Masters of Old-School Barbering

Old-School Barbering

Modern Barber spoke to masters of old-school barbering to hear their thoughts on the industry today, and give them the platform to share some words of wisdom to up-and-comers in the profession.

 

Name: John Hallett
Barbershop: Hairdressing for Men, Weymouth
Experience: 55 years

John Hallett started his career in the spring of 1967 as a trainee at a salon. He soon realised that he missed being surrounded by men, so when the opportunity of an apprenticeship with a barber called Ken Webb was available, he jumped at the chance. John tells us this ended up being the best career decision, as he later entered a partnership with Ken before taking over the business himself, “We eventually worked together for 25 years and hardly had a cross word.” Reflecting on those early days, he says, “When I first started you did a three-year apprenticeship at £3.50 a week, with two years of improving before you got full pay of £17 a week. The skills at the time were very scissor and cut-throat-razor based, as the electric clipper at that time was purely for finishing off before the razor on the neck. Singeing, the art of using a candle taper to singe the ends of the hair was quite a big thing in the early sixties, but thankfully that has disappeared.”

Discussing other changes in the industry, John tells us, “When clipper attachments came in that was a real game changer, because at that time styles like a skinhead had to be done clipper over comb.” However, he admits that he still uses a large comb which he bought 55 years ago, “It’s been scrubbed, sterilised, left in Barbercide – it’s indestructible.”

“I worked a minimum of 50 hours a week, sometimes more, starting at 7am and I loved every minute of it,” he recalls, adding, “I’ve always said, when you dread getting up and going to work, you’re in the wrong job. I have a theory that if you’re going to interview someone for a job, do it at 7am on a Saturday, because if they can’t get up and be on time, they’re no good for this job.” 

Sharing his thoughts on the industry as it stands today, John tells us that the industry is in a good place. “My son has taken on the business and although I have stood back, I keep a keen interest on what’s happening. I’ve always said there are only so many things you can do with hair, but people still try to reinvent the wheel. Take the skin fade for example – it’s only a short back and sides, and we were doing them 55 years ago.”

Maintaining a career for 55 years takes dedication and passion. However, John muses over the success of a good barber, “Know your customer, know how much banter you can have with them, look after them and treat them like a friend – which they will probably become. Remember events in their life – even if you have to take notes – and keep out of politics and religion. Even after 55 years, I still go in and work a couple of hours a week, as I have friends who’s hair I have been cutting my whole career – happy days!”

 

Left, John’s son Chris. Right, John.

 

Name: Bobby Gordon
Barbershop: Fella Hair
Experience: 30 years

Bobby Gordon started cutting hair in July 1992, just over 30 years ago. He had always enjoyed getting his haircut whilst talking about football so when he left school at 16 and needed to learn a trade, hairdressing ticked all the boxes.

Discussing the early days of his career, he says, “I worked in a huge unisex salon in London’s West End, and I quickly realised my favourite haircuts to do were scissor cuts for men, but when I first started training barbering was the just one section of the qualification, you couldn’t focus on barbering.” Bobby tells us that since then training has come a long way, “It has evolved beyond your imagination. You can’t even compare my original training to what is taught today. Although, the classic barbering skills that were taught then are still very much used day to day.”

Having been employed for 16 years before opening his own business in 2008, Bobby tells us that new barbers would benefit from being taught basic business skills to help their future career. “There have been many challenges in my career but learning how to run a business without any guidance whilst also being the guy cutting hair at the same time was the biggest hurdle,” he explains, adding, “I own a chain of Barbershop’s in London and Kent called Fella. The first one was in Canterbury, the second is in the seaside town of Folkestone and the newest one is in Soho, London. The London shop is where I learned barbering, so it all came full circle, and I bought it last year.”

When it comes to people now entering the industry Bobby advises: “Work hard, look and listen – there is so much education available to form you into a great barber.” He also shares his thoughts on the current state of the industry, telling us the government should be providing more support to the industry, “They don’t offer anything to support the industry – it was only during Covid that they finally gave us a separate sector, the ‘Personal Care Sector’. Having to pay the same amount of VAT as other sectors is crazy. It is crippling for a lot of businesses that want to grow. We employ the majority of our staff because we want them to grow with us, even though it comes at a massive cost which is unsupported by the government.”

Reflecting on his experiences, Bobby concludes: “Having a great team is the key to success. We believe in growing people’s careers, honing their skills and giving them opportunities. We have barbers who have gone from apprentice to manager and ultimately partners in the business.”

 

Name: Ian Harrold
Barbershop: Traditions Barber Shop and Attitude Mens Hair
Experience: 31 years

“At 16, I didn’t want to go back to school so my mum told me I had to get a job. When I interviewed, I said this to the owner, and he gave me a chance because liked my honesty. I didn’t know much about the industry when I started – the men’s business wasn’t as high profile as it is now. What I did like was the atmosphere, although it was hard work learning to stand up all day it never felt taxing, customers were always laughing and joking,” Ian tells us, reflecting on his 30+ year career.

