If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “Why don’t barbers shave anymore?” I’d have more money in that than in shaves. First of all, I may assure you that I do still shave. About twice a week. My face can’t handle more than twice a week. Sometimes, I may only shave once a week, but never more than twice. Bill Unruh doesn’t shave. Why don’t barbers shave anymore? I shall proceed to give you the sum, division, and square root of the mater.
In higher end barber shops, especially in bigger cities, and in Europe you will find shaves a common service. Many gentlemen are under the impression that barbers don’t shave because of AIDS. That may be a good reason, but is not so. The law does not prohibit barbers from shaving, as some assume. I have had customers tell me their old barber told them it was illegal to shave now days. I had to break the news that their barber was a liar. The real reason why we don’t shave folks is we don’t want to.
It’s not a paying service. Would you pay as much for a shave as you would for a hair cut? Most men would not. In my shop for instance, a haircut is $9, so it would follow that a shave would make that bill $18. Now I’m quite inexpensive. Naturally, because we are a poor county and no one would pay here what they pay elsewhere. In Manhattan and Emporia they get from $13-$25 for a haircut. That would make your tab $26-$50 for a shave and haircut. Women will spend money on their hair, and they will spend freely. Men, as a rule, do not.
Let’s look at what a shave in the barber shop entails. First, the barber sees to a fresh headrest paper, and since we can’t buy those any longer for our old style chairs we must use a clean towel to cover the headrest. The client is then draped and reclined. We also place a towel around the neck and tuck it under the shirt so your collar doesn’t get soapy. Mind you, all these towels will need to be laundered later. Then we lather up your face, taking care not to get it in your nose or mouth. We use a hot lather machine in the shop, as far as I’m concerned, the soap that is used in it is not nearly as nice as cream or glycerin soap.
Next, a hot towel is applied. If we have a towel steamer or warmer that makes the job easy, if not we hold the towel in a hot stream of water and wring it out well. While the client sits steaming a bit the barber may or may not strop his razor, it depends on what superstitious fool trained him. After removing the towel, more lather is applied and shaving commences.
This is the hard part. There are fourteen maneuvers while shaving the face, and four positions to hold the razor in the hand. If the barber shaves ten faces a day, he is bound to get quite good at shaving. This will never happen however, because three men may seriously desire a shave in the shop in the space of a year. So let’s give the barber credit and say that he is quite adept at handling that razor around your nose and jugular. The next thing he has to worry about is how the clients face is going to respond to the blade. Remember now, the razor is practically a surgical implement. Any appendage on your skin will be amputated. It is true that no matter if a barber has been shaving for fifty years he can still draw blood or have an accident. I have witnessed it. We cannot predict what a man’s face will do. The direction the hair grows, the coarseness or fineness, the shape of the jaw line, the chin, all these variables the barber must deal with.
The most common problem with a straight edge shave is men react poorly to the closeness of it. The steel and alloys in the blade can cause the skin to become irritated. All this the barber worries about, because he wants his patron to have a pleasant shave, and knows full well it could be excruciating. Also, the barber will have to stop about halfway through and strop the razor to maintain the edge.
Let’s say the shave went great. It was comfortable and smooth and relaxing and the barber didn’t drop the razor at any point, that you were aware of. You may have a second time over if necessary. Then you may have a face cream applied and massaged in. Another steam towel is applied and when removed a finishing lotion with some facial manipulations. The face is dried with a towel and a little talc is powdered over the face. All that took twenty minutes and only $9! The customer is ready to pay and be on his way.
But what’s this? He finds his shave has taken so long he has missed the bus and is now late for his appointment. Now the client thinks, “If only I had shaved myself this morning, it would have taken five minutes and I would have saved a Hamilton!”
Another legitimate reason barbers no longer shave is because the barber college does not teach it. Why? Because the whole time I was in school no one came in to get a shave. Also, I’m sure the thought of thirty students wielding razors causes the insurance company to shiver. When I went through school we shaved balloons, and I am proud to say that no one popped a single balloon.
I do razor cuts and neck shaves, but I am very particular about what necks I shave. We have to worry about people on blood thinner. A small nick could cost a man his life.
As for my own experience giving shaves, I’ve done three up to this point. If I may say so myself, I think my record is pretty fair. My grandpa was the first one I shaved. I didn’t have a barber chair so I laid him back in the recliner. The finished product was very nice. A clean shave, he said it was comfortable, but he never wanted to do it again. He said it took too long, but I really think he lost interest when I stuck my finger in his mouth. Oh, that’s another one of those things you probably wished you knew before you sat down for a shave. It’s a common practice for the barber to stick his finger in the corners of your mouth so as to get the little devil of whiskers that grow there.