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Barbershop Tester by Tim
This is a true story. I love going to get my hair cut. Why? Maybe because I am in complete control, and this is something in my life all about me. Maybe because it represents change, yet not permanent, just temporary. Maybe it is something else all together, but all I know is my pulse quickens just driving to the shop.
It's funny because when I was a kid my mom forced me to go get a haircut in this awful Barbershop by a man as old as dirt. My hair back then was relatively straight, and he would part it on the right side, taper the back, clean the sides up quite short around my ears, and comb the top longish bangs (which I recall he purposely cut at a slight angle so it would only look good parted on the right side) over hard, slicking it all in place with something like 'Groom and Clean' or such. I hated that whole thing but did it religiously for years.
When I grew older my hairstyle changed to the long looks so popular in the 70's. I stopped going to Barbers at all, going to 'stylists' instead. After college my hair changed too, and now it is quite wavy all over, which becomes more noticeable the longer it gets. If I try blow drying it straight it will sort of cooperate, but it won't lie flat at all, and it won't ever be perfectly straight. At least not when I work with it. The advantage to this is it almost always looks the same each day with very little effort. I just brush it straight back each day with a bit of gel for control and I am set. When the waves get too big for the gel to control it tells me it is time for a haircut. It doesn't seem to matter much how it is cut either, because it does its own thing regardless. So when money was tight I started going to less expensive places for a cut, eventually opting once more for the Barbershops.
It was thrilling to walk into these shops again after all the years, noting they had changed little, and watch so many customers getting their hair cut so severely. It brought back childhood memories of getting my hair cut short. I found myself at home once more trying to part my hair on the side and plaster it in place (actually purchasing some Brylcreem just for that purpose) only to learn my now wavy hair would do no such thing.
It was then that I decided I would start going a bit shorter with my hair, allowing the barber to totally cut around my ears (I had always instructed them to keep it covering the tops of my ears) and to block the back (rather than keep it to my collar). As I learned to be more comfortable with this look I started thinking about going even shorter, wondering what it would be like to ask for the cut of my childhood again. I doubted it would even be possible. I also wondered what it would be like to have something much shorter. Frankly, the cut I most wanted to ask for was a flattop. Mostly because many role models of my youth wore one, and because it was so radically different from anything else out there, and mostly because I didn't think my hair could ever be arranged in such a style. It seemed to demand straight hair that I simply don't have.
At this exact same time I moved to another State, a much hotter state, making shorter hair seem much more of an advantage. So when it was time to find a Barber I started a ritual I still do today.
1) I always ask for one of two haircuts. The first is the same cut I had as a child, parted on the side (which side is up to the Barber to choose). I like it around the ears, tapered in back, and slicked into place. Then I'll wait about three months until my next cut. This time I'll ask for a flattop, though I always ask for the longest one they can give me. Again I'll wait a good three months (perhaps more if my flattop ends up too short) before going back and asking for the side parted style the next time, and so on.
2) I never go to the same Barber twice. There are so many in this town I can't imagine visiting them all. That way I also never have to explain why I keep changing styles each time.
I've been doing this for years now, and have seen as much variety in the results as I've seen different shops. I've also learned I have some definite opinions as to what I like in a shop.
a. I don't like to watch the cut in a mirror. It reminds me too much of a salon. It is far more fun to let your other senses experience the cut and then see the radical transformation all at once. Especially fun are the times it feels like far too much hair is coming off.
b. I kind of like it when my haircut ends up a little shorter than I expected. I don't want to end up with far less hair, but I really don't like the barbers that take so little off that I have to keep asking for a bit more and more each time. Instead I like to walk out almost regretting walking in.
c. I don't like really huge shops. You have so little say about which barber you end up with that way. A three chair shop is about the largest I can take.
d. I like to have to wait, so I get to see others getting haircuts. That can be almost as much fun as getting your own hair cut. It is quite frustrating to walk in, immediately seated and out in 10 minutes or less. Where was the barbershop experience?
