Is the experience I just had the norm in a US barbershop?
December 11, 2018 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Went to a barbershop to get a maintenance buzz on my undercut; whilst there the barber cut off loads of length and essentially changed my hairstyle. Is this expected/the norm in the US? Am I right to be upset, or is it my fault for not specifically stating what I thought was obvious: that when requesting the undercut to be trimmed to 9mm, one also needs to say 'and don't alter the rest of the style'?

I am a female, with this style haircut. I often get maintenance cuts in mens' barbershops, as when I need the shave cleaned up it's a straightforward job with the clippers, no fading or style alteration.

I booked an appointment with a barbershop in the area which had good Yelp reviews, indicating in the booking that I needed an undercut trim and gave the specifications, which were reiterated when I came in for the appointment. I didn't tell him specifically not to touch the length, but when demonstrating what I wanted I twisted up the length at the top of my head and indicated the short bits.

I thought the barber was doing an excessive amount of combing of the length during the cut, but I have fine hair and it can be difficult for some barbers to get the sharp line of the undercut clean without pushing the length out of the way and I have had some barbers overcome this through use of a comb.

When he was finished it wasn't immediately evident how severe the change to the undercut was, but I noticed how wispy/stringy the length looked -- less full than it had been. When I stood up I looked at the floor and saw multiple 4"-5" locks scattered about, looked close up in the mirror and saw how high he had taken the undercut, and then felt the length and realised how much less volume I had.

When I asked why he had taken off so much length, he unapologetically said he was 'following the line'. When I was able to inspect even more closely I found that he had basically given me a high and tight (side view: it me), destroying the shape of my undercut. (Too bad Halloween's past as I'm now basically Jedward.) I am not exaggerating when I say it will take me years to re-grow the hair he cut off.

My question is, who's in the wrong? While I didn't specifically say 'don't touch the length', I've worn my hair this style for years and I've literally never had to ask this before, ever, when having one of these trims, and I have done so a couple times in the US already as well as monthly in Europe. I was all set to write a scathing Yelp review and then thought I should check my work and verify that it wasn't actually me who screwed this up ...
posted by myotahapea to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total)
If such details matter: I didn't press the issue whilst in the shop as I didn't trust myself to not flip out, and anyway the hair was already gone. I did tip, $5 on a $13 cut. But if this isn't the norm I feel I should at least put it out in the world that one needs to be very, very specific about what they want when working with this barber/shop, lest they suffer a similar hatchet job.

FWIW if I didn't have a long memory of how miserable it is to grow out a full-on buzz cut I would shave this entire mess off, that's how bad it looks to me right now.
posted by myotahapea at 1:40 PM on December 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

He screwed up. And based on your description he left some of it long, but not all of it? If that's correct, he didn't just screw up interpreting your instructions it sounds like he messed up buzzing the undercut and decided to "fix" it by pretending to misinterpret your instructions or something.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 1:41 PM on December 11, 2018 [11 favorites]

Ooooh, this has happened to me. I looked like a pugilist for a month until the sides grew in a bit, and it took forever to get any length on the top.

My perception is that this isn't wildly out of line for a barber. I think it's bad practice, and it's something I try to avoid, and I would mention it if I were writing a review, but it's not actually uncommon. My perceptions are these:

1. Some barbers don't like cutting your hair if you're not a cis man, and will purposefully give you a super masc cut as sort of...vengeance? They don't want non cis men in the shop.

2. Some barbershops skew salon-y and some don't. The ones that don't tend to really resist any kind of "customizing" - they feel that if you have really short sides, the top needs to be blended in, that's just how it is. And they feel that a barbershop is for giving very standard haircuts - maybe they pride themselves on their technical proficiency, but they still feel that each cut has only one way it can go.

3. Some barbers want to give you "their" cut - the cut they think looks best from a barbershop standpoint. I used to go to a guy who was always trying to steer me toward the same haircut he had - a cut which looked absolutely fantastic on him and awful on me. I never emerged quite happy, even though he was very talented from a technical standpoint.

As a masculine spectrum person who really, really likes to have some length on top because otherwise it's just coarse and bristly and I stop looking like a romantic gay British hill-walking left intellectual from 1930 (my ideal, basically) and start looking like that boxer who used to hang around with Morrissey, I absolutely feel your pain.

I usually seek out barbers who are specifically recommended as queer-friendly. If you're for some reason in Minneapolis, memail me since I have a good recommendation for you - the only barber who actually specifically asked and then concurred that we would just let the top grow out this month.
posted by Frowner at 1:42 PM on December 11, 2018 [33 favorites]

It is absolutely not normal to have a barber alter your pre-existing style, unless previously discussed.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:42 PM on December 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I did find that a month made a lot of different in bearability - just the thickening of the top helps a lot.
posted by Frowner at 1:45 PM on December 11, 2018

Nope, not normal. This is a bad barber who likely messed up the line due to poor clipper skills and then decided to "fix" it. His lack of apology is also very unprofessional.
posted by quince at 1:46 PM on December 11, 2018 [9 favorites]

This happens to me a fair amount. I'm a dude with fairly specific requests for haircuts, and I find that the majority of barbers just sort of... do whatever when it comes to cutting my hair. I don't know if this is due to the way my hair grows or a general feeling that the "barber knows best", but it happens often enough that I loathe haircuts. I'm sorry that happened to you. Give it time. In a month you can leave some of that length on the side and fade it down to where the line was previously.

