Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Man and His Barber

Having just watched Good Hair, the Chris Rock  documentary on the $9billion black hair care industry, I began to think about my own relationship to this very complex system.  Being a man of color, the need for hair care products is minimal. Shampoo, Sportin' Waves pomade, Luster's Pink Moisturizer, and a brush to keep the waves flowing.  All tools in my grooming arsenal, easily replaceable and cheap. The biggest expense and most valuable is my barber. Whomever it may be at the time; a cousin, neighbor, co-worker, friend (and that one time in 7th grade, my mom), regardless the end result the experience is the same. I always leave the chair feeling better than when I sat down. 

It has been well documented that barbershops are pillars in the black community. Bastions for lively conversation on politics, sports, women, fashion, etc, part debate hall, part sanctuary.  I can't recall ever having a boring time at a barbershop. Where else can you find businessmen, politicians, street hustlers and athletes alongside  common folk on a Saturday morning? More important than the atmosphere of shops are the barbers themselves. 

I've gone through plenty of barbers for a number of reasons, be it money or time restraints, location, or quality of cut. But the one thing that remains the same is that barbers provide more than just grooming services. And today's gentleman can learn a thing or two from todays barbers. Many times barbers act as stand-in therapist, a listening ear for things you'd otherwise keep to yourself. Their non-judgmental insight allows for an exchange of information that we don't readily share with our spouses or friends. Not all barbers possess this trait as some are prone to gossip but you know the ones that are. As a gentleman, discretion is key.

Another trait that is common amongst barbers that should be adopted by todays gentleman is the ability to perform ones craft exceptionally and consistently.  As a barber you can't have an "off day" like an athlete who has a rough game. No, we hold our barbers accountable to provide a superior quality of service regardless of time or energy. And if you've had the same barber for any length of time you take notice that he/she delivers, all the time, every time. The gentleman should hold himself to such standards as well. 

So take a cue from the person you've consulted before every big life moment. You sought out their services prior to the first date with your future wife and before that dream job interview you landed. They haven't let you down yet and as 21st century gentleman you can utilize their traits of discretion and consistency as your own.


  1. As an ex-patriot in Japan, I often have only two choices: a salon, or my friends. I have not found barbershops of the quality I was used to when I lived in Austin or Atlanta. It can be quite frustrating, and so I tend to deviate between two extremes: very very short (cut by a fellow ex-pat, who like yourself, is a man of color, and tends to keep his on tools), or too long mop mess. Trims are never able to be the order of the day. And I do miss the social aspect of a barbership in a proper city like Atlanta, especially in the areas where race and culture mix, and you are forced to come to contact with people you might otherwise not be in the same circle with.

    On a side note, Alex, I wonder why you don't get more comments. After Scott Schumann's The Sartorialist, you are probably my second favorite Sartorial/Gentleman blog.

  2. First, thank you for your service and for visiting the blog. Your comment is greatly appreciated. I enjoy reading the feedback.

    I too have found myself in the same predicament after my regular barbershop closed. Since, I've bounced around from shop to shop but have yet to find a place that has the same atmosphere and community feel. And like you I've relied on friends to cut my hair. Barbershops are unique in the sense that they provide a service and experience. That experience counts for so much and isn't easily duplicated.

  3. Please take a moment to check out my Documentary film BLACK HAIR

    It explores the Korean Take-over of the Black Beauty Supply and Hair biz..

    The current situation makes it hard to believe that Madame C.J. Walker once ran the whole thing.

    I am not a hater, I am a motivator.

    Plus I am a White guy who stumbled upon this, and felt it was so wrong I had to make a film about it.

    self-funded film, made from the heart.

    Can it be taken back?