The Barber Shop

Earlier today I couldn't stand my long hair tickling my neck and conveniently spotted a classic barber pole nearby. I'd never been to a barber shop before, as they have always struck me as really male-dominated venues.

According to "The Art of Manliness", the barber shop is

"... a great activity to do with your father or son. Men need traditions that can help bond them together. Visiting the barbershop with your father or son is a great tradition to begin in your family. Many men have been going to the same barber all their life and have introduced their sons to the same chair and the same barber. What a great way to bond with the men in your life!"

Uh. I remember going to our neighborhood barber shop with my brother and dad back when I was just a little "girl". But as I got older, the barber shop felt less and less welcoming.

The thing is, when did barber shops become so "man-only"? Barbers of former times cut hair and shaved, but they also performed surgery, bloodletting, enemas, and extracted teeth. They were called barber surgeons. According to Wikipedia,
"The barber pole red and white in spiral indicated the two crafts, surgery in red and barbering in white... Some of the duties of the barber included neck manipulation, cleaning of ears and scalp, draining of boils, fistula and lancing of cysts with wicks."
On a side note, apparently in some parts of Asia, the barbel pole is also used as a symbol for a brothel.

So that all happened since the 1000's. And eventually (according to The Art of Manliness),

"The 1880’s to the 1940’s were the golden age for barbershops. During this time, men socialized in all male hangouts, and barbershops rivaled saloons in popularity. Visiting the barbershop was a weekly, and sometimes daily habit. Men would stop in not only for a haircut and a shave, but also to fraternize with friends and chew the fat."

Chew the fat? Erin told me a story once about how she'd gone in to a Barber Shop for a haircut. Why? Because she wanted a traditional, simple, clean cut - one that isn't just limited to "men". Nothing fancy. But, as she told it, the ambiance was uncomfortable for her. The barber wanted to feminize her cut and clearly had a hard time not doing so. She had been stereotyped as feminine and, therefore, didn't have a comfortable, positive Barber Shop experience.

I never made it that far. Instead, I've always opted for obviously open and gender-variant friendly hair cutting environments. Lesbian-owned, friends, gay boys, the like.

But today? I walked into a Barber Shop for the first time in my adult life. The old-school "man" ambiance was immediately apparent. 50's era music played in the background. A barber in his ~50s was in the middle of cutting a client's hair - a man who I'm guessing was in his 60s. I asked if walk-ins were welcome. To which he replied, "Do you want a cut or to hang out?" and I answered, a cut. He then hollered at another guy laying down with headphones who I hadn't noticed yet, "Hey, want to give this young man a cut?"

He sat me down, threw a bib on me, then asked, "What kind of cut are you aiming for bud?" Bud? I described what I wanted: "This rat tail is driving me insane. I want it off. Something much, much shorter, for sure. I like my bangs, though. Hold on to those."

As he buzzed my head, the barber next to us talked about sports. I clearly haven't been socialized properly because my barber brought up topics I know nothing about and have never been interested in, in the slightest. At one point he talked about a vintage car he had recently restored and sold. And, to me, everything he was saying about it may as well have been in a foreign language. I caught something about double caliber X something another. Throughout the blabber I heard the words "original engine". So I asked, "It had the original engine? Serious?", to which he enthusiastically replied, "It sure did!", then went on with some more details. At some point his phone rang and he answered, "I'm busy right now. Call you back soon?", and once off of the phone asked me, "Bet you know who that was." ("the wife", I'm guessing?), and he chuckled.


After my hair was cut, he applied shaving cream to the back of my neck. What? There's hair back there now? Enough to be shaved? Serious? After he slathered it on I felt a warm sensation, then he brought out a straight razor and started cleaning up my neck area, like this:

This was all such a new and bewildering experience. He then told me, "I'm going to give you an after shave that ladies love. It's called classic vanilla." a.) auto-assumption that I'm attracted to women and b.) an after shave on my neck? He used a paper towel to dab at the area, then applied the after shave. It felt incredible. Then he waved the paper towel a bit to blow the scent around, "Smells good, doesn't it?".

It did.

He also shaved my side burns.

And, once done with the neck/face shave, he pulled a vacuum thing out of nowhere to suck the hair off of me and then whipped out this hand massager thingamabop to, "Relax your back a bit, buddy. You've been sitting here a while."

A hair sucking vacuum? Scent ladies will love? A hand massage gadget? Buddy? What was happening? Culture shock, that's what.

It was fun. Admittedly, I did enjoy having the ability to get a simple, cheap cut without any confusion about how "masculine" or "feminine" to make it. I could do with different conversational topics, but I just got a cut the way I wanted it. I just wish that, somehow, we could find some old-school barbers who were more "gender variant friendly", so everyone - irrelevant to their perceived gender - could feel welcome. I'm sure they're out there. Perhaps I'll befriend my barber and bring Erin along some time, break him in a little.


  1. did you go to arlen's? i'm just wondering if you frequent the joint my pop goes to :)

  2. Hey!

    I've been going to traditional barbershops for years and only a couple years ago did I find one that is all that you mentioned and GLBT friendly. My barber's son and brother (who is also a barber in the same shop) are gay. Both he and his brother have always cut my hair the way I asked with no question and never any feminine styles. They dont have the vaccum but they do have a high powered air compressor thing that they use to blow off all of the little pieces of hair. They also use heated shaving cream, straight razor the edges which rocks my socks. I never got a massage though! Sheesh!

    Barbershops rock. :)

    The Art of Manliness does have good info sometimes if you sort through the stereotypical gendered BS.

  3. But where are your pictures of YOU, Mel? I don't know about Baloo, but I'm still not convinced that you didn't get a $5 haircut that looks like a $5 haircut. Proof, my man! Where is the proof?! Glad you had a great experience, though. :D

  4. I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?

  5. Jess: That sounds like a pretty nifty barber hook-up you have there. Hopefully mine is GLBT-friendly, too - but, from the looks of it, they're very old school.

  6. Kestryl: I'll give you proof! Next time I go. ;]

  7. Anonymous: Sure, go ahead. Quote away.

  8. This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I enjoy seeing websites that understand the value of providing a prime resource for free. I truly loved reading your post. Thanks!

  9. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!


Contact Form


Email *

Message *