[Forward by “Mantic59” – I would like to introduce you all to Cait, a barber by trade. Many of Sharpologist’s readers have an almost nostalgic relationship with barbering in some way, so I thought a series of articles by a barber might be interesting.] Hi. I’m Cait, and I have infiltrated the most sacred of male spaces: the barbershop. I am a barber.
As a female barber with four years behind the chair, there are quite a few things I’ve learned – my place in the barbershop, the first impressions men have of me, their faith in my ability to provide them with a quality service and experience, and what advantages and disadvantages I have as a woman in the barbering industry.
I’m a barber, thankyouverymuch.
When I tell people I’m a barber, their first question is usually this: “A barber? Or a hairstylist?”
I’m a barber. Just a barber. I don’t have a cosmetology license – the license more associated with women’s hair, makeup and nails – in addition to my barber’s license, as most female barbers do. I’ve just never had an interest in doing women’s hair.
I have a short, men’s-style haircut myself, and I prefer to chat with men when I’m cutting. I don’t have anything against women, really. I’ve just found that when I go into work, I’m there for one thing: cutting hair. I don’t have the time or the mental energy to act as a sounding board.
That makes me sound like I hate women. I don’t. It’s just not the job I signed up for. I went to school to learn how to cut and style classic and modern men’s cuts, to perform straight razor shaves, to trim and shape beards – not to be a therapist.
The barbershop is an environment I cherish.
I became a barber for the environment and the work. I love the smell of the barbershop – the Barbicide, the disinfectant sprays, the rich scents of mahogany and leather, the bay rum and various aftershaves and shave creams and products with woody, musky smells. I love the sounds: the soft alternative and classic rock, the buzz of the clippers, the easy, light banter. Most of these things are what men enjoy about the barbershop, too.
And I like hanging out with guys. You’re cool. You’re laid-back. I enjoy talking to my clients about their work and business, beer, food, sports, and observations about the world. I don’t want to hear about what Susan said to Karen at the PTA meeting, or what someone’s husband did this week that pissed her off. And most guys don’t want to share that kind of thing either.
Guys get honest.
On occasion, a man will open up to me like that, and while it sometimes takes a toll, I’ve learned to consider it a privilege. I’ve heard both heartbreaking and hilarious stories from my clients.
Once, I was told that a client – whom I had just met – was struggling, because his wife thought he was no longer passionate about their life together, and was in the process of divorcing him and taking the kids. He cried in front of me that day, and it took everything I had not to cry with him.
Another time, a young military guy regaled me the tale of him walking in on his girlfriend of several years participating in some rather graphic sexcapades with her sister and sister’s boyfriend. He laughed about it, and I took that as my cue to laugh, too.
I had thought I had avoided playing therapist by becoming a barber, and for the most part, I have. These kinds of personal stories are rare, but for some reason, it doesn’t bother me like I thought it would. Maybe that is because when I hear these stories, it is men being their most vulnerable in front of me.
And that is an honor: that they have immersed themself in this manly haven and still have the courage to share their lives with me. It doesn’t feel like mindless complaining, it feels like they are confiding in me, on a level that I don’t see with most people I have just met.
I consistently have great conversations with men from all walks of life. I’m also a writer, and I love learning about my clients: their stories, their dreams and their experiences. It’s an endless wealth of information and content that I use to better understand the world, and more accurately write about it. I already know the female experience, because I live it every day.
In the barbershop, I get to hear the perspective of the other side.
Women are making a name for themselves, but we still have a ways to go.
There are some drawbacks to being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Women make up just 22% of the barbering workforce in America, and make on average $5,000 less in a year. It’s a start, but there is always room for improvement.
Some people will always have doubts, but it’s usually not the clients. Most guys have no qualms about having a woman cut their hair, especially one who is trained specifically as a barber. Sure: from time to time, you’ll have the occasional guy who balks when I announce I will be cutting his hair, but for the most part, my clients pass no judgment on my skill. It’s rare to see a man hesitate at the idea of having a woman cut his hair.
Who do you think you are?
Other men, though, usually other barbers, see me as infiltrating a sacred space, a world where they can escape into an environment that fully embraces and fosters their masculinity. Some are under the impression that I don’t belong there. There are a few barber-shops that specifically hire only men to be on their team, as it’s assumed that I won’t truly understand what a man is looking for if I’m not one myself.
Honestly? That’s utter B.S.
I paid a good chunk of both time and money for a license and received the exact same training as my male counterparts. I made the same mistakes, and learned from them along the way.
In some ways, I feel I’m actually better equipped. I know what men are looking for, due to my training and my experiences, but I also have knowledge of what women are looking for, and I’ve found that 7 times out of ten, guys will say, “I don’t care what you do with it, as long as my wife/girlfriend is happy.” I know what most women are looking for, because I am one, and in that way, I can appeal to both sides of the court.
If at first you don’t succeed…
I’ve made some mistakes along the way. It took me a bit of time to figure out the approach I take with men. It’s not the same as talking to a woman. I have to find a delicate balance of both personal and professional in my work. I can’t act too casual, too much like one of the guys, or I end up not being taken as seriously. I can’t be too formal in my approach, because then I seem like I’m not confident.
Before I became a barber, I was several years behind the starting line because I had grown up with long hair that I styled as femininely as possible. I had cut my hair short roughly five years before I even became a barber, and that was a good jumping off point: styling and working with a traditionally male cut. But it didn’t solve all my problems.
I had to learn to read men. Many men struggle with barbering terminology and knowing exactly what they’re looking for. The most common request I get from my clients is, “Short, but not too short.” Which isn’t exactly helpful for either of us.
Bringing in a photo is great, but the problem is that if you have thinning hair on top and bring me a picture of George Clooney, and assume I’ll be able to work that kind of magic, you’re not going to be satisfied.
It’s important for guys to know what it is they’re looking for, and I don’t mind taking the time to work with you on figuring out what that is. Both parties need to be on the same page in order for you to walk out with a cut you can feel confident in.
I’m a natural communicator, and that gives me a leg up, regardless of my gender.
To look good, you have to put in the work.
I’ve found that, while most guys want to consistently look fresh, they aren’t too enthusiastic about putting a bunch of effort and energy into their hair. Some men are okay with using a product, which is important, especially for short haircuts on guys with straight hair who often end up with a wicked cowlick sticking up, but most are completely adamant about their decision to never blow-dry or fully style their hair. They want it to be quick and easy. Which, for a lot of men’s styles, isn’t much of a tall order.
From time to time, though, you’ll get a guy who wants a full pompadour or quiff, but isn’t willing to put more than thirty seconds into styling it. I’m sorry to inform you of this, gents, but it’s just not going to happen.
I’m right where I belong.
At the end of the day, I love my job. I love the environment, I love the people I work with, and I’ve found that it isn’t all that hard to make it as a female barber in a man’s world. When I first started, I had thought that I was going to have to work twice as hard to make it in this industry, but that’s really not the case.
It’s refreshing to know that even in a space as masculine and sacred as the barbershop, I am still a welcome contributor to the environment. I cut dude-hair and I’m good at it, and to most guys, that’s all that matters.
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.com