More Than a Haircut

By Steve Watson
September 20, 2020

A recent survey showed that men are more likely to visit their barber than the local pub.

A recent survey showed that men are more likely to visit their barber than the local pub. Of those surveyed across the uk, 92% of men said they were more likely to visit their barber at least once per month compared to 70% who visited their local pub once per month.

Of course, we’ve experienced a significant change in our social activity these last few months due to the coronavirus and visiting the pub will remain a different experience for some time to come. Nevertheless, the shift in social interactions emerged well before recent events.

96% of those surveyed rated their relationship with their barber higher than their relationship with the pub landlord.

Prior to COVID, a possible contribution to this is how pubs over recent years have responded to increased drink-driving awareness, the rising price of drinks and the availability of less expensive plonk sold by the supermarkets. Many pubs have become gastro-venues attracting a demographic that, at one point, would rarely have stepped over the threshold of the pub door. There’s nothing wrong with these changes to pubs but it does mean that many are not the place they once were.

But research shows that the shift indicates the relationship men have with their barber, and that the barbershop is seen more and more as a place to socialise and relax than simply a place to get a haircut. 96% of those surveyed rated their relationship with their barber higher than their relationship with the pub landlord.

A Hub of the Community

The barbershop has always been very much at the heart of the community, and it still is. I can think of no other place where men go and engage in a similar level of interaction as with their barber and others in the shop. Prior to the advent of disposable razor blades some men visited their barber several times during the week for a shave and read the newspaper. Up until WWII barbershops were rivalling taverns in popularity. For many men the barbershop was a place where they felt relaxed and comfortable – a place to wind down, catch up on some gossip, debate current affairs, off-load etc. and leave looking and feeling sharper for it.

A Place to be at Ease

There have been many men who’ve entered my shop with furrowed brow, carrying some burden or other, have turned off their phone and thrust themselves in my chair. Almost immediately, adrenalin levels drop, heart rate decreases, the furrowed brow lessens and a session of chilling out commences. Therapy, that's what it is, therapy. More than a few times have clients referred to their time in the chair as therapy. For some, the haircut is just a bonus and it’s quite the case that some book the time for a chat first and haircut second. One client left a review recently that read, “Engaging banter with a great haircut thrown in for free.”

The Importance of Conversation

Gone are the days of the unisex salons of the 80s and 90s. They served a purpose, but the unisex hair salons didn’t have the vibe of a traditional barber’s; the unique essence of the barbershop simply didn’t exist, nor was it something to which they aspired. For £5.00 (or less) you could be in and out of the chair in less time than it takes to down a Jlägerbomb. Conversation rarely extended further than, “Y’going out tonight?”, and any effort to go beyond that was met with a nonchalant and disinterested “Oh yeah.” I don’t want to appear disparaging – the UK navigated its way there as hair fashions changed and very few traditional barbers were able to cut the styles of the day. As the traditional barbershops became fewer so too did the opportunities to engage in more meaningful conversation whilst having a haircut.

A study conducted in 2018 into the effects of conversation on wellbeing showed that small talk didn’t positively contribute to wellbeing. Conversely, the study did show that those engaged in more substantive conversations experienced a higher state of wellbeing. With the prevalence of social media and instant messaging much of society is frequently engaged in media that provides a mental stimulus that satisfies only the immediate, and conversation reduced to a few words.

I’m not being dismissive of small talk (or social media); small talk is an essential part of interaction, it’s a necessary lead into conversation. Without it we’d cease to be human. Afterall, just ask Alexa or Siri about the weather and you’ll get a forecast. Have that same interaction with a person and you get an insight into how they are feeling. Quite often, commenting on the weather is an alternative way of finding out how someone is.

“The weather’s great, isn’t it?”

“Is it? I wouldn’t know, I’ve been stuck in an office all day!”

Of the several hundred Booksy reviews we’ve received a good percentage make reference to conversation in the shop. And though conversations are often open to whoever is in the shop we also find ourselves engaged in more private conversations about relationships, problems at work, problems at home, men’s health, mental health and other private matters. People need an outlet to share what’s on their mind, and men are generally less inclined to share private matters (even with friends) than women. Research shows that 33% of men find difficulty in talking about private matters with partners and friends compared to only 20% with their barber.

The barbershop is indeed a unique place. An unspoken, unwritten, rule exists within the 1 metre radius around the chair in which the everyday social norms of personal space are relaxed. The etiquette with regard to a man’s beard is one such example. The majority of men are strongly opposed to anyone touching their beard but will gladly allow their barber to comb it take a clipper to it and scrunch beard oil into it. Additionally, how many men would be happy to allow anyone other than their barber to apply a bare razor to their face or neck? Agreeing for someone to invade person space at such a level naturally requires trust. Trust builds trust, and trusting your barber to invade your space gives way to trusting your barber with your thoughts.

A visit to the barber’s is much more than a haircut. It’s a place to socialise, relax, unwind and talk.

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Steve Watson
Author and founder of Watson's barber's
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