The Barber Shop: A revival or slow decline?

The barber shop is one of the few remaining bastions of male space and while it has severely declined in the past decades, it has recently experienced a revival, albeit without the same glamour.  The first barber shops in Ancient Greece and Rome acted as a social club for men, where they enjoyed long conversations about philosophy, politics, or communal matters. 

The 1880’s to the 1940’s were the golden age for barber shops. Visiting the barber shop was a weekly and sometimes daily habit. Men would stop in not only for a haircut and a shave, but also to fraternize with friends and chew the fat. The moment a man stepped inside, he was enveloped in the warm and welcoming familiarity.  The 1960’s witnessed the rise of hippie culture, and hairstyles began to change.  Men started to grow their hair longer and shaggier, and their visits to the barber became less frequent or stopped completely. 

The barber shop never fully recovered from the decline in the 1960’s due to the rise of unisex hairdressing salons. Armando Cosentino, owner of Men’s Salon, one of the most prestigious barber shops in Toronto, points out that “The trade is dying because we work too much. Young people want something more exciting.”  With more men embracing ‘metrosexuality,’ these salons offered a variety of services but ultimately lacked the charm and the conversation of the traditional barber shop. 

Bobby Graci, a young hairstylist and capable barber, says that “the barber is in decline because he usually fails to evolve and acquires no new techniques whereas the hairstylist constantly evolves and creates a unique look for the client.”  The Mad Men phenomenon has quietly reversed the trend, with new shops opening, eager to capture the informal ambiance and decorative style of the red-andwhite- pole. Recent health regulations are once-more threatening the vitality of these centres of manliness. 

Barber Salvatore Terzo of Pat’s Barber Shop, expresses a less pessimistic outlook on the barber/hairstylist battle, “I don’t think barbers will ever be in a decline because generations change. At first, there were only barber shops, and now hairstylists and barbers co-exist. They provide two different kinds of service and it’s up to the client to make a choice.”  Although today the demand for a simple cut and shave might have increased, barber shops, once an iconic part of culture and community, seem to be on the verge of extinction, but as 87- year-old Camillo Del Principe wisely says, “people always say that the barber is in decline, until their hair starts growing…”  

written by Viviana Laperchia