I enlisted the advice from a colleague and former hair stylist who had specialized in men’s cuts because she had gone through both a barbering college and a cosmetology school. I figured her direct experience would help shed some light on this issue. She painted a verbal picture for me that demonstrated immediate differences that began with the training.
“I can remember my first day at my barbering college. We were each dispersed our hair-cutting kits and were instructed to start unpacking the clippers. As we removed the clippers from its box, our instructor announced he would be moving around the room with a garbage can, to which we all raised confused eyebrows. He explained that as he passed each of us, he wanted us to toss our clipper guards into the garbage can because a true barber only needs a pair of clippers, shears (scissors) and comb. Cutting with a clipper guard was simply a crutch, not skill.”
She explained that each of the future barbers in her class learned to do a clipper cut and fade using the method of clipper over comb, and shear (scissors) over comb. Most of us are used to instructing a hair stylist what cut we want using a number system, “I’ll take a number three on top and a number one on the back and sides.” In return, many stylists will literally use a clipper guard, the comb they put on the end of a clipper that is run through your hair, with a particular number on it per your request. I begin to understand the distinction between a stylist using a crutch or having actual skill as she explains the experience she had in the cosmetology school in comparison.
“Towards the tail-end of my barber training, I had to move out of state and transferred to a cosmetology school to finish out my training. In any sort of hair-cutting school, after your basic training learning on a mannequin, you are moved onto the cutting floor to work on real people at a discounted rate, with instructor supervision. I got called for a client, a man who wanted a tight fade around the back and sides, with a Caesar cut on top (a popular ‘do at the time). No problem, I had performed this cut numerous times. As I was doing my clipper work, an instructor, demanding to know where my clipper guards were, pulled me away. I told her I was confused, expressing that I never learned to use guards, that they leave inconsistencies in a haircut. I added that I thought part of being a professional stylist is that you know how to use your tools with skill. My instructor simply rolled her eyes and told me to carry on. I later realized that many cosmetology schools did not spend too much focus on clipper cutting with a free-hand skill because of all the other areas of interest that a cosmetologist has to learn.”
My friend elaborated that a barber has a focus on cutting and processing hair, while a cosmetologist has to learn aesthetic skills (facials and waxing), manicuring (of fingernails and feet), processing the hair with chemicals (perming and coloring), in addition to cutting hair. This means that when you enter a barbershop, you can expect haircuts, hair coloring and men’s grooming that include straight-edge shaves (depending on what state you live in) and in a full-service salon you will find a one-stop shop for all grooming needs head to toe.
We are in modern times and no longer are the “pampering” services of a salon dominated by women. Men are participating in manicures and facials, massages and waxing, hair coloring and yes, even perming of the hair to get fullness and body. Although the one-stop-shop experience of a full service salon is convenient, there seems to be a resurrection of barbershops. Many of my friends and colleagues now go to barbers because is has a "cool" factor that salons don't seem to offer. It could be argued either direction of where the talent and skills lay, barbershop or full service salon, however; I think it’s the ambiance and exclusivity that is causing the comeback of the barbershop.
So if you want to give a barbershop a try, but it seems intimidating or you don't know what to ask for, see my article on The New Men's Barbershop which gives helpful information on men's hairstyle terminology.