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The 5 Types of Barber Shops in Every Town

Posted by Chris on


        Image credit: Christoffer Engstrom


        So far, our main focus at Gilbert Henry has been to improve the way our clients look after a shave.  The aspect of grooming to which men pay even more attention is their hair.  If you're anything like me, you dread the idea of trying a new barber.  In a recent search of my own (both locally and on the Internet), I noticed a pattern.  I found that every barber shop in every town in the U.S. (and probably Canada and much of Europe...) falls into one of five basic categories.  I thought it would be fun to create a breakdown of those categories, and in so doing perhaps provide some guidance on choosing the one that's right for you.  I've been to a shop in every category, so I speak from experience.  However, this is a list of my own making and includes my own personal observations, and the specifics may or may not reflect your experience.  Without further adieu, here is the list of The 5 Types of Barber Shops in Your Town:


        1.  Common Franchise

        You know the shops to which I'm referring.  Let's call them... AwesomeCuts.  Or GoodClips.  Or Hair Trimmery.  You get the idea.  Anyway, they exist to service the segment of the population who wants a cheap haircut quickly.   Notice that sentences says "wants".  Convenience and cost should never take precedence over quality.  You need a good haircut.  Every time.  My (fortunately limited) experience with these shops is that most of the "barbers" are not highly skilled, and you might just end up wishing you had attended that wedding looking a little shaggy.

        All that being said, it is possible that you will encounter a great barber who is just starting their career at a franchise.  If that's the case, then most likely you're not the only one who's noticed and you're going to have to start making appointments.  There goes the convenience factor!  The good news is that the best barbers from a franchise shop will often branch out on their own and take skilled colleagues with them.  Then you can follow them to their Independent Traditional/Contemporary and all is well with the world (and your hair) again.

          Pros: Cons:
          Convenience. Bad haircuts.
          Price. Bad haircuts.

        2. Old-school Traditional

        This is the type of shop that anyone under the age of 40 grew up with.  It's the shop that's been in the same location for a few decades with the same barber(s) for most, if not all of that time.  This shop is a neighborhood establishment and a haircut here feels less like a transaction, and more like a visit to an old friend who just happens to cut hair.  While you're getting a trim, you'll be reading the same faded comic strips that have been taped to the mirror since day one, or catching a glimpse of the game on the only tube TV in the neighborhood.

        What an Old-School Traditional barber does, he does well.  Just keep in mind that this probably isn't the place to go for a trendy new look.  If you like a look that is fairly conservative and timeless, this shop should be at the top of your list.

          Pros: Cons:
          Friendly, familiar, neighborhood feel. Conversation may venture into politically incorrect territory.
          Great for traditional, conservative looks. Barbers might not be up to date on trendier styles.

        3. Independent Contemporary

        The Independent Contemporary barber shop is often started by an experienced barber who is new to the area or, as mentioned above, a graduate from the Common Franchise.  I've found that these shops often have some of the best characteristics of an Old-School Traditional with the added benefit of being able to provide more modern styles.  The shop itself will most likely have much newer equipment and a generally more contemporary look (if you're concerned with that sort of thing).  And as for convenience, many offer online appointment scheduling just like some of the large franchises.

        The benefits of an Independent Contemporary come with added cost though, so expect to pay a few more dollars per visit.  The other downside is that there simply are not as many of these shops around as those in the previous two categories.

          Pros: Cons:
          Great for traditional or trendy looks. A little pricier than an Old-School Traditional.
          Modern shop with convenient scheduling. May not be as easy to find a shop in this category.

        4. Ethnic Specialty

        You guessed it - these shops specialize in ethnic hair types!  Asian, African, and Latino are some examples of hair types that can have unique texture and growth patterns, and require specialized skills.  But don't think that Ethnic Specialty barbers only cut one hair type.  I've found that they are particularly skilled with clippers and straight razors.  So if you're looking for a tight fade or a very precise hairline, give them a try even if your ethnicity differs from the majority of the shop's client base.

        The Ethnic Specialty shops in my area are generally inexpensive, and like an Old-School Traditional they have a friendly, neighborhood atmosphere.  However - if you don't live in a culturally diverse part of the country, you'll probably have a tough time finding one.  

          Pros: Cons:
          Great for fades and precise razor work. Difficult to find a shop in some parts of the U.S.
          Usually inexpensive. They *might* falsely assume you don't understand the joke they told at your expense!

        5. Independent Hipster
        I suppose "Independent Hipster" seems a bit redundant.  Oh well...let's go with it anyway.  This shop is the edgy cousin to the Independent Contemporary.  The shops in this category are diverse in style and price range.  Some have walls adorned with concert promo prints, while others have interiors of subway tile and exposed brick.  One thing they all have in common is tattoos.  Lots of tattoos.  The other thing they have in common is that their barbers mean serious business when it comes to men's grooming.  If you're looking to have your handle-bar mustache shaped up or get an asymmetrical side-part, the Independent Hipster is your shop.

        An added bonus is that you'll be able to find top-notch grooming products that no one else in town carries.  After all...isn't that what being a hipster is all about?  The drawback is that unless you're in a major metropolitan area, it will probably be tough to find an Independent Hipster Barber Shop.  Which is ironic, because hipsters love things that are hard to find.  That's ironic too, because hipsters also love irony.

          Pros: Cons:
          The place to go for trendy, modern styles Difficult to find in many parts of the U.S.
          Unique and interesting atmosphere. Some can be quite expensive.

        We hope you've found this post entertaining and at least a little bit informative.  If we've missed a category, or you have some thoughts to add, let us know!

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