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Escape the Snip-Snip Tyranny of the Barber

23 March 2020 | Columns

This was originally published as “Cut Back” in Issue 64 of the Idler, the 17th installment of my long-running “Escape” column.

Hairdressing? What a scam! Just because hair growth itself is inescapable–advancing like the undead, imperceptibly but inevitably–the barbers think they’re inescapable too, that we’ll come crawling back in six weeks’ time for more of the same abuse. Well, I’m calling them out. You think you’re so special with your handlebar mustaches and your oh-so-hilarious “cock grease,” but it’s just a pair of scissors, mate! Anyone can do it.

Samara and I have been cutting each other’s hair. It hasn’t even made us look insane and it categorically has not involved a pudding basin. Once every couple of weeks, we put a beach towel down on the floor, position a chair on top of it, and once the sitter sits, we get stuck into our loved one’s head.

I was nervous at first. I didn’t want to give my favourite person a wonky haircut and for her to have to go out the next day looking like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber. Worse still, I was afraid I might hurt her. I didn’t want to sneeze and then to look down and see my beloved’s ear floating in a cup of tea.

But fear is worth fighting–and so is the world of barbering–so the experiment was worth a shot. It would feel good to learn something new after so many years of unlearning things while sitting in barbers’ chairs, staring mindlessly into the purple parallel universe reflected in the barbicide. “I’ll do it,” I said, and we invested in a pair of cordless hair clippers. Here’s what we found:

1. You save money

Our journey into skull topiary began when Samara was charged £30 at a women’s hairdressers for a cursory trim. She’d recently had her hair cut into the rather fetching pixie style, and while £30 always seemed pricey in the past, it was now downright ridiculous.

This has been a longstanding inequality, hasn’t it? That women should pay so heavily for the haircut a man would get for a fistful of bollock-warmed pocket change including various expired coins and a small plastic washer. Women with short hair could conceivably go to a men’s barbershop, but they’re often refused and frankly, even I with my humongous penis don’t feel comfortable in the hyper-masculine world of the barbershop with its football and “banter” and somethings-for-the-weekendses. My girlfriend’s desired Mr Spock haircut can be achieved in about five minutes, so such a high fee is illogical, Captain.

2. Never talk to a hairdresser again

I wish I could agree with friend of the Idler Bill Drummond that barbers are worthy of being interviewed for an art project. I’m sure they’re as interesting as anyone else if you get to know them properly, but in the fifteen-minute intervals I’ve spent with them on a strictly economic arrangement, they usually expose themselves as, well, somewhere on the reactionary side of normative and, in any case, incapable of following instructions. I’m absolutely certain they’re not all like this but my last hairdresser, after muttering something appalling in response a radio news item about Israel, scratched my ear with the scissors, drawing a spectacular geezer of blood. Being able to say “if you prick us, do we not bleed?” was almost, but not entirely, worth it. Also, my unasked-for Playmobile haircut looked like it was on sideways. So yah-boo to the lot of ’em, all the way to wherever it is hairdressers go when they die. Hell. That’s the one.

3. Stay sharp

Thanks to the frugality and convenience of home barbering, you can do it whenever you like and, as such, stay perpetually sharp. It becomes regular maintenance like shaving or trimming your toenails. You never have to endure periods of having slightly-too-short hair or hair that is overdue for a cut. You can do it on a whim, whenever you like. We now cut each other’s hair every couple of weeks, a regularity that would have been too expensive before.

4. It’s easy and fun to learn

There is something in the region of seven million styling tutorials available, for free, on YouTube, and the people who present them tend to me funny and adorable. It also suggests that removing one’s own surplus fur in the interests of creativity and self-sufficiency is on the rise among young people, which is a heartening thing.

5. Creativity

I like how hairstyling is a bit arty, a way to bring some creative sauce to everyday life. We can take inspiration, bring ideas into life with ease, follow up on styles we’ve seen about town or in films. I’m currently working towards a David Lynch look myself–that is, the hairstyle of David Lynch himself, not a hairstyle inspired by the general ambiance of Twin Peaks. That’s too creative.

6. It’s a nice way to give each other attention

As a way to spend time together, it’s a nicer and more engaging activity than watching the latest platter of twaddle served up by Netflix. If you do each other in the same evening, it serves as a little bonding exercise, like a couple of monkeys grooming each other. I like to luxuriate in combing her hair and generally paying tribute to her through this small act of personal service. It’s nothing short of a way to show love.

It makes me think of my Grandad whose hair was trimmed weekly by my Nan. We all found this very, very funny at the time (why didn’t the tightwad just go to the barber like anyone else?) but the decision to bring this particular service in-house now strikes me as wise, loving, and frankly, a little bit punk rock.

You don’t have to have a partner to bring hairdressing in-house. Your hairdressing technique can be completely self-sustained so long as you’re happy with a simple style. Some Japanese monks shave their heads themselves, every morning according to writerly monk Shoukei Matsumoto. You can even buy a special gizmo for a fiver on eBay that lets the monastically-inclined make quick work of a one-man crewcut.

6. Bring it in-house

Cutting your own hair or that of your partner is part of a broader parable about ceasing to outsource important duties. Duties like cleaning, repairing, gardening, cooking and childcare can be outsourced to professionals in various ways, but these are precisely the things we should do for ourselves if we seek to bond with our immediate environment (as a flaneur does), to live mindfully, to live beyond commercial or consumer concerns, and to live the truly idle life. It was always a paradox of idling that we take personal responsibility–the DIY ethic of punks–to live more freely in the long run.

So give it a go, I say. You’ve nothing to lose: in an absolute worst case scenario, you’ll need to shave your head down the wood. But you’re unlikely to trepan anyone. If you have a significant other, cut their hair (if they want you to — and not in their sleep — or yours) and ask them to cut yours. It’s a lovely night in, saves money, lets you be a bit creative, and gives you an enshrined-in-law right to chuck a brick through any barbershop window*.

(*it does no such thing).



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