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How to Choose a Barber vs Salon

Pick the Right Profession for Your Style

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Barber cutting mans hair
Richard Drury/Taxi/Getty Images

I'm quite often asked, "Sould I go to a barber or salon?" The answer to that question depends on a number of factors. Just as you wouldn't go to a cardiologist for brain surgery, you won't want to go to a salon for a flattop. Likewise, a barber isn't likely to give you a long shag with chunky highlights. Deciding how to chose a barber or salon for the right men's hairstyle can be tricky.

The main difference between the two types of haircutters is that barbers are typically trained to cut shorter, traditional haircuts for men while salon stylists are trained to cut longer, fuller men's styles. A barber's primary focus is cutting men's hair.

Conversely, a salon stylist receives more training in the art of styling hair for women. With the industry trend moving toward more upscale barbershops and salons for men, the line between barbers and stylists is becoming blurred. Follow the tips below for choosing the right professional for your style.

Go to a barber if...

  • you're looking for a short, traditional style haircut such as a buzzcut, flattop, fade, or military style cut.
  • you're on a budget. Most barbers are cheaper than stylists, so you can save a bit of money going to a good barber.
  • you're looking to keep it simple. Barbers will typically cut your hair in a manner that allows it to look good naturally, without a lot of styling product.
  • you want a shave. Many upscale barbershops offer hot lather face shaves which are a real treat. I strongly recommend getting one several times per year.
  • you're looking to escape. Barbershops can be a great source of comraderie between guys. Typically no frills places, barbershops are a uniquely male gathering spot.
  • you don't like change. Barbers will ask you how you want your hair cut and do what you ask, normally without much feedback.

Go to a salon stylist if...

  • you're going longer. Stylists generally have more experience cutting and styling longer hair.
  • you want color. Most barbers do not do a great deal of color services, so you'll likely find better results from a stylist.
  • you're looking for a more fashion forward style. A stylist is normally more aware of current trends than a barber.
  • you want a change. During the consultation, a stylist will often make suggestions for a style that will flatter your features better.
  • you need product. Salons frequently carry a greater selection of hairstyling products than barbershops. Stylists are more likely to be well-trained on the types and use of the products as well.

The above guidelines are generalizations and not every barber or salon stylist will fit completely into each skill set. I am a stylist by license, but have built a career doing only men's hair. I can do a flaweless flattop or a long razor shag with the best of them and enjoy performing each type of cut equally. Many of today's barbers are skilled in longer and trendy styles while there are many stylists who are experts in cutting traditional barber styles.

To choose the appropriate profession, I suggest finding a guy with a style similar to what you're looking for and asking him where he got it cut. If you live in a larger area, you may also be able to find a modern barbershop or men's salon, which blend traditional barbering with modern style.

Of course, maintaining a great looking head of hair involves more than finding a good barber or stylist, but this is a great start. For more information on how to get the best haircut from your barber or stylist, read my tips on making the most of your salon visit.
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How to Choose Between a Stylist and Barber

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