Skip to content

How To Find a Barber

Listen to this article

In my last two articles (here and here), there was a similarity between them (well, aside from growing and maintaining facial hair, that is). In both of those articles, I underscored the importance of finding yourself a good barber that you trust and can work with. Much like any other professional service you may engage in (for instance, finding a mechanic) you are looking to build a relationship, and the foundation of that relationship is trust. Based on our survey results, it also seems that our readers have some questions around barbers, so I thought I would tackle that this month.

Options other than a barber shop

The first step is, of course, to find yourself a barber. If you are like most men (and how I started off), you might just head off to whatever shop is nearest and does not necessarily require an appointment. While these shops come and go – the sports-themed ones seem to be popular as of late – they all function the same. For these shops, the “low, low prices” are what generally get you in the door. Will you love the haircut you end up with? Maybe, maybe not. Back when I went to places like this, it often depended on who in the rotating cast of stylists was running the chair that day. Some months it was good, other times it was just waiting for it to grow out.

After you get tired of this, you might be tempted to head off to a salon (just bear with me here a minute, this will make sense). This could be because its where your wife or girlfriend heads off to, or you have a friend that recommended it (and they likely started heading there via that same female recommendation). What you get in this type of shop is the consistency you are looking for – you will see the same stylist every time, and they will give you a consistent cut. On the flip side of that coin is the cost. These salons are going to run at least 2-3x the cost as the local “haircuts for men” place. While at first that seems like a reasonable trade-off for getting a good haircut each and every time, that is not all there is to the picture.

Finding a true barber shop

Stag Barbershop
What you really want to find is a true barbershop. First off, talk to your friends, families, and co-workers.  These are people you trust, and you have seen how their haircuts look over time – odds are, if you like how theirs consistently looks, they have a barber you may want to check out.  Aside from any recommendations you might pick up from friends and family, this is a search you can pretty easily engage in, starting with the Internet – review sites such as Yelp can help you to narrow down the likely candidates. In your day to day activities (whether around work or home) you also can keep your eyes peeled, because there is something very specific you want to look for when you are searching for a barber – that red, white, and blue striped barber pole.

While my own experience with this is certainly not exhaustive, I have found that the presence of that pole means you have found the type of shop you are looking for. Once you have settled in on a place to try out, it’s time to head on in (up to you whether or not you call to make an appointment ahead of time).

How will know if that barber pole was just a ruse? Take a look around the shop, and you can look for a few things. Do not worry too much about the overall appearance of the shop. Past general cleanliness, I’ve found good barbers in places that have well worn linoleum on the floor as well as ones with floor to ceiling wood paneling. What you want to hone in on are the smaller details of the place. For starters, check out the chairs. Those suckers should look like leather and steel thrones that look like a more comfortable (and earth-bound) version of Captain Kirk’s chair on the Enterprise. If you look closely, you will likely see that the leather has accumulated the patina of use over the years as well. Next, take a look around for signage and products. Signs will likely be on the limited side, and the products are probably limited to a display case under the register. The product selection may seem limited, but that’s ok – they are there more for the occasional sale, not something that you are getting the hard sale on every time you come in. Finally, you can take a look at the magazines sitting on the tables where the customers are waiting. While it is by no means a hard and fast rule, but it seems you will find magazines oriented at guys – generally Sports Illustrated, perhaps a car magazine or two, and likely something from Hugh Hefner and crew.

Finding a good barber

Now that we have found a shop that looks like a likely candidate, and we have scoped the surroundings, it is time to focus on the guy that will actually be doing the work on your head!  The first time you meet the barber, give him a good looking over.  How is his own haircut?  Not that he (likely) is cutting his own hair, but if he’s willing to accept something that looks like a train wreck, then that means he’d be willing to give the same to you.  Next, check his overall grooming and state of his clothes.  If things are neatly maintained, and the little details are all in order, you are likely in good hands.  If the barber is down in the details of his own style, that very probably means the attention to detail will translate to your haircut.

Next, you need to talk to the barber.  This should be a pretty easy step, as most barbers themselves like to talk as they work.  Don’t be afraid to ask him how long he’s been a barber, and how busy he is. If he normally requires an appointment , take that as a good sign that other guys have trusted him, and he has a steady stream of regular clients. You might even want to consider asking how long he’s been at the shop. If he has been there a good long time (more than a few years) then it’s likely that he is not the sort to go from shop to shop, meaning you will not have to worry too much about having to follow the barber to a new shop – or start your search all over.  Which, by now, I hope you realize is invaluable.  Just like finding a good mechanic, a good barber is someone you want to keep a steady relationship with.

Benefits of going to a barber

1915 Barber ShopThose things are just some of the items you can look for when trying out a barber shop – and a barber. And trying out is exactly what we are going to do here. When your barber gets you in the chair, he’ll look things over, ask how long its been since your last cut, and what you are looking for.  Tell him what sort of style you like (could be as simple as “just like it is now, but shorter”) and any problem areas you might have.  If the barber starts right in and gives you exactly what you want, then some red flags should go up.  On the other hand, if he starts giving other suggestions that tweak what you’re looking for (or have gotten in the past), pay attention.  With a good barber, you are going to a guy who is an expert in his field.  He’s seen all manner of styles and head shapes, and probably has a good idea on what will work well for you and your hair.  In other words, if you get some push back those first few visits, take it as a good thing.  You are both working out some boundaries, and as time goes on, you will be able to settle into telling him that you just want “the usual”.

