Barber’s shop boom heralds the return of the dandy


The dapper 60s look of the TV series Mad Men is credited with inspiring the revival in male grooming. Photograph: AMC

In Manhattan, the wet shave is replacing the scruffy look as men rediscover the joy of traditional grooming.

A transatlantic movement to ditch scruffy facial hair and restore male grooming to its rightful place in smart society has resulted in a boom in barber’s shops catering for even the most fastidious of 21st century dandies.

The trend, which has seen numerous traditional-style barber’s shops open in fashionable parts of New York recently, looks to be taking hold in London as well, as salons in the capital report demand for moustache trims rising by a third.

According to Chris Ward, who runs the old-style Murdock barber’s shop in Shoreditch, east London, the surge in interest is inspired by a revival of a “gentry” look that aims to merge hipster youth with gentlemanly elegance.

“The whole gentry style is coming back – Barbour jackets, peak caps,” he said. “The barber’s shop look is going back to our roots. A lot of blokes are looking after themselves more, taking pride in their looks, and guys don’t want unisex salons any more.”

At Murdock’s, online sales of moustache wax and badger-hair shaving brushes are up a third on last year, and Ward added they were doing nine moustache trims a day, while demand for a “high quality” short back and sides, for £38.50, was increasingly popular.

Accentuating the trend is “Movember“, a global charitable effort that encourages men to grow a moustache throughout November to raise awareness of prostrate cancer. Ward – who has a moustache himself, and not just for Movember – said that 100,000 people in the UK had signed up for the start of the project compared with 40,000 last year. Among them are several of the cricketers – including England batsman Kevin Pietersen – playing in the first Ashes Test.

Even for those not wanting to sport a moustache, the growing interest in old-fashioned shaving techniques is being seen in barber’s shops across east London. Mustafa Ismail, co-founder of Ted’s Grooming Room, said more and more men were treating themselves to a sharp razor and a traditional wet shave.

Further grooming services include the house’s trademark “One and Only Ted Shave: It’s our clients’ favourite…your hair styled and washed, neck fluff removed, and eyebrows trimmed. It makes people want to come back.”

Reasons for the resurgence of the “English dandy” look are varied. Some commentators cite the smash-hit US television series Mad Men, with its cast of dapper – and expertly shaven – actors led by Jon Hamm as brooding hero Don Draper. Others say the fondness of certain Hollywood stars, including Brad Pitt and Jude Law, for the moustache have fuelled its resurgent popularity.

For a glimpse into the future, observers have pointed to Lower Manhattan, where New Yorkers are indulging in a veritable barber’s shop renaissance. And it is not just the young and achingly hip: Wall Street bankers and young professionals are also regular customers.

At Freeman’s Sporting Club, one of five similar establishments within a few minutes’ stroll, the antique mirrors are gleaming and the room echoes with murmured conversation and scissor snips.

“Slouchy and scruffy is just not hip any more. I came in here because it’s at the back of a gentlemen’s tailor’s, so it looked authentic – and it’s neither the cheap clip joint nor the expensive salon with a woman next to you getting her hair dyed,” said Duncan Wolfe, 21, an art history student, as he was called for his Mad Men-style haircut.

This enthusiasm is repeated throughout New York, where male residents also appear to be seizing on the idea of home grooming: reports have indicated a surge of interest in vintage shaving, grooming and barber’s shop paraphernalia on the auction site eBay.

At Ernest & Olivia’s in the West Village, a barber’s shop which looks as if it has been there since the 1920s but in fact opened only four months ago, the male side is separated from the ladies’ salon. The two sections of the venue are deliberately closed off from each other and entered by separate doors.

David Gann, 43, a marketing manager for an online travel firm, said he was one of the many Mad Men fans to have been inspired by the crisp shirts, smart suits and slick haircuts of the 1960s-set advertising-agency drama. “I’m a big fan of Mad Men, and people are getting back into dressing up sharp,” he said, while getting a short back and sides. “I came in here because it made me nostalgic, with the late-50s/early-60s look and the advert for a free neck shave.”

Ernest & Olivia’s does men’s haircuts for $40 and cut-throat-razor shaves with hot towels for $30. According to Oscar Maya, who sports braces and an impeccable beard, the attraction of his shop lies in its middle-market appeal. “There’s a salon just around the corner that charges men $120. Or you can go to a buzz-and-go barber’s and get a chop for $12 or $13. But we’re somewhere in between.”

“It’s modern grooming with a retro style in a masculine setting, and lots of guys are curious and want to try a shave,” added co-owner Helik Torres.

His is not the only business to have cottoned on to the need to keep barber’s shops a conventionally masculine experience. The New York Shaving Company near Little Italy describes itself as a “man’s sanctuary” where the ritual of a hot shave comes with free camaraderie.

“It takes me back to when I was seven or eight and my father would let me go with him to the barber’s, and it was like some fraternal organisation you were being let in on: you felt so grown up,” said Ken Barber, 38. He had just had his beard trimmed – “and that wasn’t something I’d trust to just any barber.”

His wife, Lynn, added: “The big beards, mutton chops and shaggy ‘do’s are so over. Scruffy is fading out and Ken’s beard was wild, so this is great. He’s just avoided divorce.”



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