A Little Off the Top!


By: Wayne Brown

Just the other day I sat in my hair stylist chair as she practiced her expertise on my thriving head of hair. As I sat there, I thought back on my childhood and my early visits to the barber shop, first with my dad, then in later years I would go alone. My memories caused me to marvel at how much things have changed since those times and I found myself missing that old barbershop on the town square.

When I was a pre-teen there were three or four barbershops around our little town. Each had three or four barber chairs with barbers working steadily at the process of cutting hair. Each shop had a long line of chairs for those patrons who patiently awaited their turn in one of the hydraulic chairs. Barbering, even in my small home town of 3,000 people, was big business and it was done on a production scale. In those days, some men got their hair cut weekly or at least every two weeks. Everyone had short hair mostly combed in a “parted style” of the day.

As I became old enough not to fear the barber and need holding down to gain a hair-cut, I found that I was still quite intimidated by the environment. The barbershop was a gathering place for adult men who talked politics, told jokes, and traded stories. They seem to just tolerate us young boys. For most of us, the barbershop was the first place we ever heard politics discussed and solutions to world hunger offered up. There were some men in the shop who seemed to know something about everything and who were we young boys to question the validity of any of it…we bought it all hook, line, and sinker.


The barber pole hung outside the shop marking the presence of the business. Often, there was various types of hair oil displayed in the window. Those were the days when everyone used hair oil for some unknown reason. My theory developed in later life was that it was a great cure-all for “bed-head”. Most folks woke up with it and since they normally took their baths the night before, there was no curing it in the shore…thus ,the hair-oil business was red hot. One of the hair-oils displayed was a bottle of oil of various weights and colors all in the same bottle. Each of the oils would seek its own level based on its weight and thickness. The barber would shake it up and mix it, only to have it magically assume its original layering. We were pretty sure this was a function of some kind of barber voo-doo. 

In later years, I discovered that barbering is one of the oldest professions around likely only taking second place due to the prevalence of prostitution since the beginning of time in the world. Barbers, especially back in the era of the Romans, were men of statue and considered to be quite skilled with their ability to sculpt the hair and beard. In fact, the term “barber” is used in reference to the beard. These men were envied for their skills. In years to come they expanded their cutting abilities to become “blood-letters” and then to practice the art of surgery. It is a little known fact but barbering was the driving force behind the development of surgery principles and schooling in the world. Humanity has much to thank the barber for. Even the barber pole arose from those times when bandages would be hung out on poles in front of the establishments to advertise that it was a place of “bloodletting”. One bandage would be red to signify the blood and the other white to signify the bandaging of the cut. Thus…the barber pole.

But I digress, my purpose is not to review the history of barbering in the world but simply to use this tangent to put into perspective how important barbering has been in the lives of people for time on end. One then must wonder if that is why the barber always seemed so intelligent to us young boys as they spoke to us while sitting in their big chairs. It seemed that way to me anyway.

Early on, when I began going to the barbershop by myself, I hated it if the barber thought that I needed to use the cheater board across the chair arms to sit on for the cut. Barbers are a picky lot and they want the head at just the right level. I hated sitting on that board and celebrated the day when the first barber actually acknowledge that I was indeed tall enough to sit like a big boy in the chair. Finally, I was a man!



The chair was quite the fixture as well…much different than what we see today. The chairs of those day were a mixture porcelain, painted metal, steel attachments, and large padded leather seats and backs. It was complete with a head rest that had a rolled of paper on it which allowed the barber to quick prepare it for the next head. Each head which leaned against it left a greasy spot from the hair-oil in use. On the side, there was a large lever that looked much like the draft beer pull handles you see in bars today. Once one was in the chair, the barber would hit that handle and literally jack you right up there in the chair. As we sat waiting we could see the secret of the chair. It had a hydraulic shaft that seemed to come right up out of the floor. Us young boys were pretty sure that shaft reached all the way to China underneath that platform base. We were also convinced that if the barber wanted to, he could easily jack your ass up right through the ceiling. On the basis of that belief, we were always cooperative and sat very still.



The barber offered hot shaves with steamy towels applied over the men’s faces to soften the whiskers. Once that step was complete, the barber ran some hot water into his soap cup and lathered his brush. He then applied the lather liberally to all of the man’s facial area. Next came the straight razor and we sat welded gazing upon its bright blade. The barber would slap it a few times against the leather strap attached to the side of the chair and then go to work on the man’s face. He had a special, dainty-like way of holding that razor that made me want to learn to do it too.



Barbers always seemed to speak at about the same rate that they cut hair. If they were emphasizing some particular line of thought, their speech would slow and so would their cutting…they became very meticulous in both speech and action. Once past the point, they began to move a bit faster again until the next point of emphasis arose. Due to the coming and goings of the community people and all the talking, it was easy to see why the barber was in the know on just about every subject around town.

