My earliest memories of getting my hair cut would have been when I was 4 or 5 years old. My dad would pick me up from school and we would go to a barber called George’s near the construction site he worked at, run by an old Greek of the same name. George would wear a baby blue barber smock that was always perfectly pressed, have his silver hair combed over with brylcreem and had thick framed glasses that would magnify his eyes to a cartoonish size.
For me there was nothing like going to the barber with my dad. I cherish those days after school that I knew he was picking me up, especially when my teachers said my hair was too long and needed a haircut. It was a time when where my father could sit together and share an experience, that didn’t involve my sisters or my mother...just us boys. I felt very adult and proper being in the company of all these elder men, like I too was a grown up because when you sit in a barber chair your age is irrelevant.
I remember the topics of conversations between my father and George or other customers being about the glory days of being a youth in their respective countries, stories about how difficult it was in there first year living in Australia in the 70s, or talking about how their wives were constantly nagging about the most mundane things. From what I could see this place was a sanctuary for men to be men and talk freely and openly regardless of topic.
After my father finished his building project we continued to go to George’s barber for the next year until one day there were newspapers on the windows and the barber pole had been removed. It was a very sad moment for both me and my father, George seemed like man with an old world outlook to living, one that would work until he left this world. I will never forget this experience with my first proper barber, someone who made me feel welcome and left feeling sharp and ready to take on the world. Even today when I drive past the shop (which is now a convenience store) I can still smell the shaving cream, the chemical agent used to sterilize the combs and the look of those sun bleached head shots showing different men’s hairstyles.
There are many feelings and emotions that happen when you walk into a barber shop and when you leave. It is a place of shared experience, time travel and transformation. A change in appearance changes your perception of both yourself and the world around you and it all starts from when you sit down in that barber chair. When the apron gets clipped around your neck and your barber asks what style you would like, you instantly know that your day is going to get better as soon as you leave. There are very few experiences in your life where a transformation happens in front of your eyes in a matter of minutes. A conversation is shared about the weeks or months that have passed between visits and there is a link between the trust in allowing someone to make a physical change in your appearance and your ability to open up to them and talk completely candidly.
"There are very few experiences in your life where a transformation happens in front of your eyes in a matter of minutes"
I’m glad my dad took me to a barber at a young age. It allowed me to bond with him, hang out with some older dudes who offered me some life lesson that I did not understand (but it didn’t matter because i was treated like an equal) and it meant that the next day when I went to school i was going to be the sharpest kid out. The importance of sitting in that chair as an adult was just as important when I was a kid, and it’s an experience I look forward to every month, and an experience I would love to share with my son one day, where he can feel like a grown up and be treated like an equal, sharing in a similar experience to what I did with my father.
With the growing trends in male grooming there has been a cultural resurgence of the old school barber with even some salons having a barber chair or "men's corner" for their male clientele. For that I am extremely happy. Through the combination of old world barbering techniques and the innovation in both grooming tools and products the barber experience has had a renaissance of being an integral part of men’s lifestyle. It is not just another task to get done in a month, but a joy of an experience which allows you to hit the reset button on your life and leaves you feeling like you can take on the world.
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Author: Kareem Ghaly
Image Credits: Marjorie Milner & Saru Saru