Barbershop Evolution

It’s been a long day without you, my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

That’s probably the tune most guys are singing everyday after parting ways with their hair. November came and went and we can now finally say goodbye to the unkempt werewolves that were traipsing helter skelter with the excuse of no shave November to shield them from ridicule. Granted, this year I too fell in this category and by the end of month, received an enormous amount of pressure to go get rid of the hair. Sticking to my guns as long as I could, I tried to brave the storm of protests but eventually yielded.

I set out on an expedition to find a worthy establishment that could be entrusted with the trimming of my hair. Along the way I could not help but think back on how far barber shops in this country have come. Much like the prehistoric man, the industry had begun moving on all fours then gradually shifting to an upright posture. With its gradual improvement, it availed multiple options for one to choose from over the years:


Option 1: Getting shaved by a relative.

The barbershop in this case was usually one’s house or pretty much anywhere deemed appropriate; bedroom, living room, balcony etc. One would be tied in a kanga and forcefully held in place to prevent escape (children mostly). This was one of the most dreaded means of losing hair. A razor blade or scissors was usually the weapon of choice. No shaving cream was applied and you had to stay perfectly still to avoid getting lacerated. The problem with this was that you could not specify how much hair you wanted to remain untouched. It was like a clearance sale, Everything Must Go! And you would be doomed to walk around bald. Woe unto you if the self-appointed barber had shaky hands. They could give you irregular patterns on your cranium that would make walking in public unbearable.


Option 2: Getting shaved by the roadside.

The barbershop in this case was a shack by the side of the road and would be operated by one individual sometimes clad in a white coat to give him a more professional look. The weapon of choice was manual hair clippers. Now while this was definitely a better alternative to its predecessor, it did have its own issues. For starters, the barbers would sometimes fail to grease the clippers, they would get stuck in your hair and he would have to engage in a tug of war to liberate them from your scalp. The pain was so intense you could sometimes end up shedding tears and cursing your scalp for sprouting more hair thereby putting you in this predicament. They also lacked spirit but when they did have it, they would douse their hand and smack your head repeatedly as if that would make it more effective.  The cost was quite affordable at only Ksh. 20 but after trying it once or twice, you quickly moved on to better alternatives.


Option 3: Getting shaved in a better roadside shack.

These were the new and improved shack barber shops. Shack barber shops version 2.0. The barbers adopted electric hair clippers and had a certain level of professionalism. They put up posters of various haircuts on celebrities and would always brag about how they could replicate them, but for safety purposes I chose not to risk having my head used for practice runs. These barber shops had more than one barber and were more reliable. At least, until it came to the post-shave ritual. They would scald your head and face with a hot towel and douse your head with all manner of chemicals. By the time they were done your head felt like it had just been through a washing machine. The cost for this service ranged between Kshs. 50 – 100.


Option 4: Try something new.


I was quickly brought back to reality when I came across a barbershop that had been christened ‘The Grooming Lounge’. “For such a flashy name they better have flashy service.”  I thought to myself. I opened the door, stepped in and took a seat to wait my turn. There were barbers at work with their clients and ladies walking back and forth which struck me as being odd. I assumed that perhaps they had merged the barbershop with a salon as was the case with most barber shops, but I was in for a surprise.

A barber walked up to me and told me it was my turn. He led me to a nice and comfy chair equipped with all the bells and whistles to make the experience memorable. I sat down, gave him my specifications and he got to work. Being short, he stepped on a pad below the chair and I descended to a level that allowed him easier reach. He tied an elastic band around my neck then added a cloth around me and proceeded to fold the band on the cloth thereby ensuring no stray hairs got onto my clothes.  He handled my head like a sculptor handling a masterpiece. When it got to the beard, he turned off the clippers he was using, reached into a drawer and pulled out a different one then hit a lever on the chair and I was thrown back allowing him better access to the area below the chin. Once he was done he hit the lever again and I was brought back to an upright position. To style my head, he pulled out a different set of clippers and drew various lines as per my instructions. The man had a barber arsenal. When he was done shaving, he removed the cloth and band and asked me to move to a specific chair.

One of the ladies who had been walking around the place came over and proceeded to give my head a thorough cleansing. She even bothered to ask if the water was too hot. That was new, but much appreciated. After the washing, I was lead into a different room, asked to sit and take my shirt off. “Excuse me what?” I asked visibly confused. Apparently it was the massage room. I donned a poker face and flat-out refused. She said it was OK and proceeded to massage me nonetheless. It was quite enjoyable. Slowly, she leaned next to my ear and asked if I wanted a full body massage. “Eeeiii Msichana!!!” I almost yelled. I turned her down again but was beginning to understand why so many men were present in the area. They had managed to ingeniously merge a multitude of services into one and with every additional service you said yes to, the bill went up. Unfortunately for them, I had come for the grooming and not the lounging (I also only had Ksh. 200 in my pocket and was not about to “chonga viazi” in a barbershop or whatever punishment they give to those who can’t pay). So having completed my business there, I promptly left but I knew I had found my new grooming den. The ordeal cost me Kshs. 200.

Of late, I have noticed that a large number of barber shops are going the “grooming lounge” way and it does seem quite effective. And with the level of competition ever-increasing, this may just be the next step in barbershop evolution.

Leave a comment down below to let me know what you think.

Till next time. Adiós.

K.O. Fuera.