Barbershop. Code for Man Spa.
I don’t know when or why it happened, but somewhere along the way, guys traded in their barbers and the barbershop for salons and stylists. In some ways, I guess it makes sense. Just the word ‘stylist’ makes it seem fancier. And with the big windows, sleek décor, club-type music and fashionably attired men and women everywhere, barbershops seem drab, old and boring. But not to me. I think a good barbershop is one of the last great respites on earth. And if you haven’t been to a real barber lately, I think you should check one out next time you need a haircut.
First thing you’ll notice is it’s full of men. Old and young. And for some reason, that is immediately calming. It’s kind of like one of the last respites of manliness. There was a time, I’ve read, where barbershops were about as popular as saloons. Men would come in just to hear what was going on in town. Or to literally, escape from their everyday pressures for a while. You can almost feel that in some of the older establishments I’ve been to. The set up is very communal. Everyone can talk to everyone.
These places also just smell like men. I’m not talking about dirty gym sock locker room like back from my baseball days in college. It’s tonics and lotions and hair gels and such that are clearly masculine. Not to mention a hint of pipe tobacco or cigar smoke that infiltrated the old oak and walnut chairs, cabinets and paneling. Or the beautifully crafted, well-worn leather of the barber chairs. Some even serve scotch while you’re waiting or in the chair, so there’s more than a hint of that in the air as well. It’s rich. It’s real. It’s classic.
My favorite barber I’ve ever had was ‘Gents Barber Spa’ in Charleston. They were a men’s spa and did it right while taking their time. A 30-minute haircut took a full hour. Of course, that included a scalp, neck and facial massage with a scotch in hand (my hand, not theirs. That would be a trick!) You’ve never had a shave until you’ve had your face wrapped in towels first, your pores cleaned, lather brushed on and then the straight razor. Another towel. Some vanishing cream. And you not only look like a new man, you feel like one too.
This is barbering. This is grooming. It’s an experience I encourage everyone to try. It’s really an art and an experience and I’ve been glad to see it making a comeback over the last decade. I go about every ten days. Sometimes, just because I want to slip into that world that is masculine to its core. For some reason, it is the only place I can completely shut my brain off and not worry about anything. I put my phone on silent for 45 minutes and just close my eyes and listen to the jazz music.
It’s not just a haircut. It’s the highlight of my week.