That’s One Hairy Profession


 More Love and Laughter in the Old West…




One of the characters in my book A SUITOR FOR JENNY is Kip Barrel, the town barber.  The poor man wanted to be an opera singer in the worst possible way but he was unable to overcome his stage fright. After a disastrous debut in a New Orleans opera house he decides to return home to the family cattle ranch, a prospect he dreads.  Fate intervenes and while riding through Rocky Creek his horse suddenly dies, forcing him to stay in town.  He eventually opens up his own barber shop.


 “I dreamed of being the Barber of Seville,” he laments.  “Instead, I’m the barber of Rocky Creek.”


Of course, he hasn’t given up singing completely. A cowboy wanting a haircut and shave at Barrel’s shop also gets an earful of Rossini.  Not bad for a few nickels.



Not all barbers provided entertainment with their shaving cream, but most did offer a little something extra. Some even gave out free mugs of beer and cigars.  In some towns barbershops offered a full menu of grooming choices. For fifty cents, a saddle worn stranger could get a bath, shave, haircut, boot shine,  his mustache waxed and pants pressed. He could also learn who was hiring, where to go for room and board and maybe even find some female companionship


Barbers have a long history dating all the way back to cavemen when whiskers were tackled with clam shells and flint.  People have been battling over locks since ancient times.  Whatever style one generation frowned upon the next generation was likely to embrace.


In the early 1800s clean-shaven faces were the rage. Hairy chins were deemed “a disgusting insult to refined society” if worn by anyone other than artists, writers or pioneers. Anyone sporting a beard might have found himself at the mercy of jeering townsmen as one hapless man in Massachusetts found out.  


This all changed during the California gold rush.  Beards were then grown as much for safety as convenience.  Few mastered the art of shaving with a straight edge razor and beards were the sun-screen of the day.  Whiskers also protected against frost bite.  


By the time the Civil War broke out  beards were favored even by easterners.  Eleven year old Grace Bedell wrote to president nominee Abraham Lincoln telling him that if he wanted to be elected president he best grow a beard.  “All the ladies like whiskers,” she wrote, “and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”  Lincoln wisely took her advice.


It wasn’t until the 1890s that the clean-shaven chin was once again king. President Benjamin Harrison has the distinction of being the last president to sport a beard.


Women Take up the Razor


The first female barber was Madam Gardonis who worked in Galveston, Texas during the 1860s.  Frank Leslies Illustrated magazine described her as “the first woman who has successfully invaded this particular masculine profession.”  


Petticoat barbers weren’t the norm but more and more women entered the profession in the late 1800s.  An article in the San Francisco Examiner in 1896 had this to say: “Women’s latest audacity has been to lay hands on man’s most sacred implements—the razor and strop—and to shave him right to his very face.”


One woman interviewed for the article was asked if she was nervous when she first shaved a man.  She replied, “I don’t know which was trembling hardest, the man or I.” She went on to say that if she could have chloroformed the man she would have gladly done so, just so he wouldn’t look so scared.


What’s with the Barber Pole? 


We can’t talk about barbers without mentioning that all familiar red and white barber pole.  Barbering was more than a hairy business.  From the Middle Ages until the end of the 19th century barbers performed many medical duties including bloodletting, dentistry and bone setting.


The barber pole served triple duty in those early days.  After being pre-wound with bandages ready for surgery the poles were then hung outside the door to encourage business. During surgery, patients clutched at the poles (probably while yelling in pain). Later imitation posts were painted red and white to represent bandages used before and after bloodletting.




 The early 1900s brought many changes to the profession both good and bad.  Barber licensing laws were passed and states began to upgrade certification requirements. Then, too, the safety razor made home shaving a breeze.  The depression years took a heavy toll on barbers, but women saved the day when the “bob” became the rage. What better place to get the boyish trim than a barbershop?  Of course not every barber welcomed female clients, but those that did thrived—at least as long as the style lasted.


One thing that hasn’t changed is the battle over hair between generations.  It wasn’t that long ago that Disneyland refused entry to hairy hippies, and it seems like only yesterday that my husband greeted our kids with “When are you going to get a haircut?”


Now that my children are grown the battles over hair continue–with children of their own.   History repeats.


That’s it folks, the long and the short of it. Anyone with a hairy tale to share?

