Thinking you might want to cut hair for a living? Fantastic! It’s fun, rewarding, the money is quite good, and the job prospects are great.
By nature of you reading this, on a barbering blog, you have already thought about barbering as an option. That’s a good start, because the majority of people entering this industry just enroll in cosmetology school without a thought to the other side of the business.
In working with plenty of cutters of both stripes over the years, we think there are two good reasons to become a stylist, and two good reasons to become a barber. One is not inherently better than the other, but we hope our experience inside the industry will have you make a well-informed decision about which you want to be.
via Local B. Natalie briefly apprenticed under Vero Beaupre, the owner, while in Montreal. They do world class work, and the prices reflect it.
Perhaps the main reason people go into cosmetology is the money, hearing about the potential to be a fabled 6-figure stylist. Yes, of course, if your services have triple digit prices, and you add in color and keratin treatments and the rest, you can make some insane money as a stylist.
Those sky high prices have a downside though. If you are charging premium prices, you have to deliver a premium service, and that includes managing some…shall we say, difficult clients with similarly sky high expectations, regardless of what you are working with on their head. It can be challenging and rewarding, but more stress than a lot of us like in our careers.
If you are more drawn to charging reasonable human prices for normal human services, how much money you can make is more down to how many clients you can service in a day.
It is like the difference between working fine dining and a nice little family owned diner. Is the money worth the stress, aggravation, and constantly having to be perfectly proper? If it is, go for it, but many of us prefer to make good money working hard with good normal folks.
That’s not to say you can’t make 6 figures as a barber, more than one Beardsgaard barber has been fast enough, adept enough at managing their books, and killer on retail enough to hit those numbers.
As far as real barber schools, they began in the late 1800s in Chicago and stayed strong until the 70s when the hippies began proliferating and men stopped getting so many haircuts. As the barber shops and schools disappeared, men’s and unisex salons started popping up to fill the space.
These days there are only a handful of dedicated barber schools in the state of Illinois, so the chances of there being one near you is incredibly slim. The Beardsgaards both went to school with people that lived hours away, and would just stay in town for half the week, basically camping out at school 12 hours a day. They were some of the most dedicated students that school ever had, and it’s telling that they have been shop owners as long as we have.
Barber schools are rare and hard to come by these days (UPDATE: the laws have changed, at least in Illinois, since this was written, and now a great many cosmetology schools offer barbering programs and licenses, making it much easier to find a school near you), and the one closest to you might not offer exactly the environment you want to work in (the one we went to had great instructors, but between some students and clients, it had a tendency to get cartoonishly racist, mysogonist, and every other -ist you could think of – sadly common in pockets of this industry, and one of the reasons we built this place different).
Despite all that, it was a pretty darned good school, and better than most! It is just the nature of barber schools. Most people in barber school are counting down their remaining hours like prison sentences and a lot of clients go there because it’s cheap, but no matter where you are, you get out of school what you put into it.
We talked about the general differences between barbers and cosmetologists in the post Hair People, but that is speaking more to what clients need to know about the differences between the two. From a practical (and in the US, legal) angle, the only difference is a barber’s ability to shave with a straight razor.
From a licensing perspective (in Illinois where we are, at least), you need to have completed your 1500 hours of school and taken the state board test for each discipline to practice it in the state in which you went to school. If you already have one of the licenses, it is still another 1000 hours to get dual licensed ˆ(ANOTHER UPDATE: in Illinois it is now down to 500 hours! Additionally, many schools now offer internship programs where you get to complete 150 of your final hours in a barbershop instead of school).
There is a reason hardly any barbers go back to school to get dual licensed – they don’t get any new abilities, legally. On the other hand, we can hardly count all of the cosmetologists who are trying to find the time and money to go back to barber school, just to be able to shave.
These days we hair people have so many continuing education options that if you want to be a barber and a banging colorist, or be able to execute a killer blowout, or cut long layers perfectly, there are intensive classes for that, and educators all over the internet. The level of instruction for all of the more cosmo-specific skills when you are in school is so surface-level (there is a lot to cover in those 1500 hours), you will get far more value out of one-off classes.
(UPDATE: the job market is a different animal now in 2022 than it was in 2014 when this was written, this whole next section is updated!) As of 2012, in the US there were almost 12 times more licensed cosmetologists than barbers. While the job market for stylists is good, if you are a barber who is a marginally responsible person (show up on time, sober, etc.) with at least average skills, you can find a job anywhere, anytime. We hardly know any barbershops anywhere that are fully staffed, not just in Illinois.
Barbering has been picking up new blood since the schooling requirements for dual licensure have gone down, but even amongst those new to hair, this industry is popular with those from other sectors of the service industry. The service industry is for those who don’t want to live life sitting behind a desk all day. It’s for those who like to move, like their days to go by quickly, like to meet new people, and like the big money seasons it can bring.
We got into barbering because it had all that, with better hours, way better job security, higher AND more stable income, fewer (but not zero) drunk people, and perhaps most importantly, the deeper relationships we develop with our clients while making a tangible impact on their lives.
Here at Beardsgaard, we have worked hard to make work life more stable and steady with full books every day managed by an amazing shopkeep, truly decent, livable hours, and health insurance, which is almost unheard of in the hair industry. While most industries are understaffed due to the pandemic changing everything about work, barbering has been there for decades, we’re old hat at that. Our mission has always been to build a great place to work over the long haul, because at least two of us are here forever.
We will admit, this post is a bit self-serving.
As we count down the last 14 months until we open our own shop, (2016 UPDATE: been open over a year and we’re sort of killing it these days – 2020 UPDATE: almost a dozen people work here these days ye gods) (2022 UPDATE: that was too much, we are back to a little bigger than our original plan with 5 chairs, and it’s we have some semblance of lives again) our worries are not about whether we can create a successful business, not about whether we will find enough clients to stay afloat, our worries are (now and always have been), about simply finding enough staff.
Will we be able to find any barbers? And if so, will they be any good? Will they fit in with our shop? (2016 UPDATE: it took a week to fill up beyond capacity, and we found some more barbers eventually!) We will cross that bridge when we come to it, but in the meantime, this world needs more barbers!
It doesn’t matter whether you decide on barbering or cosmetology, we cannot encourage you strongly enough to thoroughly check out both options. Or it could be that you have been thinking about a career change, or a career as opposed to a job. We want you too.
We formally invite you to join us in what most of our kind feel is the best job in the world.