Are Traditional Barbershops Disappearing ?

With their red-white-and-blue-striped poles, dark Naugahyde chairs and straight-razor shaves, barbershops hold a special place in American culture.

But data show that traditional barbershops are dwindling. According to the U.S. Census from 1992 to 2012 we saw a 23 percent decrease in barbershops in the United States (with a slight uptick in 2013).

As a sociologist and a barber, I find barbershops fascinating because they’ve also traditionally been places where men spend time with other men, forming close relationships with one another . Many patrons will even stop by daily to simply chat with their barbers, to chew the fat, have a cocktail or play chess. A real community is created in these places, and community is important to health and well being.

So how should we interpret the decline of the barbershop? Is it yet another sign that, our community ties are crumbling? Or should we really be looking at just what sort of men are no longer getting haircuts at a barbershop — and what sort of men still go there?

At the same time barbershops are closing, men’s high-end salons are popping up across the country. They cater to men, providing them with high-end services that include hot towels, steam, beard trims, precision barber cuts and sleek decor. They’re more expensive than the average barbershops,

The young licensed barbers working in these salons also seemed disenchanted with the old-school barbershop. They saw these newer men’s salons as a “resurgence” of “a men-only place” that provides more “care” to clients than the “average barbershop.”

“Professional men…they know that if they look successful, that will create connotations to their clients or customers or others that they work with — that they are smart, that they know what they’re doing.”

So instead of asking if the barbershop is vanishing, we should really be asking: Why are they disappearing, what is replacing them and what are the social relations underpinning the emergence of the new men’s salon?

For example, in some neighborhoods, the barbershop is actually making a comeback. These new barbershops primarily act as places where men can channel a form of masculinity that supposedly existed unfettered in the “good old days.” Sensory pleasures are central to the experience: The smell of talcum powder, the cool burn of aftershave and the sight of shaving mugs help men to grapple with what it means to be a man.

When we return to neighborhoods where barbershops are actually disappearing — replaced by high-end men’s salons, they’re not signs of a disintegrating bygone culture of manhood. Rather, they signify a transformation of well-to-do masculinity. In the past, the barbershop was a place for these men. Today, while the old model may thrive in certain demographics, professional men are seeking a pampered experience elsewhere like the Grooming Parlor Barberspa.