How to Communicate With a New Barber

No one wants to admit it, but most guys can't talk about their hair.

Andrew, Dappered’s grooming correspondent, is also the editor-in-chief of Electrogent, a men’s interest, grooming, and lifestyle website which squares the modern interests of men with the classic notions of manliness.

There’s something about going to a new barber that makes most men clam up. I’m not quite sure what causes this phenomenon, but some of the loudest, most Type-A personalities will pipe down as soon as someone asks, “So, what’ll it be?”

I’m convinced this fear of communicating with a new barber is a cause of the omnipresent buzz cut that plagues male hair. Once you go in and get it all chopped off the first time, it’s hard to grow it back out with any recognizable style without intervention. Thus, a cycle of growth and buzz continues on for years at a time, like a large Chia Pet.

Well, I say no more. It’s time to break the fear of communication with your new barber. It’s time to tell your new barber what you want, and more importantly, what you don’t want. Once they learn a little about you and your preferences, you can continue going in for visits without having to talk about your hair. Consider it like ripping a bandage off really fast–it’s uncomfortable for a little while, but then you get over it.

Dino, giving his nephew his first straight razor shave in his barber shop.

Dino, giving his nephew his first straight razor shave in the shop.

I recently tried out a new barber with some of these techniques, and it worked wonders. Since I only have tips from my end, I reached out to Dino Caracciolo, the owner of Crown Shaving Co., and longtime barber since the age of 18, when he took over his family barbershop which started in 1955. Dino gave me thoughts from the other side of the scissors, the barber’s perspective, and helped me learn about barber communication.

Here are some tips to help you start the dialogue with your new barber:

1. Come in with realistic expectations

Look: if you come in with a buzz cut, don’t expect to walk out looking like Chris Hemsworth. This may seem obvious, but in order to effectively communicate with your new barber, you need to expect something the barber can deliver. If you ask for something that’s unrealistic, you run the risk of your barber doing whatever they want. Some guys may want that, but your haircut should remain a collaborative effort from the start. If you want a new, longer hairstyle, you’re going to have to grow it out a bit. This sounds common sensical, but it’s the best first step.

2. Bring photos

The last time I used a new barber, I brought in 5 photos of the haircut I wanted, and 2 photos of haircuts I didn’t want. Particularly, I wanted the sides tapered off between two extremes: not too short, not too long. My barber loved it, and said it was very helpful. However, don’t expect your haircut to come out picture perfect. Dino says, “It is always helpful if the patron has a photo of what they want the end result to look like, as this will help give the barber some sort of direction. However this does not mean you will get that exact look.”

“Well, what’s the point, then?” You ask. Your job is to convey the general style, and the barber’s job is to make it fit your head. Just like when you go in to get a suit tailored, you pick out the general style, and the tailor makes it fit your body. A skilled barber will match your hair to your head, to prevent cow licks and sticking-out sides.

3. Decrease needless distractions

The worst thing you can do is try to explain your desired haircut to your new barber while you’re on the phone or otherwise distracted. During the initial consultation, give your new barber your undivided attention for a few minutes. It’s well worth it. For good measure, just stay off your phone during the whole cut. It can wait.

Additionally, show up on time. Don’t show up late to your first appointment, because your barber is likely going to get upset and breeze through the initial consultation, costing you a great haircut. If you drag it out, putting them further behind, the barber (who has just met you) will likely make up time during the actual cut by cutting too many corners. This is no bueno.

4. Explain your hair growth history

When was your last haircut? How fast does your hair grow? Does it grow outwards like a mushroom, or downwards like a weeping willow? These are all things you should tell your barber, as a skilled barber will take these growth patterns into context when tailoring the haircut to your head.

5. Don’t talk about your ex-barber(s)

Frankly, nobody cares. Dino says that when someone talks about how they “can’t find any good barbers around” it usually means the client is hard to please. Don’t be that guy. While it may be true that there are no good barbers around, you’re setting yourself up to look like a jerk, and that’s the last thing you want your barber thinking you are (remember who’s holding the sharp pointy things).

Communicating with your new barber is a unique social interaction, and it’s one that many men utterly fail without knowing it. Consider these tips the next time you decide to use a new barber, and soon you’ll have a great barber who knows what you want without having to speak a word.

Have you found a great barber?  How did the two of you communicate at the start?  What’s it like now?  Leave it all in the comments section.  (Top photo: Berenice Abbott)