.

2.) Make a list of shops you want to check out, and knock em off the list one by one

Maybe they don’t list specific barbers, but if you can find general information about the barbershops in your area, make a list of those and start hitting a different one up every two weeks (or every month, or however long you wait in between haircuts).

Talk to the guys there and see how you feel when you’re sitting in the chair. Is it a place where you feel comfortable? Are the barbers chummy and conversational, or are they d-bags? Are they helpful if you ask questions? All this will determine whether or not you should stick around or move on.

3.) Stay away from chains if possible

If you have access to an independent neighborhood barbershop, try that first. Chances are you’ll have a better overall experience since the guys who work there typically own the place, or at least have a vested interest in it, and they generally care more about their clients. Plus, it’s always kinda cool to support local businesses that have a history in your town, or who are independent from the big corporate chains.

Sure, you’ll have outliers where this generalization doesn’t apply, but hopefully not in your neighborhood.

If you’re in a town where your only choices are places like Super Cuts and Great Clips, well, then I guess you have no choice, right? You’ll have to tough it out, and find a dependable haircutter in one of these chain shops.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re not all terrible… but you might have to hunt for a while to find a decent cutter. Keep your head in the game (literally) and continue trying new cutters until you land on one that you can trust.

4.) Ask for referrals from friends and relatives

This is probably one of the first things you should do, but I listed it fourth. Why? I don’t know.

If you have a homie with some slick-lookin hurr, ask him where he gets his cut. Who knows, you might find your new favorite barber.

Further reading and resources

My friend Brett over at Art of Manliness put together some great material on barbers, barbershops, getting a good haircut, and more. Here are a few to whet your appetite:

Over to you

Have you had any terrible barber experiences? How about good ones? Have you stuck with the same barber for years and have a good story or piece of advice to share? Let’s hear it in the comments below.


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[all photos courtesy of The Barber Lounge, San Francisco]

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18 Responses

  1. Dan Lourenço on

    Timely article, Barron.  Sadly, my friend (a stylist) that used to cut my hair passed away a few years back, and it was a struggle trying to find someone when you’ve been so used to seeing her.  I unfortunately became jaded and just settled on the SuperCuts down the street out of convenience.  I finally got my act together and started trying new places, and just 2 weeks ago I got the BEST haircut I ever got in my life.  This guy knew what I wanted almost without me even saying it, and he gave me styling tips, which no one has ever offered me before.  I’ve found my new barber, and it was totally worth the time it took to find him.

    • Barron on

      That’s sad 🙁 I’m happy to hear you found a place though. It definitely is a hunt but once you find him (or her), suddenly all that searching is worth it.

  2. Bryce Martin on

    I have a good barber, have had him (them – family shop), since I was a kid.  I still take my young son over there to get his hair cut.  I, however, have resorted to the #2 tip on my clippers as my hair slowly fades to non-existence.  Any place I can look to find out what looks good on a 28 year old with a 38 year old’s receding hair line?  This is the one aspect of my style I have yet to truly feel comfortable with. 

    • Barron on

      That’s a tough one. I definitely wouldn’t be the one to ask, but I’m sure Google would know. If it were me, I’d probably continue to keep it closely cropped. I’d Bruce Willis my head if I had to. The shorter hairstyles seem to mask receding hairlines well.

  3. Brian Ross on

    I do believe my barber is the best. My brother an I have been going to him for many years. The conversation is always great and he engages everyone in the shop in conversation. He is extremely talented for a young guy. People that move away make it a point to come back a few times a year to get a cut from him. I am one of the lucky ones that benefit in many ways.

    • Barron on

      Sounds like one to hang onto. I feel like if I moved away I’d continue going back to my barber as much as possible too. In fact I moved across the city recently, and even though my guy is a 15 min train ride away (which is pretty far when you live in SF, at least in my opinion), I’ll continue to go to him.

  4. Jon Helmkamp on

    Good point, Barron! I stepped up from a buzz cut to a nice hair cut about 5 moths ago, and it was an incredibly good choice. I have gotten so many comments about how good I look, I feel more confident, and feel like I get more respect. I’ve been going to Traci pretty much that whole time, and she does an incredible job.She makes it about what I want, instead of just doing what she wants to do to my hair. A good hair cut is crucial!

    • Barron on

      That’s the best; it’s important to find someone who will listen to what you want and yet still guide you (if you need it), and who actually gives you the cut you expect (vs one she just feels like giving you). If that ever happens ,that’s when you know you need to change barbers.

  5. Casey on

    I like point #2 “Your barber knows what you like…”  A good cut, that fits your head and your style, is a great confidence builder. 

  6. cdrinark on

    I think it is important to make sure that your time in the chair is your time. That’s why I generally prefer a barber to a stylist. Stylists often squeeze in quick cuts for men while color is setting on another client or some other sit-and-wait process. When this happens, I feel that the stylist’s attention is not completely on me. Therefore, I don’t get a consistent cut from that person. If it’s a slow day, I get a good cut. If he or she is busy, I notice the distraction and feel that I don’t get the attention I deserve. And often a bad haircut. Also, tip your barber.

    • Barron on

      Yeah, if I had a rushed experienced with a stylist, I certainly would never come back. Barbers definitely are the way to go for that reason alone.

  7. Thomas on

    I’ve been going to the same barber for the past 6 years now (4 in college and 2 post grad). He’s seen my hair at all lengths, from buzz to mop head, and has outlasted a few girlfriends. He knows how my hair grows, and where that bald spot is on the back of my head from where I had stitches when I was six years old. I’m moving away in a month and a half, and he’s one of the people I’m going to miss the most in town. 

    I agreed with everything in this post and certainly encourage all men to find someone they like and trust, and stick with him. 

    • Barron on

      That’s such a bummer. If my timeline is right, you moved away recently and are probably due for a cut pretty soon. Here’s to finding a new great barber!

  8. Markus on

    From when I was about 4 years old up until I turned 16 I went to the same barbershop all the time, The Friendly Barbershop. It was a family owned place and all the barbers in there were all family or friends. The awesome thing about it, I could go in and it didn’t matter who cut my hair, it always came out looking great!

  9. Christopher on

    My advice to all my friends is 1). Find the barber you like, not the shop you like. Follow that specific person where ever they go and be good to them. Stylists and Barbers tend to float to where the business is good. Be willing to follow them. 2). The hair cut you have may not be the best one for you. Be willing to ask them what would look best for your head and trust them at least once to go ahead with their plan. Most guys are loath to try anything new with their hair. Every barber and stylist I’ve followed has taken personal pride in my head. Because I’m a walking billboard for their skills and be because I push business to them. 

    • Barron on

      Good point; girls seem to know this. K (the fiance) follows her stylist around no matter which shop she moves to. And another good point that it’s important to be open to the barber’s suggestions. I tell my guy what I want and ask him what he thinks always. Every time I go, my situation is different since my hair length is different.

  10. Andy the quiet one... and fam on

    I’ve been at Russ in green bay and is the best place for my needs. Friendly peeps,that great old school real barbershop atmosphere… just saying 🙂 What’s up Spike!
    You guys in green bay need to check it out.