How to Transition From the Salon to a Barbershop

How to Transition From the Salon to a Barbershop
Photo: ImaxTree

There is nothing novel about short hair, especially in the black community. Outside of those in my neighborhood, I grew up watching famous women like Halle Berry, Grace Jones and Nia Long rock pixies and buzz cuts on the big screen. However, I’d be remiss to ignore the fact that I still subscribed to Eurocentric beauty standards as a teenager. In short: I believed that long, straight hair was beautiful and my coils and kinks were problematic.

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It didn’t matter how many times I watched Angela Bassett chop her hair off in “Waiting to Exhale;” I still wanted Mom to style my big curls into a long silky ponytail everyday. Admittedly, it wasn’t until college that I began to see the beauty of black hair in all forms, and contemplated a big chop myself. Luckily, just as this personal transformation took place, so did the re-emergence of the natural hair community.

By the New Millennium, black women were not only transitioning to their natural texture in droves; they also had the support of countless online forums, video tutorials, YouTube channels and magazine articles to guide them along the way. And today, the beauty industry has evolved to support that community, with brands created exclusively for textured hair and sales in the billions of dollars.

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Hardly anything has surprised me about the complexity of this community, but one place I never expected to frequent is the barbershop. For as long as I can remember, it’s been an exclusive locale for men, but now, I and other women are leaving the salon and entrusting our short curls to a barber instead.

You can see this niche community growing on Instagram accounts like The Cut Life, where founder Tahira Wright reposts the most head-turning low cuts from women on her feed.

“Women love options and don’t want to always fit into society’s standard of beauty,” she says. “The Cut Life is almost 5 years old and I would like to say our site encouraged more women to go short in recent years.”

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Tarik Mallett, a barber with over 20 years of experience, and a popular landing page himself (@DreamCutsBarberLounge), agrees that social media has put a bigger spotlight on women in barbershops, though it’s hardly a new trend.

“I can’t say more are cutting their hair now. Women always cut their hair in low natural styles.,” he says. “We have access to this industry now at our fingertips. In the past, we would have to wait for haircuts of women to be published in magazines. In today’s society, we have celebrities and ordinary people using social media to share their haircuts and hairstyle to the world for free.”

Tahirah Carter, a beauty blogger whose intricate cuts can be found on both The Cut Life and Mallett’s Instagram page, thinks women were simply tired of being confined to one place and look.

“A lot of the younger generation such as myself find it liberating. We live in a society where we are expected to wear straight hair down our backs,” she says. “It’s killing us to manage our daily lives, workout and be bothered with hair. It’s not lazy, it can be really stressful for an active woman.”

So, if you’re a woman with a short cut, how exactly do you go about transitioning from a salon to the barbershop? Walking into one for the first time can be intimidating because more often than not, you’ll be the only woman in a chair and have no idea what to ask for. Ahead, we break down three things to keep in mind before, during and after your first appointment. The good news? It isn’t that much different from your typical salon visit.

Plan Ahead

For starters, know what you’re getting yourself into before grabbing the shears. We tend to think that shorter hair means maintenance gets easier, but that isn’t always the case. As with any other hairstyle, you should understand the expectations that come with whatever look you choose. Know that you will have to calculate monthly or bi-monthly haircuts into your budget and eventually endure a grow-out process, should you decide to have long hair again.

Wright also says to ask yourself, “What is the best type of cut for my face shape? This is important because you don’t want to choose a cut that looks good on someone else, but doesn’t work for you.”

Again, Instagram is a treasure trove of inspiration if you have trouble visualizing the type of cut you want. The spectrum of short hairstyles includes countless variations, with the most popular being middle part bobs and lobs (long angled bobs), curly tapered cuts, and bold color.

“Also, the pixie cut, whether super short or with longer bangs, is a staple in the short hair community,” says Wright.

Find Your Match

Once you have a style in mind, it’s time to connect with a barber that can execute what you want.

“When you are looking for a barber,” says Carter, “find someone who is knowledgeable about the softness of women’s cuts. Always talk over with them in detail about what you want and have a picture available.”

Wright also recommends you “find a professional stylist in your area and schedule a consultation… Ask to see some of their work in advance or stalk their Instagram to make sure they can execute the look you’re going for.”

If you have trouble locating a barber in your community, there’s also a plethora of resources available online, like The Cut Life directory, Swivel and, the latter of which provides stylist recommendations by location and their specialties. It may take a couple of meetings before you meet your match, but be patient until you find someone with the skills needed to ease your transition.

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Know What You Want

For starters, punctuality is a must. “Barbers move quickly and are working to get their customers in and out,” says Wright. “If you are not on time, they will skip you and move you to the back of the line.” This is an obvious rule in most places, but especially enforced in barbershops. Trust me; I’ve been pushed to the back of the line plenty of times for showing up even five minutes late.

Once you’re in the chair, clearly communicate the type of haircut you want.

“I usually I ask for a fade,” says Carter. A well-trained barber will come equipped with a set of blades in varying lengths. The type of blade your barber uses will depend on how short or long you want your fade to be. This is when you would need to know the difference between shorter variations like a caesar cut or a simple line-up.

Wright says, “tell the barber you want soft lines and a cleaned up look and not to give you harsh lines like a man. It’s really that simple.” Also, be prepared with the proper form of payment (most shops are cash only).

All in all, remember that your hair journey should always be fun. Regardless of whether you wear it short or otherwise, don’t be afraid to try something new at least once. And if you don’t like the final result, keep in mind that it will grow back as long as you prioritize its health first.