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What is a barber?

Updated on August 29, 2011

So what exactly is a barber?

A barber is a person who practices primarily in the art of men's grooming needs. Some barberrs nowadays will also cut a lady's haircut but a barber's forte is generally men's haircuts, beard trims, shaves, and moustaches. Barbers usually only do haircuts and don't usually do perms, coloring, blow-drying or curling and straightening irons. Barbers used to be only men and cosmetologists were women. There have been a lot of changes in recent years because of the unisex salons and these days many people don't know the difference between what is a barber and what is a cosmetologist.

Barbering is becoming a lost art. In the old days, everyone knew what a barber was. Many people are unaware that barbers were once surgeons and dentists and clergymen. The traditional barber pole is a symbol that comes from the bloody bandages blowing in the wind. The technical term for barbers is a "tonsorial artist."

A tapered haircut
A tapered haircut

The Difference Between A Barber And A Cosmetologist

Over the years, the barber profession has evolved and changed to suit the public. In the past, barbers were men who shaved and cut men's hair. Hairdressers were women who cut women's hair and fixed it pretty. Barbers were and are still, primarily for men's grooming needs, and hairdressers were and are still, primarily for women's grooming needs. In the past, women were not allowed in the barber shop. It was unheard of. It was a place where men went to talk "guy talk" like politics, war, economy, etc., that women weren't privy to in those days. Some barber shops had spittoons lined up against the wall where the customers would spit while getting their hair cut. Before the disposable razor was invented, men had their own shaving mug with their name on it, and went to the barber shop to be shaved and groomed. Going to the barber shop was like reading the newspaper. It's where the men got the latest news.

In the past, a barber was hired as an apprentice and later became a barber after prooving their skills. Presently, there are two different types of schools to learn the art of hair-cutting. There is Barber School. And there is Cosmetology School. They are different and similar in many ways. They are two different licenses. There is a license to practice Barbering. And there is a license to practice Cosmetology. They are run and regulated by different laws in each state. There are barber schools and barber shops which are regulated and inspected by the Barber Board, which is a branch of the Department of Business and Professional Regulations, also known as the DBPR. Then there are cosmetology schools and beauty salons which are run by the Cosmetology Board, also a branch of the Department of Business and Professional Regulations. In the USA, each state has different regulations and laws.

In most states, barbers are allowed to work in beauty salons, and cosmetologists are allowed to work in barber shops. Some states still have an apprentice license, a barber license, and a master barber license. A student has to attend a certain amount of hours in school, in order to apply to take the state board exam and acquire a license. We have to apply for a license for each state we live in and submit proof of the hours attended. Some states have stricter guidelines than others. In some states, we have to take another state board exam and/or attend more hours of school. We also have to renew our license every two years. Cosmetologists are sometimes required to attend a certain amount of continuing education, such as hair shows, classes and seminars between license renewals. Both barbers and cosmetologists have to submit proof of attending a course on the AIDS virus. In some states, the owner must have a barber's license in order to display a barber pole as a sign, or use the word "Barber" in the name of the shop.

Barbers generally don't wash the hair or fix it pretty. Most traditional barbers don't do permanent waves, hair coloring, curl sets, blow-drying or using the curling iron, although it is taught in the barber schools today. Barbers are trained primarily in the art of hair-cutting. Some time during and after World war II, there became a need for women to get jobs and go to work outside the home and it became more common for women to practice barbering.

There are always exceptions to a rule. When I am explaining the differences between hairdressers and barbers, I mean for it to taken in the "typical" or "general" sense. There are barbers who can do beautiful style haircuts. There are barbers who can use a curling iron and a blow-dryer as good as any cosmetologist can. There are cosmetologists who can do a beautifully tapered man's haircut as good as any barber. I'm sure there are cosmetologists who can shave with a straight razor too. Some have been taught by co-workers. Some have learned from practice and trial and error. But the main difference between the two is the man's military style tapered haircut and the use of the clippers and the straight razor.

If you'd like to learn more about the barber business, please check out the book I wrote called Confessions Of A Surly Barber, on Amazon! Click on the link below to check it out!

clipper over comb technique
clipper over comb technique

Tools Of The Trade

What tools does a barber use?

Barber's tools are different than cosmetologist's tools. Most barber's tools are designed for cutting dry hair. We typically have 3 different clippers that we use. One is a large motor driven clipper that has interchangeable blades of different sizes. The plastic guards that attach to the other kind of clippers miss a lot of hair and sometime fall off the clippers. Most traditional barbers don't like to use them. They are designed for more light work. They're more suitable for hairdressers who don't use their clippers as much as a barber does. For the amount of clipper work a hairdresser does, it doesn't pay to have an Oster® clipper, since they are much more expensive to purchase and you need to own all the different blades for them. A barber needs a tough clipper that can be used all day long without getting too hot. Barbers usually also have an all around basic clipper that has an adjustable blade that basically cuts from a size #000 (closed) to #1 or 1-1/2 (open) which are typically used in combination with a comb. (Clipper over comb) The Wahl® and Andis.® brands seem to be the most common. These are the clippers that you attach the plastic guards on to, or use by themselves, or use with a comb. Most barbers hold the hair with the comb and cut it with the clipper with no guard. We use the basic clippers (with no guard) for tapering (on the hairline) and going around the ears, and for close haircuts. We use these clippers on just about every man's haircut, unless it's a longer type "layer" "style" "scissor" haircut.

