Sunday, March 8, 2015

Haircuts From Hell

In the biblical story of Samson & Delilah, the Philistines managed to take away Samson's superhuman strength by having the beautiful Delilah coax him to reveal the secret of his power -- his hair.  They shaved his head while he was sleeping, gouged out his eyes and turned him into a slave.

Two of the lessons that can be learned from this tale are these: (1) Hair is really, really important and (2) a bad haircut can totally ruin your day.

Since Samson's times people have invested a great deal of  time, effort, and money in their hair.  There is little doubt that hair wields power -- perhaps not in terms of physical strength but in its influence on perceptions of attractiveness and the associated social benefits that can bring.  The effects of a bad haircut on self-esteem and self-confidence can be devastating, as they were for Samson, but a good one can dramatically improve our self perceptions.  The search for the perfect cut is a modern quest for the Holy Grail.  And for some of us just as elusive.

Hair is very big business. Americans spend about $20 billion per year on hair care (Small Business Development Center Network, 2014) and the global total is about $80 billion (Statistica, 2014). The average male in the U.S. spends $28 per haircut, and the average woman spends $44 (U.S. News & World Report, 2014).  My own haircuts currently cost $25 including tip. 

About 12 years ago I found a barber/stylist that comes as close to giving me the perfect haircut reliably as any I've encountered.  She was working in a local barber shop as one of several barbers.  This was a place where you don't make an appointment, you just show up.  If your favorite person is free, fine.  If not you can either wait your turn or take the next available barber.  She was new and didn't have many regular customers, so she was available one day when the guy I had been going to (with mixed results) was busy, so I decided to give her a shot.  I explained my unique problems and preferences which usually flummox barbers, even though they pretend to know just what to do to accommodate them.  Not only did she listen and understand, but she followed through with one of the best haircuts in a long time.

Naturally I sought her out the next time, but my hopes weren't terrifically high.  Experience has taught me that even the same barber often follows a good haircut with a "haircut from hell."  For example, before I moved here I went to a barber in Ohio for many years whose overall percentage was pretty good, but the quality varied a lot depending on how wrapped up he got in his hunting stories or his political tirades.  Lo and behold, the second haircut from my new barber was also good,  as were the next dozen or so.

When she moved to a beauty salon a few doors down from the barber shop I moved too.  Then that shop found new quarters a short distance away and again I followed.  Then she moved to a salon closer to where she lived but about 10 miles away for me.  Didn't matter, I made the monthly pilgrimage.  Then she went into business for herself and opened a hair salon with a partner that is located a bit closer to me but still 5 miles away.  I followed along.  I remain fiercely loyal and I just hope she doesn't retire soon and that when she does I won't have any hair left anyway.  Occasionally she messes up but the ratio of good cuts to bad is so high I don't mind.

My wife has not been so lucky.  In fact, in our 45+ years of marriage I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times she has returned from a stylist happy with the result.  She always has such high hopes when she leaves for her appointment and they are almost always dashed.  I have learned to keep a low profile when she returns lest I get trapped into the husband's nightmare question, "how does it look?"

Much of the problem is that both of us have naturally curly hair.  Those of you who have straight hair often tell us you are envious and wish you had hair that was naturally curly.  No. Trust me, you don't.  What you don't realize is that our hair has a mind of its own that couldn't care less about things like symmetry or homogeneity.  In other words, it does whatever IT wants to do, even if that makes you look like a first class dufus.  For example, I have a wave in the front top area of my head that -- if cut improperly -- will rise up like a cobra searching for something to strike.  My wife's curls are tighter in some areas than others, sometimes giving her a hair profile that looks a bit like a potato that has been too long in a microwave.

These are challenges that very few barbers can handle effectively and consistently. To do so requires being something of a "hair whisperer,"  a person who can determine the nuances of curls and waves and project how they will react to a snip here and a snip there.  It also requires understanding that wavy/curly hair of varying lengths reacts dynamically to climatic conditions of humidity and heat by tightening and relaxing to varying degrees.  What looks like a good cut leaving the shop can easily become a scary mess the next day. You can see why I'm so dedicated to my current barber, who is all the more praiseworthy because she herself has straight hair.

Small children often cry when they are taken for their first haircut, and they are entirely justified.  They may be sensing the lesson of Samson and lifetime of "hair angst" that lies ahead.


Randy said...

I can attest that your hair always looks great and now I know why. Even with cultural differences it is really hard to explain Kim Jong Un. I wonder how many barbers he has been through? And count yourself lucky that you have always thought your eyebrows were just right!

SimoneStan said...

I have suffered through many miserable haircuts in my life. Most times it is because they (the hairdressers) have cut it too short. Now I do wear my hair relatively short but there is a huge difference between a trim of 1/4 to 1/2 inch to a scalping of 1 inch or more. At times I have had to employ hats and self imposed quarantine until my hair and my psyche recover.

Jim said...

I empathize with your quandary and would enjoy a similar concern. First, though, you have to have hair, then you need growth.

Richard Sherman said...

I realize I may have been a bit insensitive to those of you who are follicularly challenged, and to those who may have hair much more curly than my own. My complaint isn't about too *much* curl, rather it's the unevenness and unruliness of it.

Randy, I have to confess my barber also trims my eyebrows. Otherwise they would be as big as the bumpers on a Buick.

They say as some men age their hair may thin on the top of their head, but grows with a vengeance as eyebrows, nose hair, and ear muffs. That's for another blog.....

Don said...

I NEVER have a bad hair day -- Sharon cuts my hair.

Richard Sherman said...

Well said, sir! (For the sake of marital harmony, I trust you'd never say otherwise?)

We know a few other "straight" couples who do this, too. It would certainly save a lot of money. However, those of us with unruly waves & curls might balk at such an arrangement. My wife and I agree that no matter what other skills and abilities we each have, "hair whispering" is not one of them.

Coleen Hanna said...

I am still laughing at this! Dick, I can picture your hair as if it were standing right in front of me even though I haven't seen it since way back in the last century! I don't know if I have ever had a good haircut. I've given up. I spend way too much on color, and when I am no longer in the job market, I am going to let it go gray.