I don’t remember the barber ever really asking what kind of haircut I wanted. Back in that day, it seemed that the law required that everyone get the same style which meant we left the place with that “new cut” head look which was highlighted by white walling the sides of our head. The last step which signaled the haircut was nearing an end came when the barber would get out the straight razor and peel all the hair from around my ears and all around the base of my neck. The blade tickled but I dared not laugh or move for fear that he would cut my fool head off or worse…like run me through the ceiling in that chair! Then, the barber oiled up my hair and parted it with a comb. The final touch was to powder his big blonde brush and apply the powder to the perimeter of my head and neck. This step helped all the loose hair slide off and left you smelling like you just got a haircut…which you did!

With that I was ready for another two weeks without the barber in my life. For that timeframe, my mother would amply apply a large dose of Wildroot Crème Oil to my head and gingerly part each hair into place. Wildroot was apparently some good stuff cause my dad used it too. I could attest to its fine qualities and holding power as I had tested it many times walking to school in a cold north wind only to arrive and still have every hair in place. It had lasting power too as evidenced by the fact that you could run your comb through your hair after a long day and still see the white residue on your comb left by the Wildroot pulled from your hair. I’ll bet a barber invented it.



Some might say we have come a long way since that time. Now, it is not perfectly normal to see a man getting his hair colored and styled by some cute little blonde in hot pants. I have to smile when I think back about how many more men would have been getting haircuts on a much higher frequency if the barbers had been blonde and in hot pants…those really would have been some days to remember.


© Copyright WBrown2011. All Rights Reserved.


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Comments 42 comments

partisan patriot 6 years ago


Thanks form the trip down memory lane; I guess all barber shops were the same back then!

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

Good morning, Wayne. I really entertained with this hub. Thanks for share the story about barber, I always cut my hair in barber once in two months. I also enjoy all the pictures and video. Good work, my friend. Vote up as always. Take care!

Blessing and hugs,

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

My dad neither drank nor smoked, so a Saturday morning visit to the barber shop was a fascinating entry into the famed den of iniquity. There were always the same two or three roguish looking men in bib overalls puffing on cigars and furtively passing around a pint of Wild Turkey, poorly concealed in a brown paper bag. They sat in chairs along the wall and never seemed to actually get their hair cut or even need one.

The unique odor combinations of cigar smoke and whiskey breath, combined with various pomades, lotions, and tonics were to be found only in yesterday’s barber shops and today’s French whorehouses. The smells alone are forever impressed in my memory.

Women simply were not allowed. If one brought her son to be scalped, one of the bib overalls opened the door and assured the terrified mother that no harm would come to her little darling. The victim was shown to a chair and handed a comic book while the stricken mother hovered outside, peering through the murky windows.

It was great fun and a men-only haven where we could fart and belch and nobody cared. I miss it terribly.

Another great Hub Wayne!

Docmo profile image

Docmo 6 years ago from UK

Ah I remember the sheer courage it took to first express my own opinion of how long I wanted the hair to be to the barber after years of silent tyranny. I also remember the fine mist of water sprayed through an atomiser on my hair and face prior to the cut. As a boy another abiding memory is seeing those saucy calendars on the Walls and listening to adult humour much of which was way over my little head. Thanks for this delightful little hub of nostalgia!

Rhonda Waits profile image

Rhonda Waits 6 years ago from The Emerald Coast

A great hub Wayne. I remember seeing the old barbershop and chairs on the Andy Griffith reruns. I was not born back then to remember. But,I grew up later in life watching the reruns on T.V. Great hub.

Sweet wishes Rhonda

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 6 years ago from Minnesota

I felt just as you did going to a beauty parlour for women and girls. I felt on the spot as I listened to all the woman talking about politics or husbands. I was scared to murmur a word and just sat still until they removed the apron-like vest.

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@Paritisan Patriot...It was fun for me too...I miss those days! WB

@prasetio30...You didn't say but I assume the barber shops were much the same in your country??? WB

@WillStarr...Gee Will, I hate you wasted these good comments on me..you have the makings of a great hub right here on the subject! WB

@Docmo...Isn't it amazing how much we all saw the world in the same light..you don't know that when you are a kid...makes me feel a bit more sane! WB

@Rhonda Waits...you should have lived in that era with us Rhonda...we would have taken you to the barbershop with us. LOL! WB

@Minnetonka Twin...LOL! Same here...I was petrified. I am not sure I ever said anything in the barbershop except "thank you!" WB

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona


Commenting on one of your Hubs is never a waste my friend!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

I could almost smell the Wildroot while reading this memorable hub, Wayne. Loved every old-fashioned memory it evoked.

