My mother would herd us to the barber shop and we would wait to get our buzz cuts. Zip, zip, zap. Zip, zip, zap. I hated getting my hair cut and I also hated getting my neck area done as I was very ticklish.
Back then, barber shops were the mainstay and they were all run by (yes, you guessed correctly), barbers. In the day, barbers were all men.
As I got to junior high and high school, I started to visit a hairdresser who only used the zip, zip, zap on my neck and it was still ticklish. But at least I had a style (and a “part”, like anyone part’s their hair anymore). Those were the days of Brylcreem, Vitalis and other OTC concoctions. I opted for none of them. Antonio was my hairdresser.
Then came college and the early 70’s and I think we boycotted getting our hair cut and it really didn’t matter. However chances were if you went to a barber shop or salon, you would find plenty of men to cut your hair.
Around that time, a whole slew of male hairdressers decided that it was time to make something of the salon business and actually create some products that would excite people when most thought that “a dab will do you” was good enough. These guys included Arnie Miller, Paul Mitchell, John Sebastian, Jheri Redding, Vidal Sassoon, Irvine Rusk and the list goes on. They were on to something and reinvented the business as we know it today. Men doing what men do best.
These guys inspired other men to do the same thing and before you knew it, the likes of Sam Brocato, MIchael O’Rourke, Leland Hirsch, Steve Stefano, Robert Taylor and many others got into the business. None of them had the impact of the original pioneers but still inspired others to keep following suit. In the meantime, women finally saw the beauty of getting into the beauty industry and enrollment in tech schools and trade schools zoomed. I kept going to Antonio, who by the way is still cutting hair (but not mine).
Over the course of time, industry trade shows evolved as well. In the early days, the founders spent lavishly on booths, education, and parties. Hairdressers got dressed up to attend the shows and spent long weekends absorbing it all. The founders were on stage dazzling new hairdressers, building momentum for their brands. This time period was the true entrepreneurial period of our industry.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and you will be hard pressed to find a man owning a big company. Virtually everyone sold out with the exception of Paul DeJoria (who along with his Patron division is worth some $4.5 Billion or more). Today, big brands are owned by multi-national corporations and private investment groups. The business is about numbers, not inspiring hairdressers. And perhaps because of this, all but a few men have left our industry.
Beauty school students have been 99% female for years. Salons are now owned by women more than men. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to go to a salon and see nothing but men cutting hair.
The bottom line is that our industry thrives on diversification and we need men just like we need women to make it thrive. Plenty of women love getting their haircut by men just like plenty of men love getting their haircut by women (i.e. Lady Jane’s Haircuts for Men). Today, I get my haircut done by a woman and love it. I much prefer a woman to give me a scalp massage.
The question we need to answer as an industry is how to get men back into beauty school and back behind the chair. So many men have opted for careers in the hospitality industry including bartenders, servers, hotel operations and so on. Yes, we all are in the service industry but we are still the only service industry that relies on personal touch for success, even if you are a little ticklish.