You feel it as you walk through the door. Every barbershop has a personality, a distinct atmosphere that reaches you before your barber even says hello. You can tell what kind of experience you will have based on the energy – and if that sounds a little vague, think back to the last time you walked into your favorite Midtown barbershop. It might not have been a big sensation, but did you feel more comfortable, welcomed into a familiar space? The answer is probably yes.
Barbershops work hard to achieve this effect. The barbershop experience has always been about more than a cut or a shave. These days, creating a space that says something about the barbershop and its clientele is incredibly intentional. It’s not just about branding, though. It’s about making a space where you feel comfortable and heard, and have confidence in the quality of the service you’re about to receive. How do we make it happen? Let’s take a look.
Most of what makes for a great barbershop will probably never be noticed by the majority of people who pay it a visit. It’s all about the subtleties, sending signals to your subconscious mind about the place you’re in. Whether it’s done on purpose or not, it speaks volumes about the type of Midtown barbers you’ll encounter. Just about every sense will be involved in picking up these invisible or unnoticed cues.
Next time you arrive for your appointment, take a moment to appreciate the lighting. Is it light and bright, or do you feel as though you have to peer to see what’s happening inside as you enter? Both choices tell you something and set the tone for everything to follow. Modern barbershops favor good lighting – not only is it welcoming and professional, but it has the bonus of making for a better selfie after the appointment. A dark barbershop can feel cozy or like they have something to hide, so choose wisely.
Take a deep breath. What do you smell? Is it stuffy? That’s part of the atmosphere, too. Good ventilation makes a barbershop in Midtown feel less crowded, like there’s more clean air in the room. You don’t have to breathe in some guy’s cologne while you have your cut or drown in the fumes from a chemical treatment happening two seats down. While the curation of the specific barbershop smell is usually reserved for the high-end barbershops, your barbershop should still smell good.
Whether you like to jam along or tune it out, your barbershop playlist speaks volumes about the usual clients. Some favor chill background beats or classical music, while others will play the radio or the latest top 40 hits. The music is usually unobtrusive, just loud enough to bring in some background noise and contribute to the general vibe. It helps set the tone and create a relaxed atmosphere. Sometimes barbershops can be noisy, but it’s not usually the sound of hair dryers making the biggest fuss. At some barbershops, the conversation is king, and everyone can be a part of it if they have something to say. (If it’s your first time, it’s generally good practice to get a feel for the lay of the land before chipping in.)
There’s nothing like sitting back in a barber’s chair. Some go for modern chairs, some go old school, but the thing that unites most Midtown barbers is comfort. Even if you’re only here for a trim, your appointment should feel like a little holiday from real life. You can put your feet up and relax – let yourself be spoiled for a few minutes before you get back to the grind. You’ll feel the difference a good chair makes the moment you sit down, but especially if you’re going to spend some time having a cut, color, and shave. While your average barber will be on their feet for most of the day, they want to ensure you can take a load off.
There are slightly more obvious ways of curating the barbershop environment, too. The decor matters as much as how high the thermostat has been turned up. After all, if your barbershop doesn’t look good, will your hair? Your average Midtown barbershop will favor a masculine look, separating themselves visually from the hair salon down the block. The barbershop is a traditionally men-only zone, and it maintains its reputation as a safe space for men to get together partly through the message it sends through its decor.
Although lighter, neutral shades are usually preferred for a soothing environment, barbershops often include bolder, darker colors to create the classic man-cave environment. Modern barbershops typically go with bold design choices, but older, more classic barbershops are sometimes packed with souvenirs from their long history. The stuff in your barbershop tells you a lot about the shop, the barbers, and even the regular crowd. Whether it’s contemporary and slick, luxurious and grand, or rough and hipster, the look of the barbershop will let you know immediately if this is the right place for you. This is how a barbershop shows its personality, its brand identity if you like.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, take note of the barbershop’s cleanliness and organization. Does everything have a place, or is there a sense of general chaos? Does the floor get swept regularly, or do you feel like you’re walking through a week’s worth of offcuts? Even something as simple as the layout makes an impact – if you feel like you’re climbing over people or weaving around and getting in the way on your way to your seat, you’re not going to feel very comfortable. But when the mirrors sparkle, things feel calm, and every surface is tidy, it gives you a sense of confidence in your barber’s skills.