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.
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 proliferating to fill the space.
These days there are only a handful of 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.
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).
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) perspective, 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. 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.
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. Almost every barbershop we know of is having a hard time finding good barbers.
The economy, although recovering (ANOTHER UPDATE: it is currently 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, goodbye economy, but hair never stops growing), is still not wonderful, and there are so many people out there that cannot find solid, reliable employment. If you want a job where there are far more openings than there are people to fill them, where you are the one in demand, barbering is where it’s at. You will need to go back to school, but for far less time and money than a college degree.
Tyler was chronically underemployed for years, treated like crap in places where every employee is an expendable commodity. So he went to barber school, and in about 10 months he was working in a great place, with fantastic benefits, paid vacation, making good money, being appreciated for his work, and going home at the end of the day feeling like he had made a positive impact on people’s day, and sometimes their lives. A year after that, he and his barber wife owned their own shop.
Barbering changes a lot of lives. It certainly changed his.
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) 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 about when (considering our history and current client rosters, it is not an if) we get busy enough that we will need to find additional 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! – 2020 UPDATE: so many barbers, what a family this place has grown) 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.