From the late 1800s right up until the late 1960s, the barber shop was the place to go for men. During their height, they rivaled the fancy salons we now see along every city shopping strip. Dropping into the local barber was a weekly ritual, where men would socialise, discuss town matters and solve the world’s problems.
Barber shops were luxuriously decked out with marble bench tops, colourful jars and elixirs in glass cabinets, and barber chairs carved from wood and finished with fine leather. The spaces were jam-packed with other trinkets, signs and memorabilia that added to the masculine experience of the clientele.
The smell of tobacco, pomades, powders, oils and other potions would fill the air, inviting passersby to come in from the street for a quick trim or shave in the warm comforts of the barber shop. A man’s troubles melted the moment he stepped inside.
The decline of the barber shop kicked off in the early 1900s with the invention of Gillette and their safety razor. Men compared the new technology and the barber side by side, finding that the cost and time associated with disposable razors was far less than a visit to the barber shop. Add in the Great Depression, World War 2 and the trend of long hair / beards in the 60s and 70s, and the need for visiting the local barber was truly out the window.
Even when the wild hairstyles of the 1980s took flight, men did not return to the barber shop, instead opting for hair salons that specialised in cool glam rock and keytar hairstyles. Hairspray and highlights were in, pomade and a straight blade shave were out.
The eventual revival of the barber shop…
Men are rediscovering what it means to be manly, the hipster has been resurrected, and facial hair has become the fad de jour for men all over Australia. Pomade is no longer for granddads and the men’s grooming market has never been stronger.
Off the back of this, barber shops are having a resurgence, with establishments like MEN+CO opening multiple locations just to keep up with the demand for old-school shaves, haircuts and shoe shines.
MEN+CO operate in Melbourne’s Ms Collins and the popular Kelvin Club. The spaces are designed to invoke the world of barber shops during their height, MEN+CO greets patrons with authentic Belmont barber chairs, wood panelled walls, the traditional barber pole, an optional glass of whiskey and, most importantly, a place for time out.
D’Marge caught up with Christopher Dunkley and Gary McKenzie who created MEN+CO to discuss the new world order of barber shops.
The modern barber experience…
MEN+CO has been an idea in the boys’ heads for the last 10 years. “We have always seen the importance of a man’s space, within salons and as a stand alone. The homage to the barber shop has been growing in trend from the US, but becoming more about men needing their own space to gather,” says Christopher.
MEN+CO tries to offer all services (cut, clip, shave or shine) within a half-hour time frame, which is more than enough time for most men who work in the CBD or surrounding areas.
They chose to open stores within existing businesses that both accented and created a point of difference from their goal of providing a modern take on an old-world experience. Given city rent costs, it’s a clever idea that goes a long way to keeping costs for clients down.
Chris tells us, “the need for a customised space for men is very important. Our barbers are trained in all shapes and styles to always be at the forefront of style and offerings to our clients.” That means Sammy, who run the Ms Collins MEN+CO space, has over 20 years experience in New York City and has even cut old mate George Clooney’s hair. Not bad.
Introducing the straight shave…
Now, we can’t have all this barber shop talk and not explain the art of the infamous ‘straight shave’.
The straight shave is like falling asleep in a relaxed environment for 20 minutes – a relaxed environment filled with hot towels, oils, shave cream and then the all-important blade. “Some are nervous at the sound, but once you have had a confident barber whip off your whiskers, you will never want to do it yourself,” says Chris.
“We always use the finest moisturising products to make the skin relaxed and stay calm,” Chris continues. “A shave a few times a week can be the small luxury a man needs to stay looking sharp.”
And don’t stress that you need to have a complete shave every time you visit. Custom requirements mean guys can sharpen up the neck, moustache or beard line without going all in.
So how often should men visit for a cut, shine or shave? Chris tells us, “To keep a good look, 3-4 weeks for a cut, and depending on growth, some clients will do twice a week for a shave, or simply a stubble tidy.”
Barber shops like MEN+CO offer reasonably priced services considering their prime city locations, catering to all discerning men who care about their looks, from James the finance guru to Neville the fitter and turner.
Cost for a cut, shine or shave varies between $20 and $55. A small investment in one’s personal appearance is something we at D’Marge highly recommend.