A barber is a professional in the trade of cutting and styling hair and shaping and shaving beards, as well as other general grooming and skincare procedures. Barbers are state-licensed and learn cutting, coloring, and straightening treatments through apprenticeships or certificate or associate-level programs.
The barber profession here in the U.S., which is as old as America itself, is certainly one steeped in tradition. Many of today’s barbers use the same equipment, practice the same techniques, and retain the atmosphere of barber shops of long ago. In fact, not much has changed in barbering, as this profession is considered an art form that requires skill, training, a steady hand, and a sharp eye.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 52,100 barbers employed in the U.S. in 2012; by 2022, the BLS projects an increase to 57,900, or an 11 percent change. Unlike barbers of past generations, today’s barbers must be licensed to practice in the state in which they work as to ensure they are skilled in everything from sanitary practices and safety precautions to hair and scalp physiology.
The objective of a barber is to ensure the client is satisfied with the services performed, as the ultimate goal is to build a clientele of repeat customers, as well as new customers through customer referrals. It is quite common for highly skilled barbers to develop loyal clients who utilize their services for years on end. Because of this, many neighborhood barber shops are a place where gentlemen socialize and enjoy each other’s company, which only helps to build a clientele of satisfied and loyal customers.
Some of today’s best barber shops, according to a 2012 Details article, offer clients classic cuts and shaves – and a whole lot of nostalgia and perks to go along with them. The Belmont Barbershop in Chicago, for example, offers a trademark pompadour look, while the Persons of Interest barber shop in Brooklyn boasts a cool sixties vibe, complete with chrome and red leathers chairs and black wood paneling. The State Street Barbers in Boston, on the other hand, offers their clients a shampoo, scalp massage, and beverage with every cut, while the Sloane Square Barbers & Shoppe in Miami Beach has a complimentary bar.
Although men are the primary clients of barbers, many women who want shorter hairstyles or prefer simple trims and styles choose the services of a barber, as well.
The Job Duties of Barbers
Today’s barbers are experts at what they do, and the clients they serve expect it. Their work not only involves executing a precise haircut, but also performing any number of techniques to the face, scalp, beard, and mustache. Barbers trim, cut, shape, and taper hair using scissors, razors, clippers, and combs. They also often provide facial hair maintenance, custom shaves, and a number of grooming services, such as:
- Scalp, neck, and facial massages
Although not as common as the above procedures, some barbers even provide services such as:
- Applying hair tonics
- Applying lotions, powders, or other cosmetic preparations to the skin
- Coloring, bleaching, or straightening the hair
- Cutting, fitting, measuring, and forming head caps for wigs or hairpieces
In addition to performing hair and skincare services, the job duties of barbers are extensive, as they include:
- Performing client consultations
- Applying lotions and aftershave after shaving
- Applying hot towels to the face to open pores
- Using blow dryers to dry hair
- Cleaning up hair on the floor and around the workstation
- Stocking shelves with products and ordering products
- Checking out clients
- Cleaning and sterilizing tools and equipment, such as scissors, combs, and clippers
- Updating/maintaining client records
- Ordering supplies
The Qualities of Successful Barbers
Barbers must be well-equipped with not only the skills to perform their job, but a specific set of qualities. Specifically, barbers must possess:
- Excellent customer and personal service skills: Barbers must be knowledgeable about the principles and processes required for providing excellent customer and personal services. Therefore, barbers should be able to assess their clients’ needs; they must be able to meet quality standards for services; and they must be able to evaluate their customers’ level of satisfaction.
- Active listening skills: Barbers must be able to give their full attention to their clients, taking the time to understand their wants and needs and asking questions when necessary.
- Superb speaking skills: Barbers must be able to effectively communicate with their clients.
- The ability to reflect: Barbers must be able to assess their performance and make improvements or take corrective actions where necessary. They must also be able to assess their clients’ reactions and respond accordingly.
- Service-oriented skills: Barbers must always be service-oriented as to ensure they are providing their clients with the highest quality services.
The act of barbering requires possessing a number of physical skills, as well, including:
- Arm/hand control, stability
- Ability to stand for long periods of time
- Manual dexterity and strength (the ability to grip and manipulate tools)
- Finger dexterity (the ability to grasp and manipulate very small objects)
Other desirable qualities of a successful barber include being:
- Understanding and patience
Resources for Barbers
Additional information on the barber profession and becoming a barber can be found on the following websites:
- National Association of Barber Boards of America
- National Barbers Association
- Barbers International
- American Beauty & Barber Association