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 woman 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 kind of style they’re going for, or even 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 what works with your style: ask will you be able to carry it well?
When it comes to my clients asking 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 just so many different things you have to consider when it comes to going to a salon and getting exactly what you want. Also, 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.
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 that is really good at mastering grooming when it comes to short haircuts, men’s beards, 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. A lot of 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’s a million departments within hairstyling, so you don’t need to focus on one thing. 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 on it. 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.
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 that far off from each other, yet still so different."
So some women tend to view barbershops as a boys club 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 being 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 the 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 the experience you’re having, not with the décor and how much people are in the room. To me, 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."
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 as women, our skin’s pretty sensitive compared to men's skin.
There's so much bacteria in a barbershop, let alone a salon. We’re dealing with clippers, sharp tools, razors and things that are a bit different from what a salon is using. I wouldn’t go to a barber that 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 just knowing what a woman would want within that cut or style, thought-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, I feel 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 that want to be educated. I think it’s pretty awesome (laughs)! More women are dominating the grooming industry, so more women are able to walk into these environments and feel comfortable, because they see a female space. They see that there is someone that can do my hair within that barbershop and that’s what I want, so why not? I think that's pretty awesome."