And thanks for the barber pole explanation - now I know what they used to represent.

samiaali profile image

samiaali 6 years ago

I loved this Hubpage WB! I never knew why the barbershop poles were red and white striped. The history behind it is very interesting! I really like the pics you added. What a beautiful chair! Thanks for all the info! :)

epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

...when I grow up I wanna write like the great Wayne Brown - your prose and creativity is as smooth as honey going down a baby bear's tongue ......and to tell you the truth this hub didn't appeal to me that much - lol lol - my family is cursed by the Lon Chaney Jr. syndrome and I can't sleep when there's a full moon - but I'm wide awake when I come over here to your hubs - they're the most awesome display of creative male virility on this entire hub planet .......where all of the women look like Maureen O'Hara!!!!!

Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 6 years ago from Rural Arizona

Wayne, Once again you made me reach way back into the dusty old parts of my memory banks, but it is as clear as yesterday. Our barbershop had a door that opened into a pool hall. I believe they also served beer in that pool hall. It was always an adventure to go to the barbershop for me and my cousins. Our barber even let us pick the flavor of oil he sprinkled on at the end of the haircut. Those were the good old days.

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@WillStarr...you are one of the reasons I love writing here my friend..thanks so much! WB

@drbj...I wore so much Wildroot as a child that I could participate in a class action suit! WB

@samiaali...I was amazed at the history and how far back it reaches...that is a hub all to itself! WB

@epigramman...Colin, if I could make all your praise come true, I would already be the American Idol and the President. You are one great fan. And you are one talent person yourself who deflects praise you rightly deserve. Your fan base can attest to that fact! Thanks so much for your great words of encouragement! WB

@Old Poolman...I love it...we all had so many of the same experiences though the miles between us were great. How does it work like that...does one barber talk to the other? LOL ! Glad you got some great memories from it! WB

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

BTW, I still have my hair cut by the same barber who started cutting my hair almost 50 years ago! He still tells the same lame jokes and I still laugh.

And women are not allowed. :-)

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@WillStarr...I went to the same one for 25 and they called me "loyal"...you deserve to be recognized for a level beyond "loyal"! LOL! WB

Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 6 years ago

What a great hub! What a wonderful part of your youth and your identity. Blessings you still have hair. Ha! I fondly remember my brothers going to the barbershop. I was so jealous when they emerged with gumball from the penny machine. My boys enjoy the SportsClips franchise. No matter the day of time, there is something playing on the TV to keep their interest. And they don't seem to be too interested in what mom says!

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

"@WillStarr...I went to the same one for 25 and they called me "loyal"...you deserve to be recognized for a level beyond "loyal"! LOL! WB"

He was my apartment neighbor from across the street before he was my barber. We used to ride our Triumphs and BSA's together out in the Arizona desert.

We still haven't grown up. :-)

Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 6 years ago from Rural Arizona

One thing nobody has mentioned is I recall a haircut costing 50 cents when I was a youngster. Now I get them for free with the good old #2 guard snapped onto our very own clippers. Darn I miss my hair.

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TimBryce 6 years ago

Wayne -

Great piece. Brought back a lot of memories. BTW, I used to have a barber chair just like the one you show in the photo. It weighed a ton due to the cast iron and porcelin. It also took a quart of motor oil for the hydraulic pump. Mine was built around 1910 in Cincinnati (where a lot of chairs were built).

All the Best,


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 6 years ago

We still have an old fashioned barber shop in town. Wonderful walk down memory lane, even though I personally never went to a barber!

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@Old Poolman...I remember when they went to one dollar...folks thought the world was nearing an end! LOL! Think of the dollars you are saving with that clipper! WB

@TimBryce...That sounds like a very nice chair. Would it jack you all the way through the ceiling....just wondering! LOL! WB

@breakfastpop...There are actually one or two around here. I often wonder if they are really the same or if I have changed to much to still appreciate them? WB

Genna East profile image

Genna East 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Delightful hub, and a vote up that is well-deserved!

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@Genna East...Wait! You didn't share your barbershop experiences! LOL! Thanks Geena! WB

Radioguy profile image

Radioguy 6 years ago from Maine

Great job and well put together! Thanks for the trip down nostalgia lane!

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@Radioguy...Thank you, glad I could conjure up those memories for you with this one. Thanks for stopping by and please come again! WB

thebluestar profile image

thebluestar 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

Well Wayne, what can I say, you have done it again. Great hub. Problem is now I can only think of brylcream and rinsing my hair with vinegar, yuk, to make it shine not, to mention the days when we had to carry water from the rain water barrel because mum said 'it was best.' lol I had very long hair until mum became ill and the first haircut I had was done with the cut throat razor, the effect was like a fuzzy tennis ball, I can still hear that tearing sound as my hair fell to the ground. Ah memories

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@thebluestar...possibly you experience the rudimentary beginnings of the "razor cut" commonly now used in hair styling today...they must have made progress! LOL! WB

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

We don’t have barber shops anymore. Our hair salons are labeled ‘unisex’, so men and woman, boys and girls go to the same salon.

