Men Have ‘Good Hair’ Issues, Too

Caesars, fades, size-ups, faux-hawks, even Jay-Z’s “peasy head”—one guy’s barbershop journey through life.

Getty Images
Getty Images

I’ve only seen the trailer. But when Chris Rock’s new documentary Good Hair hits select theaters today, I imagine those in the dark will walk out laughing, and with (hopefully) a better understanding of the complex relationship between a black woman and her hair. But what about a man’s hair dilemmas? Finding a good barber. The rigorous upkeep. The limited selection of hairstyles we can choose from—depending on profession. Not to mention the stigmas attached to styles we do end up choosing—Rock should make a sequel to Good Hair. Call it Good Hair For Men, Too.

Let’s start with the barber dilemma. Finding a barber we can trust is harder than finding a soul mate. Trust me, I know.

With a stew of Puerto Rican, black and Japanese bloodlines running through my veins— my hair was always a thick, jet black, part-curly-part-nappy mass of confusion for barbers. In my hometown of Seaside, Calif., there were only two barbershops—the racially ambiguous Supercuts chain, and Hair Company, an old-school, black-owned-and-operated barbershop. I went to neither. I cut my own hair—a No. 2 razor on the clippers, all the way around. Coincidentally, I also wore hats all the time.

When I left home to attend Howard University, I took my haircut way more seriously. Not only were there a slew of barbershops where I could get my hair cut in Washington, D.C., but also a handful of classmates who “put it on mom” that for $10 they could “hook me up” with a “tight” cut. There were also a lot of girls. So I had to have it together.

Across the street from Howard’s campus were two black-owned/operated barbershops—Best Cuts and Joe’s. Finding a good barber at either of these locales was the easy part. The difficult part was maintaining a relationship with them. For the first two years, every barber I dug was gone by the time I came back to school after summer or winter break.

But during my junior year, I found “Larry,” (not his real name and you’ll see why in the next sentence) a soft-spoken Jamaican whose chair was located in the back of Best Cuts. In addition to cutting hair, he also ran a lucrative bootleg business—selling CDs, white tees and movies still-in-theaters.

After graduating, I moved to New York City and like for many men who move, finding a good barber was at the top of my to-do list. But unlike the two-yearlong search I underwent in D.C., my search in New York was settled in the matter of a week, thanks to a co-worker who suggested I go to the world-famous Astor Place Hair Designers near New York University’s campus. It’s not the traditional black-owned barbershop I had in D.C., but Morales, the barber recommended to me, is so precise I’ve remained a loyal customer for the past five years. But on my first to visit Morales, he and I had to make sure we spoke the same barbershop jargon.

As Chris Rock explained when he appeared on Oprah last week, a perm for black women means the opposite of what it means for white women. (For sisters, getting a perm is to straighten their hair; for white women, to curl it.) The terms black men use to talk about various hair “services” is not determined by race, but by region.

Although I currently have a faux-hawk, my usual haircut is what people generally call a low-top fade—a short crop of hair on top with less hair blended in on the sides and back—but in order for it to look the same no matter where I go, I have to make sure my barber and I are speaking the same language. In Washington, D.C., I ask for a “taper;” in New York, a Caesar. In Seaside, where I now go to Hair Company, I ask for a fade. The same haircut, I ask for it three different ways.