A haircut and a shave from a mens barber represent many things. For many men in the modern era, having a clean face and neat hair give off confidence and status. For others, cutting away the whiskers and stubble improve one’s chances of getting a job, for example, in the twenty-first century.
Beards and mustaches come and go out of style, but men will always need a razor and a sharp look. As men start to appreciate the traditional barbershop like GENTS in Queensland, they turn to the straight razor and the mens barber’s steady, skilled hand. They look for the shops that have manliness advertised on the front door, multiple hot towels at the ready, and customers willing to hang around to speak their minds.
Barbershops in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century created a safe space for men to talk and socialize. Mens barbers took pride in their locations, offering luxurious furniture for sitting and surroundings, as well as relaxing aromas like tobacco and mens hair products. Fictional characters like Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, took affectionate jabs at these spaces since one would have to trust the mens barber with a sharp razor.
Once the safety razor become mainstream thanks to mass marketing, however, men lost an incentive to visit their barbers for a shave that was comparatively expensive to a home safety cut. Following the first and Second World War, both of which involved economic recessions, people prioritized cost over comfort and quality. Sweeney Todd, formerly a British legend, has become a Victorian musical mainstay. When men did go to get a shave from a shop, they considered the service a luxury rather than a commodity.
Unisex salons made the barbershop appear even less valuable. Starting in the 1980s, chain salons like Supercuts provided services for a fraction of the barbershop price. By hiring cosmetologists that served both men and women, unisex salons did away with the safe space for men. The service quality also become uniform and less than satisfactory, given that cosmetologists did not need to receive a barber’s license to work on men and thus lacked the same stroke or ability to assess a cut with clippers as opposed to scissors.
Recently the mens barbershop has made a return. Unisex salons cannot offer the services that men need due to the different training that a cosmetology license requires. Women’s salons cannot offer a straight razor shave either due to legal issues, so only a shop with licensed barbers can offer that kind of shave. In addition, unisex salons do not offer the same atmosphere that traditional barbershops can, since hair chemical scents are not the same as wafting aromas of wintergreen and butternut mixed with hair tonic. Women in unisex and independently run salons can still create that space for themselves, but men find themselves without companionship or quality cuts. They will only find that companionship by stopping by the barbershop with the glass windows and the comforting smell of shaving cream and pomade, to wind down and to socialize with fellow customers. While a woman could technically get a shave at a barbershop, the general atmosphere remains masculine and gentlemanly.
A straight razor shave at a mens barbershop usually consists of the following:
- A hot towel wrapped around your face
- A spritz of cleanser for pores, followed by another hot towel
- Conditioner for your face, with a third hot towel
- Shaving cream from a heated dispenser
- The straight razor, usually disposable
- Another hot towel, more cream, and more shaving strokes
- A cold towel to close pores, and aftershave
A skilled barber will know how to keep a customer satisfied, safe and relaxed in the chair. Some of the skills run in the family, often flowing through generations of barbers. The customer will have a choice of more natural hair products than they would at a unisex salon, such as pomades and homemade shaving cream. The straight razor offers a thrill with it potential to cut through flesh or to cut whiskers, which reminds a customer of his need to live each day to the fullest.
In addition one receives pleasant conversation from the barber, and an aura of camaraderie from other regulars. Barbers often have interesting stories to tell, as well as opinions about civic affairs that one will not get from the newspaper or a city council meeting. Some barbershops even offer alcohol, like a cup of beer or some bourbon. In modern times the atmosphere demands some etiquette to treat the mens barber nicely, to make sure your teeth are brushed, that you keep the conversation light during the shave without dirty gossip and that you don’t text or listen to music through earbuds. These high standards and common courtesies to your barber create an elegant, relaxing space for a couple of hours.
This world is unpredictable and constantly changing; one service has remained the same through technological advances and increasing convenience. With the need for quality cuts and shaves for unruly whiskers, some which mens barbershops like GENTS can provide, we need to recreate and appreciate that masculine safe space. A straight razor with a sharp edge will recreate that appreciation in the best possible manner.