 Available for Preorder 

A Vision of Lucy (A Rocky Creek Romance) 



+ posts

24 thoughts on “That’s One Hairy Profession”

  1. Thanks for the fun and informative blog, Margaret. Love your new cover. Lucy has that glint of mischief in her eyed.
    My grandpa was a young barber in a mining town in the early 1900’s. It was where he met my grandma, who was working in a cracker bakery. I only remember them old – such a cute little couple.

  2. Wonderful post, Margaret! My youngest son belongs to the KY National Guard. Between drill weekends, he gets a bit scruffy. My father-in-law looks at him and says, “Next time, stand closer to the razor.” The new book looks like a ton of fun! So does the next one!

  3. Hi Elizabeth, Wow! I bet your grandfather could have told some mighty interesting tales.

    Thinking back I wish I’d thought to ask questions of certain family members. Their lives just didn’t seem that interesting when I was young. Now I’m kicking myself.

  4. That is so interresting, I love history and and it’s intricacy. anyway, I was remembering and old image I saw at my paternal grandfather’s house in Chle, it was a picture of his own father and at looking at it, I could see my grandfather and my father in everything except the hair, my father had split his hair in the middle while the other two were combing tehir hair the same way, toward the back. I have to say that i am doing the same, I guess some quircks are coming from the genes

  5. Fun post, Margaret. It’s fascinating how traditions evolve, like the iconic barber pole. The predominantly male barber shops seem to be a dying breed. My husband and I go to the same hairdresser. Although he pays $17 for a cut while I pay $45 ($115 when I get it colored). What’s up with that?

    Looking forward to your new book. What a fun cover!

  6. Hi Karen!
    You brought up a good point. I pay three times more for a haircut than hubby. He also gets free tailoring when he buys clothes.

    I guess we can’t complain. I just read that Justin Bieber’s haircut costs $750.

  7. Hi Margaret,

    What a great post. I love this! Very interesting and informative–and I love the idea of your character having been an aspiring opera singer of the day! LOL This book looks wonderful ( of course!)I was really interested to know about the barber pole. I remember as a kid asking my mom about the barber pole at the barber shop on the corner in the little town where we lived. She said, “All barbers have them.” I asked, “WHY?” She thought a minute then said, “They just do.” LOL The classic “mom” answer. Great post.
    Cheryl P.

  8. Margaret, I had a lady barber who was the heroine in my story in the Give Me a Texas Ranger anthology. She was also the undertaker and dentist. I had great fun with her. I like to write heroines who don’t fit the normal mold.

    I love the cover of new book. It’s another great one. The cover gods have been good to you. I can’t wait to read it. Please tell me when it’ll be available.

  9. Hi Linda,
    Your heroine sounds like my kind of gal–barber, undertaker and dentist!

    Did you happen to see Harry’s Law, the new TV show with Kathy Bates? The sign on her law firm window reads Harry’s Law and Fine Shoes.

  10. My mil who is 92 (almost) always HATED fur on a man’s face. She was just the right age to think of someone who had a beard or mustache as OLD. Because to her, born in 1919, only old, old men had them and she could never shake that reaction.

  11. Mary, your mil is right; fur can age a man. When my son was in his early twenties he insisted on wearing a scraggly beard. That is until someone asked him if I was his wife. That did it. You never saw fur fly so fast. He was beardless by the end of the day–and hasn’t grown one since.

  12. Thanks for an interesting post. It is so hard to get a barber or hairdresser that does your hair just the way you like it. I have curly hair and when I went to the Philippines in the Peace Corps, they didn’t know how to deal with it. After the first or second try, I gave up, I’d always worn my hair short, but after no haircuts for 3 years, I kind of liked it long and kept it that way for a while.
    I’d like to know why men’s beards are often so different in coloring from their head hair. At one point my Dad grew a beard. It was a dark brown on the cheeks, gray along the sides of the mouth and reddish on his chin. My husband started to let his grow in, but discovered it is almost white, so has kept it shaved.

  13. I have a head of hair that cannot figure out what it is going to be. The left side of my head started being curly several months ago. I cannot seem to smooth it down. (I wonder do they still make butch wax?) The back is wavy, just as it has always been. And the right side? Straight!! Everyone says that it’s because I sleep on my right side….nope…never….too much pain and I awake instantly if I even try.

    My husband has had a beard for years. He develped a case of barber’s itch and it returns every time he tries to shave. I love his beard which has always been multi-colored, although now it is getting more grey.

    I love the cover of this book. Thanks so much for a very interesting blog.

Comments are closed.