A math problem arose the other day while I was getting a haircut at 95 years old. I've had my hair cut seven or eight times each year that sums up to over 700 haircuts. I won't even address the cost of haircuts in my lifetime but am still blessed with hair to cut!
Barbers are becoming scarce today. There are only a few barbers in the Okoboji area; one in Arnolds Park, one in Spirit Lake and one in Milford. Otherwise men go to a hair stylist to get their hair cut. The COVID-19 virus shut the barber shops down for several months. The barbers wear a mask but we take our masks off. While I was getting my hair cut I reflected on earlier times. The barber today uses clippers, scissors and a comb. The one thing that has really changed is the price as it used to cost 25 cents and today $12 to $20 or more.
Barber shops are identified by a barber pole, red and white and even blue added. The blue stripes in America represented the American flag. Barbers in earlier times also pulled teeth and did minor surgery. One story about the barber pole says that the barber surgeons would hang their blood stained rags out on a pole to advertise their shop. The look of the barber poles is linked to bloodletting, with red representing blood and white representing the bandages used to stem the bleeding. George Washington's doctors did some bloodletting in his last days. The pole itself is said to symbolize the stick that the patient squeezed to make the veins in his arm stand out more prominently for the procedure. Men's hairstyling has come a long way since the Middle Ages, but the barber pole still preserves an iconic representation of the trade.
My early recollections of getting my hair cut were at home. Mother cut my hair until I was about 5 years old. She was pretty good with those hand clippers, scissors and comb. She also cut Dad's hair.
As a youth I believe my first encounter with a barbershop came when I was five. The barber was a personal friend of my parents so I knew him quite well. My dad dropped me off at the shop and the barber told me to sit over on the bench until he was through with the fellow he was shaving. I was familiar with shaving as I had observed my dad and uncles shave at home but to see somebody in a barber chair getting his whiskers shaved off was a new sight. I also got to observe the rest of the shop while waiting. There were three barber chairs available for getting shaves and haircuts, a shoe shine chair and little room off to one side.
That little room fascinated me and upon investigation I discovered a bathtub in the room. My first thought was that was a queer place for a bathtub but it wasn't long before some fellow came in and told the barber he wanted a bath. The barber took his money, gave him a towel and the guy went into the little room. He closed the door and I could hear water running into the tub and soon splashing so I assumed he was taking a bath. We had a bathtub in our house so I thought it was peculiar for someone to come to town for a bath. Little did I know that many houses and especially farmhouses had neither bathtubs nor running water!
While waiting for my turn I was able to watch the barber shave the man. It was quite a procedure to observe. First, the man sat down in the chair, and then the barber tilted the chair back until the man was almost lying down. Next the barber took out some very hot white towels from a steam box and applied them to the man's face. That procedure really looked hot and all I could see of the man's face was his nose sticking out from the towels wrapped around and across.
After a time the barber took off the hot towels and then with a brush and a glass mug put shaving lather all over the fellow's face and neck. Following that the barber took a long straight edge razor and ran it back and forth on a leather strap that hung to the side of the chair. I knew about razor straps as my dad had one that hung back of the bathroom door and if I did something naughty it was used on my backside to get my attention.
The barber shaved off the whiskers with long, even swipes. I admired the way he held the fellow's nose and shaved off the whiskers below his nose. What really caught my attention was when the barber shaved the fellow's neck. The guy had his head back and the barber took off those whiskers slick as a whistle. I thought to myself that I would have to be brave and very trusting before I would ever let a barber shave my neck.
When it was my turn to get a haircut, the barber put a board across the arms of the chair for me to sit on. Later in life it was really gratifying when I didn't have to have that baby board while getting a haircut. Then the barber put tissue paper around my neck and wrapped a large apron or towel around my front side and pinned it in the back. He then proceeded to cut my hair.
Those electric clippers sort of startled me as I was used to Mother's hand clippers but it went very smooth. He trimmed off some hair from the top of my head and sides, combed it nicely to see if it all matched and then dashed on some stinky hair oil. He again combed it, whipped off the apron and told me he was finished. I got up and proudly gave him 25 cents. It sure made me feel like a big boy.
That hair oil was in standard use by men in the United States for many years. The most popular brand was Fitch. Elvis Presley made it very popular with his slicked back hair, oil and the "ducktail" hairdo. I suppose it is still sold but I haven't checked lately. Barbers do not use it anymore.
While I was getting my first haircut at that early barbershop a couple of elderly men came in and sat down on the bench. Neither of them looked like they needed a haircut or a shave but what did I know? They were soon engaged in a lively discussion about some subject I couldn't follow. I did hear the words "president" and "congress" mentioned but that was beyond my comprehension. Soon another fellow came in and then it was a three-party conversation with the barber getting his "two cents" in every so often. The other barber chairs were empty but none of those fellows moved to get it. I finally figured out they only came into the barbershop to talk and read the newspaper. The barber didn't seem to mind.
The barbershop that I frequented as a youth did not cater to women and was strictly for men. One of the other barbershops in town did have a part of their shop partitioned off for women to get their hair fixed. There was an electric machine in there with all sorts of electric cords with some gadget attached that curled women's hair. I only went into that shop when I accompanied the barber's son who was a buddy of mine. I took one look at that electric hair curler and thought to myself that it looked dangerous. I do not ever remember my mother, grandmothers or aunts going to a barbershop to get their hair beautiful. Later several beauty shops opened up in town and the women went there.
I didn't know exactly what they did in those beauty shops but I did deliver a newspaper to one of the shops and had to go in each week to collect. Women were sitting under some sort of a hood or they had electric wires and clamps in their hair. It was very confusing to me and it wasn't until much later in my life that the whole procedure was explained.
Today many men go to beauty salons and get their hair styled, dyed and or curled. The beauticians cut hair differently than the barbers as they use a razor for most of the trimming. They usually wash your hair before they cut it. They do a great job but I'm old-fashioned and still prefer a barber!