We also use a small clipper called an "edger" or "T-edger" that cuts very close, much like an electric shaver. It is used for shaving the neck, making it clean cut around the ears, cutting the hair inside and on the ears, and some barbers use them to trim the eyebrows. The T-edger clipper is most commonly used as a finishing tool.

Barbers' scissors are called "shears." They are traditionally much larger than a hairdressers shears and are used in a completely different fashion or technique. These shears are for blending the taper into the rest of the hair, and gradually getting longer toward the top. We hold the hair with the comb and cut with the shears which is called the "scissor over comb" technique. Some barbers also use a shear called a "blending shear" sometimes referred to as a "thinning shear." There is a difference between the two in the amount of teeth they have. A blending shear can also be used as a thinning shear, but a thinning shear can't always be used as a blending shear, depending on the barber and the technique they are using. When used as a blending shear, they're used in the scissor over comb technique, and operated by cutting the hair many times in the same spot. When used as a thinning shear, the hair is held up with either fingers or a comb, and cut one time approx. halfway from end to root. It is not recommended to use them close to the root as they will create lots of short hairs sticking straight up.

If my lens interests you, please check out the book I wrote at! Thank you for stopping by my lens!

Are barbers doomed?

Since the advent of unisex salons and franchises, men no longer have to go to a traditional barber shop for their grooming needs.

Do you think barbers will become a thing of the past?

See results

Do you go to a barber or to a cosmetologist? - Do you know?

Remember, a male or female can be a barber or a cosmetologist and a barber can work in a salon and a cosmetologist can work in a barber shop.

Who cuts your hair?

See results

Post Your Comments!

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    • whoisbid lm profile image

      whoisbid lm 

      7 years ago

      I love to see people competing with Wikipedia on "what is" and "who is" .. May you do incredibly well here!

    • Bindelstiff profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Clipperguy, It's great to meet another barber here on Squidoo! I've seen your videos on youtube! You're awesome!I will check your lenses! Thanks for stopping by!

    • Clipperguy profile image


      7 years ago

      I am both a barber and a cosmetologist... but cut like a barber and work like a barber. Nice lens. Ivan

    • Bindelstiff profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks for the feedback! Interesting! I'm enjoying all the comments. And thanks Shirlw for the blessing! I do feel so blessed so be off to a good start here! Thanks to all!

    • sheriangell profile image


      7 years ago

      Well written and blessed by a Squid Angel today.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am a woman that cuts my own hair. Couldn't really answer the poll. Most of the guys in my family go to barber. If I were so inclined to join the business ... I'd want to be a female barber rather than a cosmetologist.

    • Bindelstiff profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you all so much for stopping by my lens and for the comments and votes. I find the poll results and comments very interesting!

    • Joan Haines profile image

      Joan Haines 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for all of your clarification. It would be a sad day if barbers ever faded away. (Isn't a fade a type of haircut?)

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      7 years ago from Colorado

      I can see that being a female barber is a great profession. Congrats on publishing your first lens. Welcome to Squidoo and I look forward to your next lens. Wishing you much success here.

    • Stephen Lewis profile image

      Stephen Lewis 

      7 years ago

      I never went to a salon for hair care until I needed to color my hair to preserve my career. I suddenly developed a white blaze in the front of my scalp.

      I found out that salon conversation is much more diverse and interesting than barber shop talk. But then I never was much into sports and nites out with the boys. I have now been pampered by 3 stylists over the years as the first 2 moved on with their lives into places that were too far for travel. But I now have 3 close friends on line, even if I seldom see the first 2 in person. I had never been even casual friends with my male barbers.

      I have now colored my hair for over 25 years, and really enjoy my monthly visit with the MUCH younger set female friends at the salon. They employ nearly 20 stylists.

      Thanks for the technical background education in the 2 fields.

    • MomwithAHook LM profile image

      Sara Duggan 

      7 years ago from California

      I don't think I've ever met a female barber. Barber shops are scarce in the city but there are still some around. I took my son to one and the conversation was great for us [parents] but my kid, he just wanted out of there - he had long hair at the time.

    • Bindelstiff profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you all so much for your warm welcome, comments and support! This is my first lens and I appreciate the support and encouragement very much!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      7 years ago from Arkansas USA

      I thought at one point, long ago, that I might like to train to be a barber. It didn't work out that way, but it's interesting to meet a female barber here on Squidoo!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Well done. I learned a lot from this lens.

      Welcome to Squidoo.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


    • pramodbisht profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice Lens welcome to squidoo

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      very informative and interesting!


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