Ah, the barbershop: a sacred place of in-depth conversations imbued with life advice, sports-based banter, and, of course, haircuts. As they reopen, patrons and their preferred stylists reconnect over the first 45-ish minute appointment in, for some, many months.
Many of us have let the mane maneuver its way past the ears and down onto the shoulders. Others' hairdos grow out and up — gravity-defying growth with impressive resistance to styling products. Some are sporting looks shorter than ever out of necessity.
Over the past 12 months — well, nearly 15, if you're counting from when the pandemic began — plenty of us have dabbled in buzz cuts, box dyes and styles we can only call bowl-cut-but-longer. Returning to the barber's chair comes with a sigh of relief, but what if you've left your old barber behind? Some were forced to close when restrictions forbid formal appointments. Customers might've relocated to different neighborhoods or new cities. Trends have also come and gone and maybe you're in the mood for something new.
As such, plenty of questions arise: How do I tell my barber what I want? Do I even know what I want? What's in right now? When should I come back for another? What was once nearly routine is now less familiar than ever.
Mildred barbershop co-owner Rob McMillen, whose shop is located in NYC's Lower East Side, has seen a newfound freeness amongst clients returning to the chair. That being said, McMillen — who's booked solid for the next three months — has the answers to a few questions you'll probably consider before booking your next appointment.
What's in right now?
"From a trend standpoint, guys have felt more comfortable leaving things a bit looser. We've had folks that still want to have some tapered edges, or still might want the beard trimmed up a bit, but not so strict in form or hair parting or really specific style. Guys are saying, 'I used to get my hair cut every three weeks. Now, I'm coming every six weeks, because I'm not traveling to the office or work; I don't have as many social obligations.' In New York, I can't say that there's one style that we've seen a trend of, it's been more that we've had more to work with... We're seeing more facial hair and just longer hair in general.
"A lot of folks also learned what some of their limitations might be with hair and grooming, and I think that's a really healthy thing to discover. Also, there were some that had these perceived limitations that I think they were able to work through. That's another really a wonderful thing. Maybe they thought, 'Oh, I could never have long hair because of this, or I could never do that, because of this.' The never mentality is not the best one to have."
How do I ask for what I want?
"[I've noticed] guys have been more comfortable asking, 'Hey, what do you think? I was doing _____ for a really long time, was there something you've thought about or seen?' Nowadays the idea of experimentation and trying something comes with a little less risk. In the early pandemic, because they weren't out as much, guys let their goofy mustaches grow — because no one is seeing me because I'm wearing a mask, or because, if I'm on a Zoom call, I'm comfortable enough with my team to do so, and so on. People seem to have learned how to live in their own skin a bit more, and that's a good thing to see."
Can I show my barber a photo?
"I think in the past I've seen some guys kind of be embarrassed to show a photo — they'd just be kind of like, eh, I don't know. And if your barber or stylist doesn't want to look at a photo reference and wants to drive instead, I think that's a sad thing. A photo reference, whether it be some cuts you've seen (from a celebrity standpoint) or just looks you've seen on social media, can be a really great jumping-off point. At that point, you're not necessarily discussing very strict terms in regards to texture, length or whatever it may be, but it's more so trying to look at that photo, see if it works with that person's personal style and then tailoring something to them that's going to be close. There's no such thing as one size fit all for this."
How do I avoid a haircut I'll hate?
"When it comes to the consultation, especially if is someone trying a new shop, or a new stylist, or whatever it may be, it can be intimidating. But I think, just be confident in realizing there's no wrong look to bring in. And photos are one thing, but also bring some things that you've either loved or haven't loved so much in the past: things that bothered you about your hair, that have been troublesome, that you're looking to work through. I think there's been so much misinformation in barbering and styling that a lot of guys out there have read that there are these five best ways to keep curly hair, these five best beard looks, or all of these different things.
"There's just a sea of information, and it can be overwhelming for a lot of folks. I think kind of whittling things down, simplifying things a bit, and just speaking in terms of more personal style and some of the things that you would prefer, and working with your barber stylist to achieve some of those things is a really fun thing."
How do I maintain my mane between appointments?
"Anytime you want to approach either a longer style or a different style, the first thing you want to think about is what type of maintenance you're going to have to do to maintain that style. If it's longer hair, you're going to be adding a grooming product to our your medicine cabinet or kit. If it's a different look that you're not super comfortable with styling, it's going to require some other additional pieces. And, finally, you should be realistic now that the world is is opening back up. Is this something that you can maintain when your schedule picks up again?
"We do say, if you keep it really short, [you should go] two to three weeks [between visits]; if you keep something medium length, three to five; and if you have a longer look, maybe it's five to seven or even longer. Those are the kind of parameters we look at, but it's again about being open and flexible, which your barber or stylist should be. And, if you're still unsure, there's no such thing as a bad or dumb question."