Waterloo, IA - November 20, 2018
The smells of aftershave and cologne fill the air and the hum of clippers echo in unison. Leather barber chairs peppered throughout. Male barber’s faces accented with hearty and robust beards, masculine and rugged in appearance. These are probably the stereotypical elements that most think of when envisioning what a barbershop is. But what happens when that vision is challenged, and the ones with clippers in their hands are women, and a lot of them? Where there is an increasing growth in the barber industry, there has been an uptick of many women joining these ranks. Some women challenging this status quo, are located in a barbershop here in the Cedar Valley, called Five Seasons Hair & Beard Studio located on Sycamore St. in downtown Waterloo, IA. Kyler “Ky” Littleton of Waverly, Jalexis Senter of Cedar Rapids, and Haley Harms of Allison make up half the staff here. More female barbers than many “traditional” barbershops in the area. Granted that female barbers aren’t a new phenomenon, walking into a barbershop with half the staff being women is.
The male grooming industry has seen a recent resurgence and “trendiness” with the help of rebranding, social media, additional amenities offered, and a lot of new barber shops being Millennial-owned. So with this fresh change to the look and feel of a barbershop, comes a more progressive inclusivity of female barbers occupying these spaces. Right? According to Harms she agrees and feels that, “people are more open minded now”, as well as Littleton stating that, “it’s accepted a lot more nowadays”. Because of the increased desire for men to want to take extra care in their appearance, there is a demand for skills outside of just hair cutting that female barbers can offer. Harms happens to be the only one in the shop that does eyebrow waxing for clients. A useful skill in her repertoire, carried over from her previous experience as a hairdresser.
The fact is, is that female barbers learn the same things and gain the same skills. So when faced with the specific issue of gender in the industry, it isn’t a majority of male peers who seem to be opposed to women cutting alongside them. In actuality, there are many that support the idea of more women being associated with the art and often encouraged, as owner Jordan Finger has for Harms, Littleton, and Senter. Although there is some discrimination evident in the industry itself, women actually face discrimination more from potential clientele. Those who don’t believe women can cut men’s hair or just don’t trust that they could do as good a job as male barbers. All three barbers say they have either experienced some form of this intolerance or witnessed it happening to other female barbers. They encourage having a thick skin and not letting those type of people and situations get to them. Surprisingly enough though, it doesn’t happen as often as one might think. There is still some hesitation from male clientele, but they tend to be more open to experiencing what a female barber has to offer. “Sometimes you can tell they’re judging you in a way, but once they get back in your chair, you can prove to them that you can cut hair and they’re happy with the results. It’s the best feeling and best reward”, says Harms.
They also state that the complete opposite can happen, and male clientele actually seek out female barbers. Littleton stating that, “some men prefer women to cut their hair, just for a woman’s touch period”, and Senter affirming that, “some men don’t care, and some men prefer only having women cut their hair”. So do studies backup these sentiments as well? According to the comprehensive Priority Male Study done by MODERN SALON Media, “When it comes to choosing a service provider, 30% of men prefer a female stylist/barber and 27% would gravitate to a male—43% have no preference”. In other words, there are more men that actually choose a female barber and even more don’t care about gender at all. Based on research and personal testimonials, could it be that an industry so heavily dominated by a particular gender, like barbershops, actually have less gender bias in comparison to more equally balanced occupations?
That’s a question that could be answered at a different time, but one question that could be answered now, is despite there being a basic natural competition in anything that someone is a part of, does being in an industry dominated by men force women to be even more competitive? The consensus among all three barbers was that they compete more with local barbers who have a large and loyal customer base as well as years of experience behind them, regardless of gender. “I feel like, especially here in Waterloo, a lot of people have their set barbers that they’ve been going to for so long...only part of competition there is really and also people who have been in it for a long time” says Littleton. So it isn’t just their gender that determines how they attain clientele, but their experience.
Harms has about 8 years of experience, whereas Senter and Littleton have a little less than a year in a barbershop. They make huge efforts to find new clients or keep clients they’ve cut before by having them follow them on their social media channels and marketing themselves heavily. Additionally, aside from the external competition of the industry they face, they don’t really find themselves competing against each other in the barbershop itself. They find comfort in the female camaraderie in the shop. There’s an inherent bond and comfortability between the three because of shared experiences they face as women. That extends to providing comfort to actual clientele as well, like mothers bringing their children into the shop. Welcomed with the refreshing sight of other women in such a masculine space.
If Harms, Littleton, and Senter’s stories have provided any kind of insight into the state of the barber industry in regards to gender, it can be said that the outlook of more women entering into this occupation is very positive and inclusive. The gender biased stereotypes initially thought about the barber industry are proving to be inaccurate and out of touch. When asked if they had any regrets or apprehension about being a woman in the industry, Littleton expresses that, “...as soon as I picked up the clippers, it just felt right in my hand and it went from there. Sometimes i’ll have a bad day, but I think this is what I want to do forever really. I wouldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
This location in Waterloo, IA will be closing at the beginning of 2019 and owner Jordan Finger will be moving the shop near the UNI campus in Cedar Falls, IA and will be renamed The Finishing Touch.