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A Day in the Life of a 21st Century Barber

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Barbering has been around since the Bronze Age. Ancient razors have been found in parts of Egypt that have been dated all the way back to 3500 BC, and since then, the profession has undergone many changes – what it is that barbers do, the services we provide, and the equipment we use. The earliest razors we have found look much like a very small axe, and barbering technology has come a long way since then: razors that are sharper, more ergonomic, and easier to disinfect.

Barbers Performed WHAT?

In more recent history – specifically, the Middle Ages – barbers were known as ‘barber-surgeons’, and in addition to hair-cutting and shaving services, they also performed surgeries on soldiers, post-battle. They were responsible for blood-letting – then thought of as a cure-all for most illnesses – and also performed tooth extractions. In fact, the barber pole has a very interesting history: the iconic white, red, and blue stripes are meant to symbolize the white of the bandage, the red of the blood, and the blue of the veins barbers encountered during their surgical procedures. Fascinating, if not a little gross.

Then and Now.

Luckily, no one has ever asked me to pull their teeth or amputate their limbs. I didn’t get into this industry to perform surgery. I strongly doubt I would have chosen this career if it still encompassed all that it did during the Middle Ages. That’d be a firm ‘No thanks’, from me. Today’s barbers are strictly grooming experts, concerned with the hair and the beard, and sometimes the skin. My average day is a hell of a lot different from those involved in barbering in, say, the 1300s. And it goes a little something like this:

When we unlock the door in the morning, we turn on the coffee-maker, the wax machine, the TV and radio, and the lights. We switch over the laundry and fold what was in the dryer, and check to make sure our hot-towel machines are stocked. We each fill our barbicide jars and plug all our equipment in, and make sure we have a fresh cape and towels. It’s a little mundane but it’s important to make sure all of it is done properly so the day runs smoothly.

Most of the day is spent performing services. We cut hair, perform shaves and eyebrow waxing, apply color, and trim beards. We consult with our clients to determine what they’re looking for, and make recommendations based on our expertise and what we know about the client and their hair type. When cutting, we’re focused on the hair, but we also like to keep our clients engaged, and converse with them about life, the weather, sports, food, or other interests of theirs. Some guys don’t want to talk, and that’s fine. You develop an ability to read men, and determine whether or not they’re the type that is looking for conversation.

Staying Busy.

When we’re not cutting, however, there is still plenty to do. The laundry has to be kept up with, otherwise we end the night with full laundry bins and nowhere near enough towels for the morning. We also keep the hot-towel machines stocked – we use a lot of hot towels every day. One for each hair-cutting client, and many more if we’re performing a shave or a facial. The hot towel over the face is one of our signature elements of the hair-cutting service; we apply it while we shampoo a client’s hair, and every single guy says it’s his favorite part. I get it. They’re super nice, and I’d be lying if I said I’d never had a guy fall fully asleep in my chair during the shampoo. I take it as a compliment, it means I’m doing a good job.

If one barber or stylist is having a particularly busy day, then another will help out with check-in and check-out procedure. While our busy barber is finishing up their last client, I’ll get their next client checked in. Once they’re finished with the last client, I take his payment, make sure he’s good on product, and get his next appointment booked. I’ll answer the phones and send out appointment reminders for the next day’s clients.

Keep Up with Up-Keep.

If we’re having an especially slow day, there’s always things that need to be cleaned. The bathrooms, the product shelves, the back room, the coffee station and the lobby are all places that need to be cleaned at least at the end of the night, and throughout the day as well if there’s time. We also spend time honing our skills: watching videos and partaking in continuing education to further expand our knowledge and improve our techniques. Barbering is an ever-evolving profession and there’s always something new to learn. In my opinion, as soon as you think you’ve learned everything there is to know about something, you’ve failed.

Slowing Down for a Minute…

There is, of course, downtime, where we’ve gotten caught up on all the day’s work and even done some extra. During this time, we’ll sometimes grab a bite to eat – if a stylist or barber is running behind, then they sometimes run over into their lunch break, so we take the opportunity to eat and hydrate as they come. Sometimes, the barbers will talk to each other. We talk about our lives, our relationships, interesting things we’ve been doing. I’ve found that I know my co-workers pretty intimately, even though we rarely see each other outside of work. It’s interesting, that we are so open with each other, when the only time we see each other is while we’re at work.

We discuss our relationships – what’s going great, what’s going not so great. We talk about haircuts we did that day that we are particularly proud of, or ones that really tested us and we’re not as proud of, and that’s when we ask for advice. “What would you have done in this situation?” “How would you approach doing this style with that client’s hair type?” “What’s the best method you’ve found for getting fade lines out of a head with lots of lumps and bumps?” You know, shop-talk.

At the end of the day, I’m exhausted. Lots of standing on my feet, moving around, holding up my arms. Lots of doing chores: laundry, cleaning, lifting and stocking. But it’s still so rewarding. Barbering is a great profession. I love it. I meet all sorts of people, work with my hands, I have a creative outlet, and, in today’s world, I don’t even have to cut anyone’s limbs off. And that’s a win, as far as I’m concerned.

Caitlin Lambert

Caitlin Lambert

Cait is a California-licensed Barber and a freelance writer, specializing in men’s grooming and lifestyle. In addition to her freelance writing services, she has written numerous fiction pieces: two feature-length screenplays and a YA novel. She lives in San Diego, CA with her dog, Toni. You can find her at www.barberwithapen.comView Author posts


2 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a 21st Century Barber”

  1. Good informative article, Cait.
    Something that I feel I need to correct though is the history of the barber pole. You are correct in stating where the white and red from the pole comes from. However, as your image at the top of the blog clearly highlights, the original barber pole which has its roots in the UK, was only red and white. For reasons more to do with nationalism, barbers from the USA added the ‘blue’.

  2. Surgeons in the UK are still referred to as Mister, based on the barber surgeon heritage. The ‘physicians ‘ came from priests. Priests have no Lilac Vegetal so I’m sticking with barbers

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