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I switched barbers. Do I owe my old one an explanation? Add to ...

The question

I recently switched barbers for a kind of new retro place, some good music, old-school techniques with a straight-razor shave. I was urged to try it by my wife, who wasn’t crazy about my current cut. I resisted for months because I felt loyal to the barber who has been cutting my hair for years. We talk politics, sports. He’s a great guy, and I liked his cut. Still, over the summer, I relented to my wife’s suggestion and got my hair cut at the new place. It was great. Next time my hair needed a cut, I went back. Then it dawned on me: I had ditched my former barber. It’s been months now – four haircuts, at least – and I’ve never been back to my former barber to explain. I literally have left him in the lurch. I know we were not technically “friends,” it is just a service, but still, I feel bad about it. So, what is the proper protocol when switching barbers/hair stylist? Do I owe my former barber the courtesy of a conversation or do I just leave it as a “cut and run”?

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The answer

Great question. Great time of year for it too. It’s haircut season! All three of my boys (ages 16, 14 and 11) just got back-to-school cuts and, man, do they look handsome.

It’s crazy. For someone who was himself so shaggy in high school (I had a giant blonde WASP-fro, which I accessorized with octagonal glasses, construction boots, and a Sgt. Pepper-type marching-band jacket, thinking I looked cool), it gives me an absurd amount of pleasure when my boys get what Martin Amis calls a “rug rethink.”

It’s symbolic of the fact they’re sharpening their mental pencils and shaking off the fogginess, fuzziness and shagginess of summer, getting their inner Don Draper on and gearing up for the challenges of the school year ahead.

And not purely symbolic, methinks. A good haircut can boost your confidence, super-size your mojo, maybe even enhance your intellectual performance. Bear with me for a second when I say that in university my father used to wear a jacket and tie to take tests. He thought it helped him do well – and before you pooh-pooh, allow me to inform you at the end of it all he got a full scholarship to M.I.T.

By the same token, could we not say a good haircut at the very least does not distract us from performing at the peak of our powers?

And pardon me for saying so, sir, but even if your do doesn’t matter much to you, it clearly makes a difference to your spouse. “Happy wife, happy life,” ever heard that one? Truer words have never been uttered. You might have a nice chat once a month with your barber, but you have to see your wife every day. She’s the one you have to keep happy over the long haul, buddy! And if you have a job where appearance matters at all – which includes most jobs, these days, let’s face it – showing up with a stellar follicular arrangement can give you a boost where it counts most: the bottom line, a.k.a. your bank account.

Basically, it’s business, not personal. Your barber, like a contractor, like anyone you give your hard-earned shekels to, is your employee. And what do we look for when we hire people? Obviously someone with a pleasant personality who also does a kick-ass job for us.

But if it comes down to a choice between the two, we go with the one who does the best job.

You always want to surround yourself with the most talented people possible. You get on a plane, you want the most talented pilot possible, not just an OK pilot you have nice chats with.

The other side of the coin is that if you find a particularly congenial snip-specialist, a true artiste who understands you and your needs right down to your roots, follow him/her wherever he/she goes. Women do it all the time, so why not men?

(Not me – me, I’ve thrown in the hot towel. I go in to random places and say “Gimme a Number 3 all around,” but I do have a tattoo artist I follow from shop to shop. It’s analogous, I think.)

Bottom line: Don’t worry about your old barber. He’ll live: He’s not going to commit barbicide (by grabbing those jars the combs float around in and drinking the blue fluid) over the loss of your custom. People come and go; it’s part of the deal, like sweeping hair off the floor.

And I don’t think you need to go in and talk to him about it. Sounds like you’re pretty set on your new spot, like the mind under your snazzy new lid is already made, and all you have to offer your former barber is your guilt.

Which he probably needs about as much as a bald man needs a can of mousse.

What am I supposed to do now?

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