After he’s done, do not be afraid to point out any areas (especially this first visit) that do not seem quite like you had envisioned. Bring them up, and talk about it with the barber. This is where you can lean on their expertise (and see how well they listen to what you are asking). One of the biggest benefits of heading to a barber is that you are getting your hair cut by someone who only deals with men’s hair and styles. Thinning out on top (like me)? They know how to handle it. Want it high and tight? They have you covered. While many folks can cut hair, your barber can bring a wealth of experience to give you a cut that not only matches what you are looking for, will also make sense for what your hair and head are conspiring to do.

Next up comes the second best part of finding a good barber – the price. Even including tip, the price is likely half of what you would pay at a salon, and not that much more than what you were paying at the price-focused places. In other words, it is the sweet spot where you are actually getting a good value for your money. Now, should you not be particularly wowed by what the barber did, feel free to try out other places in the intervening months (or even a different barber at the same shop, if you are so inclined). Keep with that same basic premise to start (just like it is, but shorter) until you find a barber that you feel comfortable with, and feel like you are getting a solid cut. At that point, you can lock in to that shop (and barber) as your preferred place, and start exploring other options. Summer heat on the way and you want to go shorter? They can adjust your regular cut for that. Want to try out something else that you have a picture of? They can probably handle that as well. Just as you want them to listen to you, you do need to listen to them, as at this point they will have a handle on what will work well with your hair, as well as look decent with your head shape. It’s a matter of give and take, and that trust needs to be there.  Once that is there, you can delve into other topics – say, grooming and maintaining (or removing) facial hair.

For me, I relish the consistency. The barber I head to now is a family friend, and his shop is surprisingly close to my office. I get a consistent cut (with some variation for the weather), and he’s handling the trouble spots without any further mention – he knows what I’m looking for, and I trust that he will give me what I want from the haircut. Additionally, once you have that relationship built, you can start in on some of those other discussions I covered in the earlier articles, such as recommendations for trimming and shaping a beard, or even what gear (or products) you might want to pick up for use at home. In the end, finding yourself a good barber is one of those things every guy should be doing (unless you’re shaving the head completely). While it may take some searching to find the right shop and scissor slinger for you, the search to find the right spot will pay off many times over in the long run. Ditch the local Sports Cuttery ‘n More, and head on over to the old school striped pole.  You are going to like the results, and the search will be worth the effort.

What has been your experience with finding a good barber?  Do you have any additional suggestions?  Leave a comment below!

Patrick Kansa

Patrick Kansa

19 thoughts on “How To Find a Barber”

  1. Thanks for the advice that if a barber requires appointments that it means they are trusted by other customers. My husband is looking for a barber to go to since we just moved, so I’m helping him look. We’ll have to find one that takes appointments so we can make sure that my husband will have a good haircut since he has curly hair.

  2. I want to make sure that I get my hair cut nicely. It makes sense that I would want to find a good barber shop! That seems like a great way to ensure that my hair is cut properly. I’ll ask my friends and family for recommendations.

  3. I really appreciate your tip to not be afraid and tell your barber exactly the type of cut that you were expecting after the haircut is done. My wife and I noticed that our son really needs a haircut, and we are concerned that he won’t like it. In order for his barber to learn what he likes, I will be sure to suggest to him that he tells the barber right after his haircut!

  4. Thanks for suggesting that we talk to the barber to see if he is scheduled by appointment since that is a sign that a lot of others trust him. My husband’s old barber just retired so we are looking for a new shop for him to go to. We will definitely be visiting a few different shops so that we can ask questions to make sure that it is a reputable one.

  5. I hadn’t ever thought about choosing a barber with a good haircut vs a bad haircut like you talked about in your article! I just moved away from my old barbershop, and I’ve been needing to find someone who could help me get my hair back under control. I’ll have to make sure that I choose a barber shop with employees who have good looking haircuts, and want to give the same to me!

  6. Thank you for these tips. I particularly liked what you said about how a barber will ask you plenty of questions and really try to get a feel for what you want out of your haircut and shave. My husband’s hair is a bit long and I wanted to find a barber for him to go to. Especially since a haircut can have such a big impact on confidence, I’ll definitely have to look online for a barber that has reviews that say he showed serious interest in their client and tried to accomplish exactly what they had in mind.

  7. I agree that you need to talk to and visit a barber before you choose them. Getting a feel for how they work and their shop would be really important. My husband is looking for a new barber so he’ll have to take the time to visit the shop before he chooses one.

  8. I agree that it’s a great idea to look online for good barber shops, particularly ones that engage in social media communication with their clients. I think another simple way to find great barbers near you is just when you see someone with a great haircut, ask them where they got it. From doing this, you are asking based on you already liking the haircut, and also, you get to see a bit of a barber’s work before ever stepping foot in their shop. This is something that my son likes to do — he is in high school, and he believes he has to have the best haircut out of all his friends.

