Barbershops, stubble and scruff

Facial hair is back in a big way among men. That is nothing new, but the time, effort and expense of looking so scruffy might surprise you.

Back in the day, you were either clean shaven or grew a beard. During the Hippie Era, it was all long hair and beards, which sent many a barber to the poor house. Hair length gradually shortened, beards and moustaches were trimmed and barbers breathed a sigh of relief. Over a decade ago, American men grew older and fatter. To add insult to injury, their hair started to thin as well. The fashion industry quickly came to the rescue and convinced the nation that bald was beautiful.

I, for one, embraced the idea and quickly learned to shave my own head. For me, an avid jock, no hair was both convenient and saved a trip to the barber. However, maintaining that clean-shaven pate is no easy job and many men sought out the barbershop to maintain the new style. But the fashion industry was not done with the masculine ego. Enter the man’s man.

First, let me confess my ignorance. I had long assumed that the facial hair that had sprouted up among male actors in a variety of television and movie roles was simply the result of not shaving for a day or two. How wrong could I be? These new facial hair styles demand a lot of time, effort and expense and have spawned a plethora of trimmers, shavers and masks to give the customer just the right look.

As a result, more men than ever before are visiting the barbershop. Last year there were more than 235,000 barbers in over 100,000 shops in the U.S. That is the highest in recent memory and is predicted to jump again this year according to the National Association of Barbers Boards of America.

Sales of beard and stubble trimmers (as they are now called) advanced more than 10 percent in the last few years. And stubble trimmers aren’t cheap. A top-of-the-line stubble model will set you back $60, about twice as much as your old-fashioned beard trimmer.

Self-barbering, though, takes effort, practice and often less than satisfactory results. Many men have opted instead to visit their neighborhood barbershop breathing new life into the staid and sometimes stuffy local hair emporium. Unisex is out. Barbers have reinvented their industry by offering customers what they want, the way they want it. The top 10 barbershops in the U.S. all have one thing in common — ambience. Masculinity, tradition and a variety of services is what distinguish barbershops today from those of my childhood.

Nancy Donovan, who has been cutting hair for over a decade at Ken’s Barber Shop in Great Barrington, Mass., is seeing a lot of facial hair trim requests, especially in the summer.

She says she has done everything from shaving heads, to regular haircuts to even cutting a “B” for Boston on one customer’s head for the baseball season over the last few years.

As for the barbering business, she enjoys her line of work and would recommend that anyone wanting a great career should look into becoming a barber. Take that, George Clooney!

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment advisor representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM.