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A haircut is a simple thing. You sit down, get a quick consultation, snip snip, a little conversation, and you're done.
Every so often, though, you'll get a little glimpse into our minds when a fellow barber asks a technical question or we're training a new person at the shop.
And then you will start to understand what goes on during that quick consultation. Because it's way more than you think. It's during that time that we figure out what is going on with your head, and what we are going to do with it.
Even when you already have a specific haircut in mind, the specifics of your hair may say no, or even if it is possible, achieving that look may be far more work than you are willing to do on a daily basis.
It is your barber's job to determine the differences, if any, between what you want and what is possible with what you have going on on your head. When your barber's doing it right, here's what they are looking for and what they are going to do about it.
As soon as you get a cape around your neck, your barber will likely start running their fingers through your hair, even before you offer a single word of instruction. We are not petting you (well yes, technically we are, I suppose), we are checking the density and texture of your hair, two important factors that will determine your finished style.
There seems to be a lot of confusion out there about this distinction. Thickness refers to the diameter of the individual hair strand. Density is about the number of hairs placed in a certain patch of scalp, and of more immediate concern when we are looking for an ideal length for your hair.
Lower density hair (especially when it is also fine) looks limp and stringy at longer lengths, and can visually disappear when it's shorter (especially if you have light colored hair), so middle of the road length is often best. Crazy thick hair, properly cut, works very well with some length, or super short. There is not a lot of middle ground, unless you dig the Lego man look.
Texture usually refers to the amount of curl in your hair, as well as the general health and feel of the stuff.
Unless you are willing to do some Justin Timberlake-level styling (that slick side part does not come easy to someone with his level of curl), your hair texture is one of the biggest factors in determining your cut. For an easier to wear and maintain style that lets your natural texture do its thing, going very short on the sides with a lot more length on top will keep you from becoming a poodle for a good while.
A note to guys with curly hair - ask around for a barber (or stylist) who works well with curls, they are worth their weight in gold.
While curly hair has plenty of texture of its own, super straight hair often needs some added in. Another good option is a polished pomade look, where the natural smoothness of your hair is an asset.
If you have to ask your barber if your hair is thinning, you probably know the answer. If they are honest with you, you may have found a keeper.
Treatments and medications aside (that will be a whole other post), losing your hair does not automatically mean you need to buzz or shave it all off.
Patrick Stewart has a perfect skull, a face that looks chiseled out of marble, and skin that doesn't ever seem to age. If you have that going for you, yeah, you can (and should, at least once) shave your head even if you have a full head of hair. Because why not?
Jude Law built a career around that handsome mug and giant blue eyes. Take away the balance that hair has by shaving it, and you get an unsettling, alien look. Seriously, google it. Buzzing it short just emphasizes the awkward areas. Owning it by keeping it short and simple Watson-style actually deemphasizes the hair, and puts eyes back on your face.
Whatever your stage of hair loss, there are options. But hey, you're losing your hair, it's short-ish anyway, so experimenting is low commitment no matter what you do.
Whether you have a whole receding hairline, high peaks, a widow's peak, cowlicks, uneven hairline, or low hairline, this is perhaps the most important single element of the haircut, because it is right above your face.
If you like it up and off the face, it can't be taken too short or it won't get up and over the top of your head. If you like it down over your forehead, it needs the right texture and layering to avoid the Herman Munster look.
This is an easy area to get wrong, so start long and adhere to the golden rule of barbering: "you can always cut more off, but you can't put it back on."
The hairline can also be a place where one finds many cowlicks, so working them into a cooperative shape can be a trick. On that note:
Growth patterns refer to whorls, cowlicks (so named because it looks like a cow licked your head) and hair streams, or the directions that the hair is set into your head. Disregard them at your own risk.
The most common and perhaps most important of these is the whorl, that swirl of hair on the back of your head. It determines most of your hair growth patterns on your head, so which way you push or part your hair should be the direction in which your hair swirls.
Robert Pattinson has a head full of crazy cowlicks, which is why he favors a slightly unkempt style. It's where it's going anyway, might as well go with it. He occasionally cleans it up, but still keeps it on the longer side to let that unique texture do its thing. He would also do well with a long Elvis-style pompadour, whose similar cowlicks made his pomp one for the ages.
Mr. Darko here has a wicked front hairline cowlick that is super obvious when he buzzes it down. Plenty of guys have this one, and it always seems to bother them, but in our minds, it shouldn't! If you like classic styles where the hair is swept up and off your face, this practically does the styling for you.
Our philosophy is that you should let your hair do what it's going to do and let your barber help you find a style that builds on your "problem areas." We have solved lifetimes of hair problems this way.
The bones in your head determine where a lot of the weight in a haircut gets placed. In shorter lengths they can throw shadows on your skull and make a perfect blend look wrong. In all sorts of different lengths, too much skull or too little can send hair into all of the wrong directions.
Even on the most standard heads, the bones of the skull are important cutting markers for barbers and are key to creating a cut that fits well on your head instead of just sitting there like a hair hat. In clothes and hair, fit is everything, after all.