That bloodletting business was so weird! But one day ‘they’ will probably regard many of our current practices as very weird.

I enjoyed the read, Wayne. Thanks!

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@MartieCoetser...Much the same here but every once in a while you come across one that looks a bit like yesterday. The blood-letting was strange but I will have to admit that I have been giving blood regularly for over two years and I seem to stay very healthy...no colds, flu, viruses...maybe just a coincidence but it seemed I was not so lucky prior to starting the process...maybe God is just cutting me some slack for my generosity! LOL! WB

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I remeber when I was young I went to the barber shop with my dad. I think the only reason he went to that doctor was because he raised horses and dad loved to talk about horses.Mostly when I was on my own it seemed that the barbers always wanted to talk sports which I don't like to talk about. I got to like the Navy barbers and started getting my haircuts on my duty weekends.I liked them because they could give a hircut in about five minutes.

At times when I was down and out I started cutting my own hair which I still do.

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@dahoglund....If I can ever do my own, I'll probably all but shave my head! LOL! Even then it would have to be a whitewalling with clippers as I don't trust myself using a straight razor...to easy to make a slip. I had never thought about the military haircut being a "5-minute style". Thanks DA. WB

akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

Very well written, Wayne (as usual) - really does bring back memories of times long gone by. My hubby now goes to my beauty shop (we live in a very small town) and he always says it reminds him of the old time barbershops back in Michigan where he grew up. My hairdresser though not blonde and wearing pink shorts does have a gift of the gab and she goes on and on while she's cutting - slowing down at the appropriate times to make a point - and I watch my dear sweet Bob's eyes glaze over. I've been surprised a few times that he didn't either leap from the chair or fall over into a healthy snorefest. It is funny what goes on in a 'hair chair' no matter where or when but I like your rendition and explanations. As well...the 'standard' haircut - no kidding - back then who ever asked us our opinion anything? Too cute!

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@akirchner...I think the old barbershops back home were either off limits to women or they did not feel safe in them....times have changed! WB

attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

When i was at school the metalwork teacher measured everyone's hair with a micrometer. Mine was the thinnest. Half a thousandth of an inch. The thickest was three and a half thou. I used to plaster my hair with Brylcream. When i was about fifteen i washed all the cream out and my hair went which ever way the wind was blowing. Short back and sides was the order of the day, or a regimental. I had the thinnest hair and i've still got most of it too. Ah the good old days, nice memories Wayne.

ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas

Nice hub Wayne and I didnt know that bit of info about the barber pole but found it fascinating that people used to do the blood letting thing. Barbering and hairstylist are two different species. I was a hairstylist for many years and my brother was a barber. One day I visited him while he was at work and I watched him as he meticulously cut someones hair with the precision of a fine surgeon, all while chatting away about politics, and I was mesmerized by the whole atmosphere of the barber shop as compared to the salon where I worked. Yep times have changed indeed. Thanks for sharing this nice hub. Cheers.

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@attemptedhumor...Sounds like that thin hair wears well for the years! WB

@ladyjane1...Thank you! Yes, barbers were the original "surgeons" until they started killing too many and more controls were imposed...it is an interesting history. Glad you got to experience the barber world of old! WB

saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

Wayne a great hub, brought back so many pleasant memories of hanging out at the local barber shop when I was a lad. I was paid by the barber to sweep up the hair around the 3 chairs he had on the go. He kept busy with all the men that frequented his place.

He would pay me.25cents and off I would go to buy my favorite candies down the street. I sure enjoyed the scents and chatter that lingered in the air, it was where I was introduced to Brylcreem and I used it to slick back my hair into a dovetail to line up with my black leather jacket. Man those where the days, so much fun. Loved barber shops

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@saddlerider1...There must have been a blueprint somewhere that specified how barbershops worldwide must be. I am amazed at the similarity of experience with the same subject over such a great amount of geography. Thanks for the great comments, Ken! WB

Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 6 years ago

Fun hub! I gifted you with a babershop in my latest hub. Hope it is OK.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

@Truckstop Sally...Great memories of a process that for some unknown reason seemed to be the same experience for every man growing up in America. I wonder how that happens? WB

gajanis786 profile image

gajanis786 5 years ago

WB during all this reading I truly kept on guessing as how older you are now......

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@gajanis786...Well you can bet that I am a rock-solid baby boomer generation boy! LOL! Do my memories seem so ancient? LOL! Thanks much! WB

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