And I'd put this squarely as his fault.
posted by Thesisaurus at 2:05 PM on December 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think this is a tough question to answer the specific way you asked it.

Is this normal? Sort of - as a man with a pretty boring haircut if I walk into a random barber I'll probably leave unhappy. 5 barbers given the same directions will give you 6 different results. I think it's not really that different from stylists for women - you have to find one you like. My wife used to joke that she only got 3 good haircuts out of a stylist before they got too familiar and tried something weird on her.

ANYWAY - your question really seems to be if it's OK to be upset? Sure. It sounds like they didn't listen to you. They didn't pay attention to your existing hairstyle. You have every right to be upset. You're not wrong.
posted by GuyZero at 2:07 PM on December 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

This sort of thing has happened to a (short-haired cis-male) friend of mine enough times (at a variety of different barbers & budget salons) that he is now teaching himself to cut his own hair. Too many barbers seem to ignore specific instructions and just give you one of their standard hair cuts - even if you show them how long you want it left, even if you specify clipper numbers, even if you explain why you're asking for what you're asking for. This isn't your fault.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 2:37 PM on December 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

The barber was definitely wrong.

Regarding shaving your head: don’t do it if you want to grow it back out. I’m a guy who shaves his head from time to time, and I can understand wanting to just fix this barber’s mistake all at once. But I can tell you, the whole recovery from this mess just takes longer if you do shave it.

What has worked for me in growing it out is just making peace with some annoying months of hair. I don’t look in the mirror too much, and just wait it out. Also, not washing my hair every day helps the spiky bits lay down a little better. After awhile, some hair cream like Redkin Rewind can help. It also has a nice, gentle scent.

I’m so sorry this has happened to you. I know how frustrating it can be.
posted by 4ster at 2:38 PM on December 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, I have found a lot of hairstylists prefer to do what they want over really listening to their client. Finding someone who truly listens is worth their weight in gold! So sorry he messes up your hair.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:16 PM on December 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

I don't think you screwed up per se, but I do think you made a poor choice of barber. By and large, barbers doing $13 haircuts are operating a volume business--people who come in regularly (every 2-3 weeks or even weekly) and get exactly the same haircut, and they all get variations on the same haircut. Of course, the barber should have been up front that this was not in his wheelhouse and either sent you away or agreed to do it, but checked in repeatedly that he was doing the right thing.
posted by hoyland at 4:04 PM on December 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

I have an utterly unremarkable haircut that is practically impossible to screw up (it can all be done with a standard Wahl, and only two of the little fence/guide thingies), and yet maybe 20% of practitioners manage to screw it up. I don't know how people with fancier hair manage to get anything decent, ever. from your description above, and my experience, I'm gonna go with bad barber (but not amazingly bad. Just standard-ly bad.)
posted by aramaic at 4:15 PM on December 11, 2018

"have an utterly unremarkable haircut that is practically impossible to screw up (it can all be done with a standard Wahl, and only two of the little fence/guide thingies), and yet maybe 20% of practitioners manage to screw it up"

You might even be on the low side here. My hair is almost as boring (about 1.5" on top, #4 on the sides, side part - pretty much the default men's cut), and it's shockingly hard for people to get it right. The part where the side meets the top is particularly hard for people - I end up with a penis bowl cut much more often than I'd prefer - and this is exactly where the OP's undercut would meet the top. So I'm not surprised this happened. But it's absolutely not right. It's actually pretty rude and unprofessional, and I'd be quite upset if it happened to me.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:12 PM on December 11, 2018

I'd call it unacceptable but unfortunately normal. In my limited experience people in the US are complete crap at cutting hair until you get into a much higher price range, and even then it's hit & miss.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:10 PM on December 11, 2018

Many thanks for the feedback; it seems this is more common here than I would have expected given past experience. I never would have gone anywhere around here to have my style altered (and was even putting off a sorely needed trim of the length until I got back home), but I've walked into countless barbershops and fast-service salons, paid around €20 for this type of maintenance cut and never had a problem. I've posted as negative a review with Yelp as I'm able.

FWIW I did end up buying a pair of clippers and buzzing everything off. It just looked too awful. It literally was a bog-standard military cut, but with the 'high and tight' bit 12cm long; I looked like a pineapple. He took off enough hair that the long bits just looked stringy, and there was no way to grow back the parts lost without looking utterly ridiculous.

I don't know if this was arrogance, incompetence, or if Frowner was right and this guy was somehow morally offended by a woman coming into a 'mens'' barbershop and he was engaging in some kind of display of dominance, but whatever the reason I was left feeling violated. If I'd asked him to alter the style and was unhappy with the result, that would have been one thing, but I'd made my wishes clear. Buzzing off the mess was the only way I felt I could take ownership of my head back. An unexpected fresh start, at least for the follicles.
posted by myotahapea at 1:48 PM on December 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

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