Changing barbers or stylists is an anxiety-filled task for guys dedicated to personal grooming, but it’s necessary if your tried-and-true becomes unavailable or you’ve relocated to a new area. You may have to go through a couple duds to settle on a pro with whom you’re compatible, but they’re out there.
When you’re on the hunt for a new head master, consider these criteria for finding the right fit.
Does the barber/stylist know how to cut your type of hair?
I’m a Caucasian male, and when I moved to Harlem, NYC, I was looking for a local barber within walking distance of my apartment where I could get a quick cut for a decent price.
I tried several different shops within a five-block radius with varying results. One shop’s employees ignored me altogether, taking clients who came in after me before me, and another guy nearly lopped my ear off (there was blood) with his shoddy shearing skills – and that’s when I figured out what was going on: Barbers in that area only knew how to provide clipper cuts. They didn’t have much use for scissors since virtually everyone they served were men of color with coarser hair than mine. Eventually, after much trial and even more error (and several months of looking like I lost several battles with a Flowbee) – I found a Dominican-run joint with a guy who knew how to use scissors on my type of hair, and he was my go-to for years. In fact, he provided me with some of the best cuts I’ve ever had, mostly due to that precision razor blade he used on my edges at the end. Picture it – my pale Irish ass swaggin’ through Harlem with a fresh-to-def shape-up. Ten years later, the whole neighborhood calls me White Mike – and I consider it a badge of honor.
Have you vetted the establishment online?
An upside to social media (because there aren’t many anymore) is that you don’t have to physically enter a barbershop to discern whether or not it’s someplace you’d like to patronize.
“As much as I hate Yelp, use the site and Instagram and Facebook to see pictures of what the shop produces,” says Brandon Barney, master barber at Barber Surgeons Guild. “If you are coming in with an afro and there are no pictures of men with your style hair being cut, take that as a hint that the shop won’t be best for what you have or want. If you have long hair and want to maintain it, looking at pictures can be a great way to narrow down the shop and the barber. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and with as much accessibility there is today [you should] use it to your advantage.”
Do you two ‘click’?
When I was a kid, my dad took me to this asshole, pedo-vibe barber who was a complete racist, sexist, and homophobe, and I hated every second in his chair. As soon as I was able to drive, I dropped that dirt bag, and found a nice girl to style my hair (which is now all but gone at age 36; fuck you, Time), who was sweet, kind, and offered innocuous conversation.
I’ve moved around quite a bit since high school and college, and in addition to finding someone good at cutting my hair, I’m also quietly observing their personality. Are they racist, sexist, or a homophobic? Are they annoying? Do they have grating habits that make me squirm with discomfort?
Are they listening to what you want?
I’m basically a high-and-tight kinda guy – super typical, easy cut. For most. But not for the stylist to whom I had to explain over and over how I wanted the fade high on my head. I got so frustrated by her lack of listening skills that I gave up, paid, left, and came back the next day to have it fixed by a more competent cosmetologist.
“If you’re explaining what you want to the barber and they aren’t communicating the same thing back, or they’re explaining why that’s not feasible, or if they are not engaged and eliminating ambiguity – run!” Barney adds. “Two things a barber can’t work with: bad lighting and ambiguity. If they can’t communicate what they plan to do or what you want back to you, they most likely can’t give you what you want.”
Have you tried different barbers at the shop you like?
If the first barber you visit doesn’t provide a cut you like or you’re maybe not compatible with them – but you really enjoy the shop itself – don’t give it up just yet.
“If you love a shop and have a bad experience with one barber, don’t assume all the barbers are like the negative one,” says Barney. “Try a different barber in the same shop; there’s nothing wrong with that.”
If that prospect makes you uncomfortable because you don’t want to hurt the original barber’s feelings, return when they’re not working for an appointment with someone else. Gradually you’ll make the new guy your one and only (hopefully), and nobody will catch on to the trade-up.
If you’re in the LA area be sure to drop by Barber Surgeons Guild for a cut, shave or trim. Make a booking here.
Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. He splits his time between homes in New York City and the Jersey Shore with his dog Jaxon. Connect with Mikey on Twitter @mikeyrox.