Get a Better Haircut From Your Barber
Get a stylist-level cut at barber-shop prices.
By Charli Rousseau
A man with a $12 haircut looks like he should be teaching math to eighth graders. A man with a $55 haircut looks like he should be on a boat with women who hang out with men on boats.
If you’re on a tight budget, $55+ at a high-end salon sounds obscene, even if you do get a neck massage and cup of espresso. On the other hand, paying $20 shouldn’t mean you get a choice of Buzz Cut 1 or Buzz Cut 2. So how do you get the most bang for your buck? For starters, you can follow these tips to squeeze as much stylist talent as you can from your barber.
Now, what’s the difference between a high-end salon and barber shop (or even Supercuts)? “High-end salons will tend to give better haircuts,” said celebrity hair stylist Marco Pelusi, owner of Marco Pelusi Hair Studio in West Hollywood, Calif. It also employs more stylists, who tend to focus on the latest trends, luxury treatment and customizing your cut and color to fit your face — all for a price tag fit for John Edwards.
How about midrange men’s grooming salons? “There are some really great mid-range priced men’s grooming salons that do a good job,” says Pelusi. And many of them employ both stylists and barbers, who tend to focus on more traditional cuts as well as grooming (shaves, etc.). At $30-$40, a mid-range salon is a reliable place to start.
Holding steady at “yes, we still exist” are barber shops, which have the reputation of giving a clean cut (aka the crew cut) and a classy shave to everyone. We’re talking $20-ish now. That said, barber shops have come a long way since your dad’s childhood; now you can get more variety at modernized shops like Floyd’s 99.
And just a notch down on the price chain is a cheap chain salon like Supercuts. “You can sometimes stumble upon a good hairstylist there, but it’s risky,” says Pelusi.
Now here’s where you ask yourself: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do you? If not, we asked our experts how to improve your odds. Our theory: With the right training, you can transform your local barber into a bona fide stylist, someone who could give you a cut that actually looks good on you, for a fraction of a high-end salon’s price. The secret? Communication. No matter your wallet size, you shouldn’t walk out of a shop with bad hair if you know how to effectively convey your vision to the person who’s doing the cutting. After all, it is a service. Even if you’re not sure what you want, we’ll show you how to make sure you get a style that agrees with you.
So, no more feeling it’s out of your hands when your barber gets scissor-happy. No more “eh, it’s shorter than I wanted.” And no more worrying about that receding hairline, widow’s peak, cowlick or slowly expanding bald spot. Read on for what to say, what to ask and what not to do — including the No. 1 mistake made by most men. It’s all covered in this neat little Hair 101.
STEP 1: Speak Up Before Sharp Objects Get Anywhere Near Your Head
Assuming you know exactly what you want, specify that — right down to the last nitty-gritty detail. For example, “I want my hair cut over the ears” could mean “cut above the ear” or “so the hair covers the ear,” says Morrison. Clarify. It makes a big difference. If you like a squared-off look at the neckline, tell the person who is cutting your hair. If you have weird hair action like a cowlick, talk about it before your haircut so it doesn’t become exposed. If your hair looks bad when it’s cut too short, say something! “Don’t hold back,” says Pelusi. “Be more high-maintenance in the chair. It’s important to get the look that’s comfortable on you.”
STEP 2: Be Realistic About Your Hair Type
Have thick, Brillo-pad hair but want it to hang like Johnny Depp’s? Not gonna happen. (His hair is fine and slightly wavy.) Even if your barber trimmed a hair-by-hair replica, yours would look much different. Instead, look to guys who have hair like yours — for example, Brillo boy should look to guys like Lenny Kravitz, Justin Timberlake or Adrian Grenier for inspiration. “The biggest mistake is to request a haircut that does not work with his hair texture,” says Pelusi. Figure out whether your hair is fine, thick, straight, wavy, curly or kinky — ask a woman, ask a barber, ask somebody. If you don’t know whether the style you want will work on your hair, just ask; otherwise your barber might assume you’re OK with the soon-to-be-tragic outcome.
STEP 3: Pick a Style That Works for 95 Percent of Your Life
Hmm, maybe that mohawk wasn’t the best call by the time you got back to the office. Along with your hair type, choose a cut that suits your face shape, occupation and lifestyle. “A good hairstylist should know how to approach this and also find an appropriate way to infuse the latest trends into the cut,” says Pelusi. “Don’t go in and ask for a short, spiky or trendy look if it’s not appropriate for you.”
STEP 4: Bring Visual Aids. No, The Barber Won’t Laugh At You — And if He Does, Who Cares. This Is Your Head We’re Talking About, After All
Most salons have look books and magazines that will help you find the right style, but you don’t want to have to pick out your cut under the gun. Look through some magazines before you visit and bring photos of styles you’d like to try. Who cares if it’s a photo of that guy who plays Harry Potter? If you want the haircut you had last year, bring a photo of yourself with that haircut.
STEP 5: Your First Warning Signal That Something’s About to Go Horribly Awry
Your barber should be asking questions before getting started. If not, you have probable cause to worry. If he isn’t, volunteer some information. Key things he or she should know: when you last got it cut, what you liked and didn’t like about that cut, what the best haircut you ever had looked like, and so on. This should help convey your personal style a bit more than “gimme the same cut I had last time but shorter,” which is what he assumes if you don’t say anything different.
STEP 6: Speak The Man’s Language
Knowing common salon terms and using them correctly can really help your barber get the gist, such as:
Tapering or fading — to blend the sides and back. This technique is great for creating a more slender look to the face and neck. Best done on short hair.
Texturizing — to create that chopped, uneven, pseudo-rock star look. Great for very straight hair, or to thin out really thick hair.
Thinning — to reduce the bulk of very thick hair. This keeps your hair from looking too heavy or poufy.
Blending — to create a cut that has no harsh lines and a nice, neat look. Often done on the back and sides of the head with scissors over a comb. Great for short hair. Barbers tend to be good at this.
Cowlick — that spot in your hair that grows in a weird direction (like Alfalfa’s)
STEP 7: Time to Call in Reinforcements (a.k.a., Styling Products)
Sometimes you need styling products to make a certain look happen. But whether you mind spending another five minutes on styling your hair comes into play here. Ask your barber how much time it’s going to take and what form of product is best (gel, hairspray, pomade, wax, etc. — they all do different things.) “Another big mistake men typically make, especially younger men, is using too much product,” says Pelusi. Too much product can cause buildup, which can make hair look dull and dry. Use less, and try to buy water-soluble products, which have water (not oil) listed high up in the ingredient list.
STEP 8: If You Actually Do All This Stuff Above, And Still Get Bad Hair, It Is Time to Break Up With Your Barber
If after all your effort to be the world’s best communicator, you’re not convinced the barber gets you, say thanks and move on to another one. Yeah, we know you just want to get it over with and your hair will grow back, but think of finding a good barber as an investment — someone who will be making you look incredibly good on a regular basis. Once you find a talented one who’s affordable, you’re golden.