e. I don't like barbers who use scissors a great deal. Bring on the clippers.
f. I don't like barbers who work super fast. Take the time to make sure my side parted style lies correctly. Make sure the flattop is very level and blow dry the hair if necessary to get it all straight and rigid. With my hair it takes some extra time. Let me savor the moments. You'll get a bigger tip that way.
g. Some barbers seem to purposely direct the clippings behind the customer so little to none end up on his lap. I like to see the clippings fall, watching the growing mound on my lap, and stressing when the clippings seem a bit too long compared to my instructions.
h. I really don't mind having a female barber as long as she is a true barber and not a misdirected stylist. If they're good looking that makes it even more fun. Some of my favorite experiences have been with lady barbers more clipper-happy than any male barber I've ever had.
i. I prefer older male barbers to younger ones. The older ones tend to be heavier handed with the clippers and use the scissors less. Plus all those extra years of experience are generally useful when it comes to trying to make my wavy hair go into a style it won't naturally want to do. I'm generally disappointed with youngsters working with my hair.
BEST FLATTOP EXPERIENCES
1) The first one- I had it done by a lady barber, hoping she wouldn't be as savage as a male one. I was extremely nervous more about feedback from such a radical style from my friends and associates more than anything. It was also in a shop where I was facing the mirror, so I could make sure I didn't walk out looking like a marine. I was quite longwinded with my instructions, making it quite clear I wanted as long a flattop as possible, including not too short on the sides. I even chickened out about getting the back tapered, asking instead for it to be blocked. She did the back and sides first, and it really didn't look much shorter than my side parted style request, the first of which I just received a few months earlier. Then she did a quick run over the top with scissors bringing it down to about three inches. She wet this down, added some strong gel, and used a blow dryer to get it to all stand up. It was ready for shaping, and I was moments from my first flattop. She could tell I was nervous and asked me "Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked her again how short it would be and she showed me about half the remaining length would have to come off. I bit my lip but nodded her to continue, and then joyfully watched her ever so slowly start taking the top down bit by bit. She only took about ½ inch off with each pass of the clippers, but made several runs. When she was done she blended the sides in with the top and there I was with a fantastic flattop. My hair was perfectly straight yet not too short. In fact if I wanted to I could easily gel it back so as to disguise how it was really cut. Touching a flattop for the first time is an incredible treat to the senses. The gel she used made it extremely stiff and almost prickly to the touch. I was hooked on the experience, and ready for the next time it would come around.
2) Another female barber this time, however a drop dead gorgeous one with fantastic long hair that was all curled and marvelous to look at. In spite of the fact I was facing a mirror I think I spent more time looking at her than looking at my hair being cut. She first did the sides and back, a bit shorter than I believe I requested but nothing too bad. She also sprayed and gelled the top, blowdrying it to all stand up prior to cutting. The difference of this cut came next. Instead of lifting the comb a bit to keep some length prior to running the clipper over it, she just put a guard on the clipper. The comb she pressed flat against my head, and since I didn't see the guard was concerned she was giving me the shortest flattop possible. I spoke up, and it was then she showed me the guard. It wasn't a very long guard, and my heart was beating hard as I saw myself getting a flattop a good deal shorter than I had ever had before. It even felt shorter to the touch. A thrilling feeling. This one could not be gelled down, which both concerned me and brought a grin to my face. I had a flattop for several weeks before I had that option.
3) A male barber this time, facing the mirror again but one so small I could hardly see myself. This barber even sported a flattop (a short one) himself. He listened to my instruction about a long flattop and said he'd try his best but made no promises it would end up as long as I requested. The sides and back he did quite quickly, and huge clumps of hair flew down onto my lap though in the mirror it didn't seem any shorter. Then he went after the top without prior blowdrying or such. His first run sent some alarmingly long chopped tresses to my lap, but he did it so fast there was no way I could say a thing. I saw in the mirror already a definite flattop was taking shape. A second run sent only very short clippings to the floor, but really defined the shape. Then he asked me "Do you like your flattop really flat?" Well, how else was I supposed to answer that question with anything but a "yes"? At that he made yet another, aggressive run over the top taking it down a good bit further. I was quite worried at this point I was going to end up his twin, which was not the look I wanted. He finished up the sides and I ended up with the squarest flattop I had ever had, as he made no effort at rounding the intersection between top and sides. The top was so short it nearly showed scalp. I actually loved the look though it was quite a bit shorter than I requested. It was a lot of fun to touch with the definite table top look to it. It was a good three weeks before I could wear it any way except in a flattop.
