Jonathan Sherman-Presser ’06 needed a shave. Badly.
After growing out a thick beard, Sherman-Presser decided it was time to part ways with his facial hair, but he would not accept just any beard trim; this time, he wanted a manly one. Sherman-Presser, who admits that his “overbearing Jewish mother” sent him to salons for haircuts as a child, was determined to have his beard shaved at an old-fashioned barbershop manned by white-haired barbers in button-down smocks and furnished with memorabilia from the sports of yore. He found his haircutting heaven at Phil’s Hair Styles on Wall Street, which opened circa 1926.
For many Yale men, deciding where, not how, to have one’s hair cut is the problem. Involving factors as basic as location and personnel to Sherman-Presser’s more nuanced consideration of the place’s atmosphere, choosing a haircutter is a difficult process. Fortunately, haircutting options abound in New Haven, from the traditional barbershop environment of Phil’s, to the more contemporary salons such as Karma, and even the frugal but familiar setting of a dormitory bathroom.
The salon secret: made for women, just as good for men
For the metrosexual in every man, a trip to the salon can be a refreshing experience for the hair as well as for the soul.
On the corner of College and Chapel streets, Karma, the luxury salon closest to the University, is nestled at the foot of the Taft Apartments. With its trendy moniker and hip furnishings, Karma lifts a piece of glamor out of the Upper East Side and plants it squarely within walking distance for many students.
Charles Cardinaux ’07 recalls splurging once at the upscale haircutter. He said he is used to going to places like Karma back in his home state of North Carolina, but he found one painful difference between the New Haven business and those he frequents below the Mason-Dixon Line.
“I was just shocked that it was $50 for a haircut,” Cardinaux said. “A place that’s like Karma in North Carolina is half the price.”
Though he admitted he knows of other people who have had favorable experiences at the salon, he said the quality of his haircut — done by a recently hired stylist — did not justify the high price tag.
“At one point they made me wait while she did somebody else’s hair, so half of my hair had been cut, and I had to wait half an hour for her to finish it,” Cardinaux said. “It was ridiculous, it was so bad.”
Still, other customers pointed out salons often offer closer personal attention than other haircutting venues do, providing contingency plans in case a patron is dissatisfied with his cut.
“What was great with salons was that you could go anytime in the next week to get a touch up,” Sherman-Presser said. “So you don’t come out of the salon with buyer’s remorse.”
Cardinaux offered one word of caution, warning that customers should beware of having their wallets sucked dry.
“[The salon] really tried to sell me products,” he said, referring to hair care products. “And that drives me crazy.”
Those who do not need to be pampered, but just want a good old-fashioned haircut can choose from a wide range of Elm City barbershops. These haircutters offer reasonable prices and relatively fast service but lack the pizzazz of a salon.
Yet it is the very absence of glamour that attracts some to the barbershop. Sherman-Presser recalled the quaint details of his beard-shaving episode at Phil’s.
“In the background, there were these two old New Haven men having an intense discussion over who was better: Jerry Lee Lewis or Elvis Presley,” he said. “And I just remember sitting back and thinking that this was exactly what a beard trimming should be about.”
Divy Francisco Geli, a hair stylist at Phil’s Barbershop on York Street, said his no-nonsense style appeals to students who would prefer to leave most of the haircutting decisions to the stylist.
“Mostly the students here at Yale don’t care about the haircut,” Geli said. “They just want to sit in the chair, get the haircut, and go.”
Chester Ramos ’06, one of Geli’s regular customers, agreed.
“He knows what to do most of the time, and I don’t really have to say anything,” Ramos said. “He should give me a discount, I’m giving him a good recommendation.”
But price is not the only determining factor when Yalies choose a barbershop. Gil Addo ’07, for example, said that he would rather not go to a haircutter without experience cutting African American hair.
“It’s more comfortable going to a barbershop where they’re used to cutting hair of a certain type,” Addo said.
He said he once had a terrible experience at an inexpensive barbershop near Dwight Street, recalling they had “butchered” his hair. He said he now frequents a barbershop called Mike’s Cuts on Whalley Avenue.
Addo is not the only person with a barbershop horror story. Specifically targeting Y Haircutters, Ramos said some New Haven barbershops suffer in terms of creativity.
“It feels like they have this simple block plan, like they cut every guy’s hair, and every guy’s hair comes out the same way,” Ramos said.
The greatest savings of all
One option may offer something for everybody, although the results can often be hit or miss. For everyone from the money-conscious, to the all-too-busy, and even the do-it-yourself students, cutting one’s own hair — or having a friend do it for free — could provide the best solution.
Jerry Nguyen ’08, motivated less by any economic reasons than by a desire to take full control of his appearance, has been cutting his own hair since high school.
“I think I’d rather cut my own hair than go to a barbershop,” he said. “It’s hard to instruct a barber how you want your hair cut.”
Nguyen described the cumbersome process of cutting one’s own hair. He said he generally uses a handheld mirror — though since entering college, he has used a broken piece of glass — in conjunction with a larger mirror to watch what he is doing. He snips his hair in small amounts with scissors and then smooths any rough edges with a special pair of blending scissors.
News about his talent spread quickly within his circle of friends at Yale, and he soon found himself in his Timothy Dwight bathroom styling the hair of five of his male friends.
Steven Le ’08, who had his hair cut by Nguyen, said the experience was markedly more relaxed than going to a barbershop or salon.
“It’s actually more comforting telling a friend ‘Can you take a little more off?’ than to a barber you don’t really know,” Le said. “It seems more insulting to the barber.”
Andy Yu ’08 said though everyone’s haircuts turned out fine, the six friends agreed to a pact in case anything went awry.
“If Jerry messed up on any of our hair, we would get him to shave all of our heads so that one person wouldn’t feel bad,” Yu said. “It wasn’t perfect of course, but it was fine.”
Nguyen said the entire experience was much more fun in the company of friends.
“It was like the ‘BarberShop’ movie, except Asian,” he said, alluding to the fact all five of the customers, as well as the ostensible stylist, are Asian-American.
Regardless of the avenue Yalies choose to get their hair cut, Sherman-Presser said that each person should find something he is most at ease with.
“Getting your hair cut can be a dangerous thing, but it should fundamentally not be a stressful experience. You should come out happy,” he said. “Your haircut can be a very personal experience, and it’s a matter of finding the right place for you.”