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An Ode to the Barber Shop

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Isn’t it amazing just how much of our lives we take for granted? The vast majority of us have never really taken into consideration the organizational effort that goes into running a local library or operating a small business. Like most of us, I have eaten at pubs, borrowed library books, and gotten my haircut without giving a second thought to the little intricacies that make such things possible. Then my barber decided to retire.

If I’m honest, learning that John, my barber of over five years, had decided to retire threw me in a loop. The prospect of finding a decent, skilled barber who could deal with my thick, wavy hair seemed virtually insurmountable. The truth is that the relationship John and I had ran deeper than just mere haircuts. Our friendship was based on a familiarity built over a number of years. John knew my hair and knew how I liked it. And I had the honour of having my hair cut by a man who had been barbering since the mid-sixties, and who was a pillar of his community.

John was one of a dying breed: the traditional barber. They offered men a haircut and, perhaps, a shave (occupational health and safety not withstanding), and little else. These barber shops were usually small and run by only a few men. They had built personal relationships with their clients over a number of years. These barbers knew their customers, knew their backgrounds, and knew how they liked their hair. (Naturally, this was dependent on clients returning to the same barber year after year, month after month).

The traditional barber is a relic of a bygone age. Whenever I think of old-fashioned barber shops, I think of the 1920s to the 1950s, of a world of glamour and sophistication when ladies wore evening dresses and men had neat hair and wore dinner jackets. When I think of old-fashioned barber shops, I think of the Rat Pack and James Bond and the movie stars of the 1930s to the 1950s. For me, the old-fashioned barber shop is synonymous with timeless male style.

Sadly, society no longer believes in style, glamour, and sophistication. The traditional barber shop has given way to a cruder, wannabe variety. These establishments are more masculinised hair dressing salons than proper barber shops. These places think that by offering cheap haircuts in an atmosphere immersed in masculine nostalgia – usually achieved through wood paneling, empty Jack Daniels bottles, and pictures of men doing “manly” things – they can achieve the mantle of the traditional barber shop.

The truth is that they can’t. Gruff looking barbers with arms covered in tattoos are about as far away as one can get from the dapper gentlemen who cut men’s hair in the past. When I walk out of the barber, I want to look and feel like Cary Grant, not like a thug. John made that happen for me. He and his kind are vanishing rapidly. They will be missed.