4) A male barber in a shop I thought I would end up facing a mirror. But instead he turned the chair to the side so I could watch the ball game on television as he worked. As usual he attacked the sides and back first, though quite voraciously it seemed. He then spritzed and blow-dried the top prior to starting the leveling process. This he did quite slowly and often stepped back in front of me giving it a hard look like a sculptor sizing up his masterpiece. This barber took a great deal more time with me than others had. When I was finally turned to the mirror I was thrilled. The top was still quite long but very flat, and it was extremely squared off too. The sides were a good deal shorter than I was used to, not much more than long stubble, and the back ended up being quite a short taper. Still, it looked great, and could easily be gelled back into something other than a flattop if I wished. It has been difficult for me not to want to go back to this barber each time I desired another flattop.
WORST FLATTOP EXPERIENCES
1) An absolute slob of a barber in a small dark shop. There were no waiting customers which should have triggered an alarm in my head. The sides and back he did quite slowly, making sure no clippings fell onto my lap which gave me no hint of what he was doing. The top was wet down but not blow dried. He made a long initial run using scissors, and then did a seemingly too quick run with clippers, not letting any clippings fall forward so I was very much left in the dark about what he had done.
Several other customers were now waiting. He showed me his 'finished' version with a hand mirror. It looked nothing like a flattop. He had made no effort at all to shape it, and it was far too long. It looked like a basic trim if anything. I asked him if he could make it stand up for me, and he said he could but not now as he had customers waiting. Needless to say he got no tip at all.
2) I was excited about this one as the barber dug into the sides and clippings came raining forward down my lap. He asked if I wanted the back blocked or tapered. I told him tapered which seemed to surprise him since I asked for a long flattop. He aggressively attacked the back and up towards my crown, and even did the top quite a bit though seemingly made no effort at making it flat. Then he spritzed my hair and turned me toward the mirror. My hair looked like a long crewcut, quite short on the sides and about an inch long all over on top. While facing the mirror he transformed the top into a level surface. Unfortunately because of how rounded the sides were it didn't look flat at all, just short. Even applying a generous amount of Krew Komb did nothing but entice my natural wave to further make it look anything but the style I requested. What a disappointment.
3) A shop much larger than I anticipated from the outside, with 6 barbers working much too fast. A good deal of waiting customers ahead of me were quickly herded through. I ended up with a young guy, facing a mirror, who left me with a lot of length both on the sides and the top. He used a blow dryer to shape the top but couldn't do anything with my waves, later saying I would have to go much shorter for it to look like a flattop. It ended up looking like nothing. Fortunately it wasn't a short nothing.
4) A guy who promised me he could give me quite a long flattop, especially on top. The sides he took down to a number 4, and then he crudely spritzed and blow-dried my top hair upright, though he couldn't get all the waves out, or at least he didn't try too hard. He made one solo run over the top using three long and wide swipes with the clipper. That was it. No touch-ups or reshaping. It was barely a flattop, and at home I could tell it was a very poor job.
