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:
- Rediscovering The Barbershop
- How to Pick a Barber
- Get The Perfect Haircut: How to talk to your barber
- The Barbershop Locator: Find a barber near you
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.
[all photos courtesy of The Barber Lounge, San Francisco]