With longer hairstyles, and more men interested in grooming, are you confident in your skill set? We spoke with experts to find out what’s really at stake and why learning from each other isn’t a bad thing.
For the last few years, we’ve seen a shift in men’s hairstyles from tight fades to longer lengths. And while the trends may be in favour of going long, not all clients will be. In an era when men’s hair and grooming can equal big business, experts agree that it’s time to roll up your sleeves and refine your skills to be ready to offer your client exactly what he’s looking for.
“It’s not just about barbers becoming more well-rounded, but hairstylists becoming more well-rounded,” says Matty Conrad, owner of Victory Barber & Brand. “There’s something really strong on both sides of the fence right now.”
Conrad’s background in hairstyling has helped strengthen his barbering skill set, enabling him to offer his clients the best of both worlds. “Traditionally, barbers learn a lot of the mechanical work; using clippers, creating fades, transitions, blends and tapers. Barbering has always been really strategic—working with strong, repetitious pattern skills—and these are the kinds of things that hairstylists are never taught in school,” he says.
When it comes to techniques, Conrad says hairstylists and barbers should be well versed in understanding what the best tool is for the job. “I think the idea that you can do these beautiful, faded haircuts using scissors is ridiculous,” he says. “Learn to use every tool at your disposal and stop thinking that it’s ‘cheating.’ There’s no such thing.”
“Clippers will do the best job—hands down, without question—in any hair that’s shorter than you’re able to control the tension and elevation using your fingers. If you’re not able to do that, that’s exactly what clippers are for and it will give you a superior finish.”
Another tool worth mastering: the straight razor. For some it may be intimidating, but Conrad says it can make all the difference to your client. “A straight razor is part of the experience for men that’s uniquely masculine,” he says. “To be able to finish off a haircut with a lather, a hot foam, towel and razor glided over the neck to get those little guys. Learn to use those tools, rather than be afraid of them, to create a superior experience for your client.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Whether it’s a technique or tool you’re hoping to master, no one expects you to learn everything you need to know overnight. For MJ Deziel, hair school and in-salon experience provided a great start, but she looked to social media and YouTube to learn barbering techniques. “Social media played a big role in my early career. I followed some barbers around the world,” she says. “Back then, there wasn’t a lot of education on barbering. I wanted to be able to offer this barbering service, but at the time I didn’t have that type of knowledge or skill so, I went online; there’s a lot of free education online and on YouTube.”
An educator for Redken, Deziel has developed a strong hairstyling and barbering skills et. However, she doesn’t consider herself to be a barber. “I’m
a hairstylist. For me, barbering is a niche,” says Deziel. “There’s a very fine line between the two, and to stay relevant in this field, a hairstylist has to dive into the barbering side to stay relevant and to retain clients in the salon.”
With the revolving door of trends coming and going, year after year, education is the key to staying on top of anything and everything to do with men’s hair and grooming. “I’ve been cutting hair for 13 years and I’m still learning,” says Peter Gosling, owner of Glassbox Barbershop in Toronto.
“The more you learn, the more powerful you are and the better you become behind the chair.”
Service and Beyond
Over the years, it’s not only the service that has become completely different for men in a salon versus a barbershop, but also the experience. “Before, there was not much of a focus on guys in salons. We took them for granted for so long. It was always about fitting
in guys between colour services and bigger service tickets. They were kind of an afterthought,” says Conrad. “When it comes to why barbering is such a fascination for guys right now, it’s because they’re suddenly getting a service that they never even knew they were missing; haircuts that were made for them, hot towels, razors, etc.”
“We have classes here all the time and hairstylists show up and just want to hang out and watch. We’re all for sharing—we’re not trying to keep it a secret,” he adds. “Look for the differences in the service, the haircut, workflow, vibe, all of it.”
Matty Conrad shares his top tips for mastering men’s hair and grooming.
1. Barbering’s history is about shaving. You can’t really call yourself a barber if you can’t shave or use a straight razor with proficiency. This is one of the paramount skills required. Learning to do outlines and neck shaves with a hot towel and leather is a good start, but shaving a face takes real mastery.
2. Beard trimming is another thing that eludes and intimidates most hairstylists, and one that is critical to master if you want to call yourself a master. This requires a slightly different approach than cutting hair—with scissors and sections—so learn how to do it properly before you attempt it on somebody with a girthy growth.
3. Stop being grossed out! Eyebrows, the nose, and ears all start growing hair at accelerated rates as men get older. Learn how to deal with those and make them a regular part of your grooming service.
4. Master your tools and their maintenance. Barbers use more tools than most hairstylists to create their flawless cuts. It takes time to understand what each tool does specifically, and experts seldom ask, “Can’t I just cheat and use this?” Barbers invest in their craft and take special care of their tools so that they remain sharp and precise. Learn about how to maintain your tools.
5. Brush up on your sanitization. The biggest difference I noticed between hairstylists and barbers is the level of cleanliness and sanitization employed. Barbers come from a quasi-medical background and use sharp instruments that are capable of breaking the skin and potentially drawing blood, so it is critical that tools be cleaned and disinfected, work stations be sanitized, and the barber is well versed in controlling the spread of disease.