BEST SIDE PART EXPERIENCES
1) The first one- My hair was still quite long, well over my collar in back and covering most of my ears. I wasn't facing a mirror, happily, and couldn't hide my grin as the top hair was spritzed down a bit, parted, and combed over from left to right. I was thrilled to see long clippings falling forward down my lap, relishing the feel of the clippers running around my ears. The back was even more fun, as I felt a tight taper running higher and higher up the back, and could literally hear the clippings bouncing off the robe onto the floor. The wavy top, quite stubbornly refused to lie flat, but thinning shears weakened it's resolve, and then some thick type of ointment, with an odor very much like the smell of the shop itself, helped plaster the hair flat to my head. I was turned to the mirror to see a cut very much like my childhood, with my hair now a straight texture I hadn't seen in years. It not only looked totally different but looked exactly as I dreamed. I was in heaven, even if it did make me look like a bit of a dork.
2) The customer in front of me, albeit a man with extremely thin, straight hair, got exactly the side-parted style I wanted, including the back in a very severe taper. So instead of using elaborate I just asked the barber give me a cut like his last customer. He looked at me quite confused, knowing that my hair was too wavy for the style. "Did you want it parted on the side too?" he asked with an uncertain tone. I told him yes. He reluctantly conceded and spritzed my hair down, parted it, and combed the top over. I could feel the wave really fighting it and was sure the top looked quite ridiculous right now. The barber ignored it, going after the sides and quickly reproducing the severe taper on the back of my head. I so enjoy that sensation. Then he used some scissors on top a bit before turning to thinning shears and really attacking my waves. It almost felt like he was taking it all off though I could tell when he combed it through he hadn't. I could tell he was winning the battle, and with the addition of some hair tonic eventually broke down the bonds and it was cooperating with his comb. When I was turned to face the mirror I was the clone of his previous customer. My hair not only looked perfectly straight, it looked thinner too. Strange that I should be enjoying such a thing, but I was.
3) A female barber, who first tried parting my hair on the left, and then tried on the right. She asked if it was OK to part it on that side, saying it seemed to work better with my hair. I said that was fine. Then she really went after the sides and back. It felt much shorter than anticipated. On top she combed my bangs forward and cut them at an angle like my childhood cut. I couldn't hide my smile as she did. She used thinning shears just a bit, but a heavy dose of gel and a blowdryer. When finished my hair was dry, straight, and tight to my head actually looking pretty good. The sides and back were nearly as short as any flattop I ended up with. It was a great job. She even commented that while at first she thought I was foolish to ask for this style, now felt that I looked very good in it. She seemed very honest too, not like a salesman trying to sell me something I didn't need.
4) A much older shop where the barber himself wore a slicked down version of the style, although the back was blocked. I told him I wanted it like his style, only tapered fairly short in the back. The best part was at the beginning, where he doused my hair in some greasy kind of tonic prior to any cutting. I could feel it tight to my scalp as he parted it over the top and patted it in place. The clippers came to life starting in the back, giving me a taper that ran further up the back than any I'd ever had. That was quite a delight to feel, and to touch for weeks afterwards. The sides were done fairly severely, almost to the point of being whitewalls, yet he left the top quite long and didn't even need any thinning shears. My finished look was very stark and dramatic. I couldn't imagine enjoying any experience more.
WORST SIDE PART EXPERIENCES
1) The barber seemed to forget all about his clippers, doing most of the cut with scissors. He didn't part my hair first, and when finished I learned it still wasn't parted on the side. I had much too much length left on the sides, yet the top was almost too short. I told him again I wanted it parted on the side, to which he made a vain attempt to satisfy me only to learn he had taken the top down too much for it to lie correctly. The back was only the slightest of tapers. You basically had to really look at it to notice it wasn't blocked.
2) A lady 'barber' ended up just giving me a traditional style, with all the hair left to a few inches and then cleaning up along the hairline. The back was not tapered, and the top really didn't cooperate at all when parted on the side. In fact she recommended I not part it on the side and instead just comb it straight back.
3) An older barber cut all my hair down to about one inch all over, and then trimmed the sides and lightly tapered the back. He then tried to send me home. I told him again I wanted it parted on the side. He vainly tried though it looked stupid, and then tried taking the top down even shorter in hopes that it would work. I walked out with a long crewcut that in no way resembled what I asked for.
Any similar experiences? Let me hear about them.