Thursday, 8 October 2009

When is a haircut more than a haircut?

Every so often – not often enough, in truth – I catch a view of myself in a mirror, or a shop window, and realise how terrible my hair looks. Months go by without me visiting a barber and this means my mop can get a little wild – well, just a mess really. And this, I noticed, was the case when I was trying on my new winter coat in Top Man (good God those things are expensive). So, to the hairdresser’s I went.

There are two I use regularly – one in Ilkley, which is, well, functional, and one in Leeds – Modern Hairdressing in the Thorntons Arcade – which is a little more upmarket. Usually the hairdressers there are very competent, very efficient, often chatty. Then I get hit with a bill for 20-odd pounds and wonder whether it was worth it.

Today was different.

An unusually diffident guy took me upstairs and sat me in front of the mirror. I asked for some guidance – should I get the whole lot shaved off, something which I regularly threaten to do, or keep a little length on top?

“Don’t have it shaved,” he said, immediately. “I’ll taper it, texture it – it’ll look much better. All it needs is a good cut.”

He was off to a good start. The easier option would have been to shave it all off, and he didn’t choose it. Perhaps this guy actually liked cutting hair.

Everything about this haircut was different. It’s hard for me to see what’s going on with my glasses off, but it was clear this guy was taking care. He started with the edges – the back of my neck, my sideburns, around my ears; snipping carefully, skilfully. He moved onto the top, measuring the correct lengths through his fingers before snipping off just the right amount – then the damp strands hanging limply on my forehead were trimmed and reshaped.

“Now I’m gonna whack off the back and sides,” he said, so naturally I assumed clippers. But he did the whole thing with scissors, flicking up and down back of my neck, the side of my head, methodically but artfully pruning it until it was just so.

“Can you see without your bins on?” he asked at one point.

“Not really,” I replied.

“It looks good,” he assured me. “Much better than just shaving it.”

Finally the clippers came out, just to tidy things up – the back of my head, naturally, but he also attacked my cheeks and my neck to tidy up my beard.

“I’ve lined up your beard a bit,” he said somewhat sheepishly. “Just makes it look a bit... better.”

He measured angles with his hands, he felt textures with his palms, he fluffed, he flattened, he pruned hairs from bits of my face that shouldn’t even have had hairs on them.

At this point I didn’t care what it looked like, I was just privileged to have witnessed a master at work. He was a craftsman, an artisan, a sculptor – and I was proud to be his subject.

Of course, when, finally, I put my “bins” back on, he had done an excellent job, but still he wasn’t finished, producing a little pot of product and working some into my hair.

“This has got volumiser in it,” he said. “When you’ve got fine hair – and I’m the same – you don’t a gel or a wax, nothing oil-based. It’ll do you more harm than good.”

I marvelled that nobody had thought to tell me this before.

He said: “ I’m not saying you should buy some, but something like this, something matt, will work wonders.”

Of course, I bought some.

And along with the product, my haircut came to a grand total of £35. Not a penny wasted. A bargain: next to the opportunity to watch a master practising his craft, the haircut – and the defining paste – were happy by-products.

I shook him by the hand as I left. Next time, I will ask for Ben by name.


  1. I enjoyed this a lot. Tip of the cap to you, good sir.

  2. How's the selection in Top Man?

    I always assume a £4 haircut will do me just fine, and get really annoyed when it doesn't. I think you've inspired me to treat myself.