Pete Davison: The Language of Barbers

Posted on April 3, 2011 by


I do not know how to talk to hairdressers or barbers. I’m not even convinced I know the difference, aside from the fact that hairdressers are assumed by Jeremy Clarkson to be somewhat effeminate and drive girly convertibles like the Mazda MX-5 before charging you three hundred quid to make the tips of your haircut a little bit lighter, whereas barbers, in my experience, tend to be blokey blokes armed with scissors and clippers who will shear your mane for ten quid.

Regardless of whether I’m talking to a hairdresser or a barber, though, as soon as I get in that chair, I don’t know what to say. I have a couple of “backup haircuts” that I can consistently ask for — “number [x] all over” if I want people to see what the shape of my head is all over, or “number [x] at the sides and back, short on top” if I want the back of my head to feel like Fuzzy Felt whilst having enough on top to do weird things with “product” if necessary.

But I’m still not sure of the etiquette. The idea of walking into a barbers’ shop and saying “do something with my hair that doesn’t make me look like a penis” seems a little… odd. I mean, I’m sure people who cut hair are suitably trained in the art of not making people look like penises (or at least, not unless they ask them to) and have plenty of creativity of their own, but when I sit in that chair, it feels like I should know what I’m asking for.

Perhaps it’s the “bloke thing” that Bill Bailey discusses towards the end of this clip:

Namely, the fact that “blokes” assume that they should know what they’re talking about; the haircut equivalent of not walking into a garage, bursting into tears and saying “it’s broken!” whilst pointing in the general direction of your car. You can’t point at your hair, say “it’s shit!” and get them to do something with it. For one, that’s putting a lot of trust in someone you don’t necessarily know to do something to your appearance that you have to live with every day.

What makes it worse is the fact that any time I have genuinely asked anyone else what I should do with my hair, I have never got a straight answer. This leads me to believe thatno-one knows what to say to barberdressers, and that everyone is in fact fooling each other by talking about highlights, lowlights, split ends and pro-vitamin B5.

And don’t even get me started on the range of “product” out there. What, pray, is the difference between hair gel, wax, putty, goop, spunk, glue and splart?


Posted in: Pete Davison