November 28, 2020

My Inspired Media

All About Lifestyle

For Women, Hairstyles at the Barbershop

Like many women in New York, Katie Armour, editorial director of the digital magazine Matchbook, is absolutely devoted to her hairdresser. “He’s so wonderful, I know all about his family,” said Ms. Armour, 27, who travels from her apartment on the Upper East Side to the West Village once a month to get her hair done.

But unlike most of her friends, Ms. Armour visits a branch of Fellow Barber (formerly the Freemans Sporting Club barbershops) rather than a salon. Cut by Hugo Hernandez, 68, for $40 plus tip, her closely cropped pixie is inspired by the actress Jean Seberg in the 1960 Jean-Luc Godard film “Breathless.” There is no shampooing involved, and very little styling; just a little spritz and comb. And that’s exactly how she likes it.

“My hair is very short,” Ms. Amour said. “Shorter than the hair of the man I’m seeing right now.” Some of her male friends in the city went to Fellow Barber and had cool haircuts, she said, so it made sense to try it. “They do a good job, and it’s half the price of what I used to pay.”

Ms. Amour is just one of many New York women in recent years to choose the more affordable, less fussy atmosphere of a barbershop over the traditional salon experience. This isn’t entirely new. The 66-year-old institution Astor Place Hairstylists offers cuts starting at $16 as well as more extravagant treatments, including keratin straightening and color. And Rudy’s, the kitschy barbershop chain founded in Seattle in 1993, which now has locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, has always welcomed both sexes.

But according to barbershop proprietors, the number of female clients is growing. When Sam Buffa, the owner of Fellow Barber, opened his first location on the Lower East Side in 2006, only 2 to 3 percent of the clientele were women, he said; now, approximately 7 percent of the clientele in New York is female, and at Fellow Barber’s San Francisco location, it’s closer to 9 percent.

After seven years of “Real Housewife” barrel curls, close crops including shaved undercuts à la Michelle Williams as well as traditional pixies (most recently adopted by the fashion blogger Garance Doré, the actress Emma Watson and even the former blond bombshell Pamela Anderson) may also be spurring female interest in this typically male setting. “A hairdresser at a salon is probably not going to know how to do an undercut,” Mr. Buffa said, though he added that his barbers are happy do more-classic women’s cuts as well.

At Decatur & Sons, the Chelsea Market barbershop opened this March by Thorin Decatur, an alumnus of Fellow Barber, tourists seeking graduated layers and Alexa Chung-bobs are turned away. But women still make up around 10 percent of the business. “We have a lot of girls coming in for shaved sides, funky mohawks,” said Mr. Decatur, a third-generation barber. “I think they just don’t have time to mess around in a salon.”

This is true for Cat Lyon, 31, a marketing executive who started visiting Decatur & Sons when it first opened and returns about every eight weeks. Ms. Lyon, who works in the Chelsea Market building and has a long pixie cut shaved on one side, has been hopscotching among salons and barbershops for more than eight years.

“At first, it was just an easy, quick solution, but I really enjoyed the experience as well,” she said of the 30-minutes-or-less cut she gets from the barber. “It’s not fussy. When I was getting my haircut at a salon, it could take two to three hours. That’s a lot of chat to have with one person, who is somewhat of a stranger. At Decatur, you’re not forced into sudden conversation for an extended period.”

Ms. Lyon said her haircut is better, too. “Really, hairdressers don’t really understand short hair as much,” she said.

“I like the straightforwardness,” said Jessica Humphrey, 36, a fashion designer whose “tomboyish” hairstyle is short in the back with longer bangs. She goes to see Mike Sposito at the Fellow Barber’s location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “You just put your name in,” she said. “You don’t have to have an appointment. I don’t have to book it a month in advance.”

Though it lacks the traditional amenities of the upscale salon like a coat check, fashion magazines and cups of tea, the space isn’t too shabby, either: old-fashioned barber chairs face shiny marble countertops, and a wood-paneled high-back bench sits in the center of the room for those waiting. “It doesn’t necessarily feel manly,” Ms. Humphrey said. “But it’s well-crafted, and I appreciate that sort of thing in general.”

At his new shop on Crosby Street in SoHo, Mr. Buffa says that female clients are also taking an interest in the well-stocked apothecary cabinet, which includes Malin + Goetz sage styling cream ($20), Alder dry shampoo ($30) and Baxter pomade ($18). “Girls don’t want the super-fruity stuff anymore,” Mr. Buffa said.

Then there are the hot eucalyptus-scented towels following a trim (free). And no extra personnel to tip.

In a bad economy, lower prices, unsurprisingly, are the most-cited reason for ditching salons, which often charge more for women than men (though this is illegal in New York City, and there has been a crackdown on violations in recent years).

“It’s simply a form of discrimination,” said Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C. “The solution of going to a male barbershop is a good example of women getting out of the female ghetto, where prices are higher because of the collusion going on among store owners.” Mr. Decatur, whose barber grandfather would not even let women into his shop until the late 1970s, he said, has made not discriminating into better business.

And he likes bantering with both male and female clients, he said. “It’s the majority of the reason I even cut hair.”