Women and the Barbershop: What to Consider Before Your Appointment
Image Source: @jayzombie

This new age is one where women have chosen to opt out of the less ritualistic nature of a traditional salon for the fast-paced, perhaps more efficient run of show that most barbershops offer. Whether for convenience or aesthetics, women are exploring styling options beyond the confined standard of beauty infringed upon by family, friends, and society. 

So what does the rulebook for this new class of women look like, and what should they be looking out for? We sought the expert advice of the one who’s in the room where it happens, barber and stylist Nigella Miller, to talk through the questions most women are often too afraid to ask when considering that first visit to the barber’s chair.

What should women do to prep before sitting in the chair? 

Nigella: As a hairstylist, I think most women sit in a chair without knowing what they want or having any idea of what style they’re going for or haven’t thought through exactly what works for them, their face, even their look. My best advice would be to at least have an inspiration, photo, and a mindset of what fits you, looks good, and works with your style: ask, will you be able to carry it well?

When my clients ask me about hairdos and what I think, I question it. Whether it’s low maintenance, high maintenance, would it fit your lifestyle, would it fit your hair texture, would it go with your personality or shape of your face? There are so many different things you must consider when it comes to going to a salon and getting exactly what you want. Also, I question whether the stylist can pretty much deliver the look you’re aiming for. I think there are a million and one questions, depending on the vibe.

Women and the Barbershop: What to Consider Before Your Appointment
Image Source: @hairbynigella

Some women are confused as to what a barber and a salon stylist actually do. Is there a big difference? How should they choose?

Nigella: “That’s a good question (laughs). I feel a barber is someone who is really good at mastering grooming when it comes to short haircuts, men’s beards, and just cleaning up that look on a masculine level. And nowadays, it’s pushed into more of a woman’s level, in a sense, where a lot of women took men’s haircuts and owned it. Many short haircuts women have nowadays are pretty masculine, but we put a female touch to it. Yet a hairstylist is someone who can do a majority of men and women alike. There are a million departments within hairstyling, so you don’t need to focus on one thing. The truth is, there are very few hairstylists out there that can do everything, or, you know, just choose to do men’s cuts, choose to do color— just more of a broader hair level.

They’ve bodied the women’s department with what you would call a stylist. More men are in our [barber] industry than women, so we’re at a point now where we’re just balancing it out. Not to get too deep with that— that’s just my take and opinion. But I just feel that barbers groom, and stylists do men and women. It’s a big difference. Depends on what style you’re going for.

If you have long hair and you have a blowout, I wouldn’t go to a barber; I would go to a hairstylist because they know they should be taking care of long hair. But vice-versa, if I have short hair, not most stylists know how to do men’s haircuts, tapers, cleaning up the neck and around the ear. 

Image Source: @nigellamiller.hairstudio

I feel like barbering is just grooming, which is also a part of cutting. So if you want to go short, and you have long hair, go to a barber. If you’re trying to have a masculine cut with a female touch or short haircut, you probably would just go to them to cut. It depends on the situation and style, and sometimes what you’re going for and who you’re generally comfortable with. Because there are so many hairstylists that do men’s cuts, like me, where a lot of men are comfortable coming to me even though I’m a hairstylist and barber; I can do it all. But at the end of the day, it’s what fits you, who you feel comfortable with, who knows your hair well. Within those questions, they’re just so many different answers.

We’re in a situation where barbers are learning how to do women’s hair, and hairstylists are learning how to do barbering. And at some point, it’s just gonna mesh. They’re not far from each other, yet still so different.”

So, some women tend to view barbershops as boys’ clubs and are a bit intimidated. Any advice on how to overcome these fears?

Nigella: “It is a boys club, honestly (laughs), just like how the hair salon’s a woman’s club. I feel you shouldn’t be intimidated by a group of men if you’re a woman; I don’t know; it’s just about being confident and yourself.

They talk just as much shit as women do in the salon. It’s just men versus women, but at the end of the day, it’s all about breaking that barrier of having a barbershop as a men’s club and a hair salon as a women’s club.

You have to essentially find the right place where you feel comfortable walking into, whether the vibe fits a men’s club or women’s. It’s a place where people share their thoughts, and it shouldn’t be men versus women now. You should feel happy, love yourself, feel comfortable, and everything is supposed to feel perfect. The experience is supposed to be built on trust, what you want on a beauty level, and putting it into someone else’s hands. Your experience is the person that’s behind the chair. That’s your experience, not with the décor and how many people are in the room. Once I sit in a chair, I’m focused on just the person behind that chair. I don’t care about anything else going on. I’m focused on what’s happening in my head.

Image Source: @nigellamiller.hairstudio

What are two key questions women should ask before finding a barber? 

Nigella: “I would ask how many women have they done? Look up their reviews and look into their work. How good are they— are they able to style or know how to work with women, namely our texture, aesthetic, and what we like, as compared to the soft touch of a men’s cut? Can they clean up my neck correctly? Are they clean? I think (laughs) clean is a pretty good one just because sanitizing is a big deal with barbering, and I feel that, as women, our skin’s pretty sensitive compared to men’s.

There’s so much bacteria in a barbershop, let alone a salon. We’re dealing with clippers, sharp tools, razors and things that are slightly different from what a salon uses. I wouldn’t go to a barber who hasn’t really done women’s hair or experienced working with our hair’s texture and style. And understanding— does he listen? We’re a little bit different compared to men. We require more time, understanding, and knowing what a woman would want within that cut or style, thinking-wise and just listening.”

Any thoughts on why more women are ditching the salons in favor of the barbershops?

Nigella: “There are more women working within the barbering industry, which is amazing. I’m pretty stoked about that. It’s a man’s world within grooming and barbering. They’ve definitely held it down and done their part, but I think it’s about time for women to come in and own it (laughs). I feel like there are so many men who’ve fallen into the hairstyling industry, and we were totally open-minded and accepting. Now, it’s easier for women to jump into a predominately male industry, and it’s pretty awesome. I remember when I couldn’t even get a job in a men’s barbershop.

Today, I follow a ton on Instagram, and we go to the hair shows and bump into so many other women who want to be educated. I think it’s pretty awesome (laughs)! More women are dominating the grooming industry, so more women can walk into these environments and feel comfortable because they see a female space. They see that someone can do my hair within that barbershop and that’s what I want, so why not? I think that’s pretty awesome.”

Have you been to a barber before? What advice do you have for other women considering going?

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