  9. Lillian Schaeffer

    These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to ask friends and co-workers for barber shop recommendations. My husband and I just moved into a new area, and we need to find him a good barber shop to go to. I’ll definitely talk to some of our neighbors, and I’ll have him talk to his co-workers to see if they have any suggestions. Thanks for the great post!

  10. When I moved to a new neighborhood I needed to find a new barber and after trying a few places in the area, I settled on Ken’s Kuts. Now Ken is a very large black man and it didn’t dawn on me for the longest time that I was his only white customer. His hair cuts were so good and I really enjoyed visiting with him so I kept going back. After a few years I have stopped going there because his shop was getting pretty run down and he wasn’t doing anything about it. Not as clean as it once was.
    So I found another barber shop recently, Jose’s. As you might guess, Jose caters to the Latino crowd. His shop is very well kept and is much like the barber shop of my childhood. Jose has two other young men that cut hair, a three chair shop, and their work amazes me. They really are artists. Hair cuts are $16 and a straight razor shave is $10. I think I am going to like these guys.

    1. Best cut I ever got was at a shop catering to mostly black men. I had to wait for the one barber that could/would cut my hair. It was my last cut in that town before I moved away.
      Where I live now it took me 5+ years to find another barber. Actually found her at a shop where I’d walked out disappointed from someone else’s cut a couple of years prior.

  11. Finding a good barber can always be a bit of a challenge. I grew up going to the shop with my dad each week and it will always be something that I cherish. I love the experience and the environment that comes with it with each visit. I give a lot of respect to those that go to any sort of barber college! They are definitely keeping a great tradition alive!

    1. Agreed – I’ve been pretty fortunate in finding some good barbers right off the bat. Then again, having less hair on top may make it for a slightly easier job for them…

  12. My grandfather (a barber) used to say that when you walk into a barbershop find the guy with the best haircut, then pick the other guy. He probably cut the first guy’s hair. It took me a while, but I finally found a great barber.

  13. Nice article. I’m not sure that Yelp was around the last time I moved and had trouble finding a barber. It was in 2007 and I was moving from Houston, TX to Marietta, GA. Patrick, something you don’t mention in the article is how to differentiate between ethnic barbers and those that don’t cater to ethnic customers. (Trying to be racially sensitive in my description). I looked up barbers online and in the phone book when I moved to Marietta in 2007, but had to resort to either driving by to see what kind of clientele they catered to or call them first. Those that I called would go something like this:
    Barber Shop: Hello?
    Me: Yes, I’m new in town and I’m looking for new barber for my hair cuts. I apologize up front for asking like this, but do you mostly cut hair for black or white people?
    Barber Shop: No problem. I know it’s hard to tell when you never came to our shop before, but we cut mostly black folks hair.
    It’s a culturally sensitive topic and I wish you had covered it in the article as well as your other great tips. I still would be nervous in asking like that. I don’t want to offend anyone, you see. I bet Yelp would help in a situation like this now. What are your thoughts? Is it worth an entire new article to cover a sensitive topic like this? What do your other readers think?

    1. Kevin:
      Thanks for bringing this up. Quite honestly, that aspect of the topic never occurred to me, just due to my own experiences I suppose. That is also why I would likely not be a good candidate for covering it, as you suggested, given that I simply do not have the background or knowledge to account for it properly.

  14. Good tips, Patrick. As a guy who has moved around quite a bit, I have had to find a new barber far more often than I cared to. This gets even more complicated if you want a barber who gives good shaves.
    I am currently in the unenviable position of having two shops (and still searching for one to replace both). I found what seemed to be a very good barber who also gave excellent shaves. It was quite a drive for me, but I could wait until I had some business nearby and take care of business then. But after going a few times, I found I got a different barber every time. I’d always request the owner (who I saw originally) but there has been a reason he couldn’t take me every time—sometimes I’d know when I made the appt, other times I’d find out after I was there. Too much hassle, considering I have to make a special effort to go there.
    So I started to get my hair cut closer to my house, in a beauty salon. The owner is very good, and the price is not beyond reason. But still, it isn’t quite the experience I long for—and no shave should I want one.
    So I continue my quest. But most every time a barbershop opens, they either don’t do shaves, or do them poorly. An old-school barber opened his own shop nearby. A good friend was getting his haircut there and asked me to stop by and see the shop and meet the owner (also his friend). So, I asked the owner if he was going to give shaves—and he EXPLODED! He ranted and fumed, saying how guys who get shaves are never happy, don’t want to pay enough for them or have enough time—this went on and on for awhile. Then he said to me, “But if you want a shave, I’ll do it. Just make an appt to schedule enough time.” I’m thinking, “Right. I want this guy to shave me? Uh, no thanks.”
    So the quest continues…

    1. Yikes, that does not sound like it’s been a fun travel to go through. Hopefully you can find a good shop soon – and one without a barber who rants about a service he provides.
      If you (or any of our readers, for that matter) are in the Chicagoland area, I can let you know who I’ve used and have had good experiences with – though I’ve not gotten a shave from any of them.

Comments are closed.