Considering his training, Ian explains that one of the key changes is the techniques he learned, “I was taught how to work clipper over comb and freehand with a clipper. Now, there is a lot more focus on working with clipper attachments. I think in that we have lost some of our core skills.”

Ian has now successfully developed two brands, Traditions Barber Shop and Attitude Men’s Hair, both successful brands, although they have not been without their challenges, “The biggest challenge of my career to date was the pandemic. In business, there are a lot of things that nobody teaches you, and you have to grow and develop and find your path. But this was different – it had never happened before and there was an element of fear for everyone. I remember deciding with the team that we needed to close. Nobody prepared me for what was next, or how to feel or behave, or how to support my team. For the first time. I didn’t feel in control of my company’s future – but day-by-day, with routine, we all got through it together,” he explains, adding, “The recession of 2008 was tough, but it helped me focus on what was important. The biggest tip I have is know your numbers – it’s vital to understand what you are spending money on as well as knowing how much money you are making. Keep your clients engaged by rebooking them before they leave – and don’t discount. Ensure the brands you stock provide good support not just freebies, but business know-how, and don’t stop educating yourself and your team. Look at successful people or businesses outside our industry and see what they do differently.”

When it comes to qualifications, Ian explains that better regulation would support the industry, “If I could ask government for one thing, it would be to stop official awarding bodies allowing companies to give NVQ qualifications to people in 12 weeks and saying they are shop floor ready. This is cheapening our profession and leaving poorly trained people disappointed and disillusioned with the industry. The Government should also look at the VAT, because if you run your business correctly, we are one of the highest taxed industries in the UK. After that, leave us to build an industry of diversity and creativity that we know it to be.”

 

Name: Jade Sarah Chidgey
Barbershop: JCS Barbershop
Experience: 31 years

Jade Sarah Chidgey started working in a barbershop as a Saturday girl when she was 14, “I used to get £10.50 for a Saturday, then £53.10 for a full. When I left school at 16 I went on to do my City & Guilds and NVQs one day a week, and continued to do the rest of my training in the barbershop. Back then you could only qualify by completing ladies’ and gents’ courses, not the quick courses that are promoted nowadays,” she explains, adding, “Cutting was my passion – barbering was always more detailed and intricate in comparison to the ladies’ hairdressing, which I enjoyed. Training has evolved massively, although not for the better, in my opinion. There is too much fast-tracking, I think experience is key.”

Having been employed in a barbershop before opening her own business, Jade shares the challenges she has faced in the industry, explaining: “One of my biggest challenges has been employing others – this brought many trials and tribulations. Covid was another challenge, especially with the inconsistent guidance from the government.” She also shares her tips for working through a recession, “On good weeks, put extra money by to try and cover any bad weeks you might have. Try and get three months’ worth of home and business outgoings in the bank.”

Considering her advice for the industry, Jade tells us, “You have to be good at what you do, and you have to be on top of your game. Consistency is key and professionalism is a must – but clients still love a bit of banter. I also think mental health awareness is crucial. Get some training – I did, and I don’t regret it. Clients confide in me daily, and for your own mental health you must not carry this home with you, leave it at the salon door because tomorrow is a new day.”

 

New Kid on The Block

Name: Dan Artes
Barbershop: Barber at Marley Mayer Salon
Experience: Three years, trained in both traditional and modern techniques

Dan Artes has been working in the industry for three years and was trained by a barber who favours traditional, ‘old school’ techniques. Discussing his journey into barbering and learning from someone with a wealth of experience, he says: “From a young age I always enjoyed going to the barbershop, and knew it was an environment I would want to work in one day. I loved the atmosphere and I’m a very sociable person, so it felt like a perfect fit. I completed my training with Simon Roberts – who had been cutting my hair since I was about 13 years old. He has very traditional methods, which was something that appealed to me. He would stay open late four times a week to train me up from scratch and really gave me an insight into cutting hair traditionally.”

Reflecting on his training experience, Dan tells us, “What stood out to me the most over my two years at Simon’s barbershop was seeing the progression in myself – at first I was quite nervous but as I eventually settled into the environment, I really loved it,” he adds, “I mainly learnt traditional barbering skills and techniques in my time there, whilst my current role at Marley Mayer Salon has given me an insight into modern techniques, from fading to sharper outlines. I feel as though the combination of both skillsets has really helped me establish myself and gain confidence, and I’m excited to see how far I can go.”

If you’re at the opposite end of the spectrum and are only just considering a career as a barber, then why not check out everything you stand to learn as a barbering apprentice?