Haircuts and the Guy Clock

Haircuts are mind-clearing events for me, and I look forward to them and get anxious if I don’t get one for too long. My recent romanticization of barbarian lifestyles doesn’t stretch to enjoying facial hair or over-long head hair, though I did sport a moustache for a few years (going with the flow of default hair culture in India). And in case you were wondering: yes, barber and barbarian are etymologically related. All through yesterday I had a nagging sense that I needed a haircut, both because it was approximately the right time and also because my mug is going to be in pictures and videos quite a bit. I almost went out of my way to go to my regular place in the DC area. Then it struck me that I had unconsciously been associating “haircut” with home, and that I didn’t need to add more to an already-packed day.

Today is a low-tempo day. I had only one meeting planned, lunch with reader Ilya Lehrman in Philapdelphia at 1 PM. I’d planned to drive around the waterfront areas, but the rain made me change my mind. So instead of waterfront stuff, I got my haircut at a random Supercuts.


Haircuts are one of the important rhythms in the Guy Clock. Through most of my life, I’ve been going to cheap local barbers. Actual barbers, always men, who specialize only in haircuts and shaves for men. That’s the norm in India. When I came to the US, I encountered the world of unisex chain “salons” mostly staffed by women. I have to admit that while I am have no deep ritualistic attachment to the guys-only barber shop habit, I don’t really like going to the chain salons.  The haircuts tend to be bad and the banter from female stylists tends to annoy me. If the stylist is female and pretty, I find that doubly annoying, since that kind of distraction from the monthly ritual isn’t as pleasant as it sounds. But my preference isn’t strong enough to make me go too far out of my way to find a proper barber.  So I usually go to the closest cheap place to where I live.

Getting an “on the road” haircut made me wonder about whether the haircut clock is geographically local. The chain haircut experience isn’t, but the barber-shop experience is. Good barbers know exactly the right level of light banter to keep up.

I didn’t shower or shave this morning though, due to some logistics problems, so it didn’t feel as good.

The Gal Clock is, to put it lightly, well-studied and understood. The Guy Clock on the other hand, is not. Haircuts are second only to shaving in the Guy Clock in terms of narrative significance.  When I was younger, I used to be quite slobby about shaving regularly, and often sported 2-week stubbles. These days, while I don’t like shaving every day, I do like one every 2-3 days. I am also very cheap. Though I really enjoy the feel of a fresh blade, I usually use my blades several weeks past the day the little blue moisturizing strip on Gillette’s blades turns all white.

By an odd coincidence, Gillette was the nickname of the college pal whose couch I am crashing for the night in Albany.

Get Ribbonfarm in your inbox

Get new post updates by email

New post updates are sent out once a week

About Tempo


  1. I’ve mixed this up several times myself, so I have to point it out: Barber and barbarian, faux amis drawn together by a folk-tale and not actually etymologically related.
    “Barbarian” comes from an onomatopoeia of the Greek impression of what foreign speech sounded like, kind of a “blah blah blah.”
    “Barber <- barba" is from Latin from PIE, just for beard, and totally unrelated to barbarians or Greeks!

  2. Didn’t we discuss the etymology to death on the barbarian post on ribbonfarm? I thought we concluded they WERE related?

    • Haha! Have we?! Oh no, I think that means I have officially crossed over to being some kind of beard/barbarian etymology enthusiast!

  3. Its sad, really. We used to have old fashioned barbers. I think they are all dead now. They were all old men when I was a kid in the eighties. They used to have barber colleges, but they don’t have them anymore.

    Thinking about it I can smell the hair tonic and the stale smell of the old magazines piled around and hear the old men talking about baseball or politics.

    I think its one of those “folkway” things you posted about thats dying out. I remember the haircuts being really cheap, like 5 dollars from when I was a little kid and even after I came home from the Army they were still around that. They must have had very low overhead, but there couldn’t be much money in it compared to the salons chains that took over.

  4. Jordan Peacock says

    My favorite hair-cut place was in Sydney, in a NW suburb. The two main barbers were both sports maniacs who hated each other’s teams and would dissect recent games admist good-natured verbal abuse.

    It was a good, odd feeling to be part of such discussions with no obligation to add anything substantive (which for me, with sports, is a boon).

  5. etcwarrionr says

    Whenever i manage to go home I get fantastic haircuts from my friend Patrick. Nothing beats a haircut from a talented friend with opinions on everything and an amazing music collection. But as my hair gets out of control more frequently than I make it back home, I prefer barbers in and around mass transit stations. In NYC, I used to frequent one in the subway at Columbus Circle where a cut was $11, plus $2 to enter the subway. Just outside of DC there is a barber shop at the Rosslyn Metro station, Rosslyn Barber Shop. They charge $16 for a cut and you don’t have to enter the station to access the shop no additional cost for that. Minh is good, but I prefer Tina’s cuts.