Although the University has no shortage of artistic and enterprising souls, the past year has seen a new crop of students who embody both ideals, possessing select skills that put them—pardon the pun—a head above the rest. Enter the University’s cabal of underground barbers, students who, in the past year, have gone from cutting their own hair in the mirror to becoming campus sensations. The trend has been bolstered by posts on Wesleying and word-of-mouth buzz, prompting many students, both friends and strangers, to reject conventional Middletown salons in favor of a cheap ($5) or free trim from a peer.
The interest in these barbers has been growing throughout the year. Most are relatively new to cutting hair, having discovered their talents accidentally or from honing their skills on the heads of their more trusting and adventurous friends.
“I was doing geology research last summer, when a friend of mine needed a haircut,” said Lexi Malouta ’12. “He told me that he’d had a friend do it the last summer and that ‘it didn’t turn out so great, so you’re going to do it this time.’ He handed me a pair of these Fiskars scissors and told me to go for it. I was terrified.”
Malouta’s friends would later seek her out as someone who could cut hair, even with her minimal experience at the time.
“After I got back, people would just come up to me and say, ‘you cut hair now, right? I trust you, you’re an art major,’” Malouta said, with a laugh.
Other student-barbers share similar stories of one-time experiments that blossomed into a hobby.
“Whenever I wanted a haircut, I always wanted it right at that moment, and I was too cheap to go somewhere for it,” said Emily Black ’13. “So one night I cut my own hair, with an Exacto knife, which, looking back on it, was really stupid, but I came out unscathed. When I went to school the next morning, people kept asking where I had gone for it and it snowballed to a point where I ended up cutting a few of my friends’ hair in high school. When I got here, I by no means had a reputation or a plan to keep cutting hair.”
After being asked for a cut by a friend on a whim, Black began to build a steady base of clients, starting with close friends and hallmates, who in turn spread the word.
Aptly coinciding with the arrival of hair-cutting students was the opening of the Big Dog Barbershop, a makeshift enterprise founded by Ezra Silk ’10, and located on the front porch of his woodframe at 57 Fountain Ave.
“In the Nics last year I saw Sam [Cartwright-Punnet ’11] come in and cut some people’s hair,” Silk said. “He was giving these nicely-shaped, kind of Bohemian cuts, so I started getting cuts from him. At the beginning of this year, I called him up to get a cut at my house, out on the porch. We kept getting all these ridiculous looks from people… we thought it was hilarious.”
The Big Dog haircutters first began attracting new customers by blasting ragtime music out of their windows and yelling at passersby. Big Dog later began posting on Wesleying, and it expanded its staff, bringing in Gabby Weinrott ’11 to give female cuts.
“I had only cut heads informally or as a joke before starting at Big Dog and some of my friends volunteered to be my guinea pigs,” Weinrott said, who now does unisex cuts and is Big Dog’s primary barber.
“When the cuts turned out well, word started to spread. Now we’ve been doing some cuts on the hill when it’s nice out, and sometimes I also do house calls during the week for emergencies.”
All campus barbers have experienced a boom in interest, riding a buzz fueled by countless happy patrons.
“Now, I get texts from people I don’t know looking for cuts,” laughed Black. “But I mostly cut for friends, or friends of friends. I’ve gotten a bit more professional—I’ll have them wet their hair. Before I had them put their head under the sink. Now I have a spray bottle.”
As students continue to set up their own barbershop operations across campus, from Fountain to the Westco courtyard to Malik Ben-Salahuddin ’13’s Penthouse Barbershop in Fauver 3, student haircutters continue to increase in number and prominence. Even as the interest surrounding them increases, however, students remain humble about their craft.
“I’ll ask people what they want me to do, but a lot of the time they ask me what I want to do with their hair, which freaks me out a little,” Malouta said. “I’m not sure if I should have that power over the way somebody looks!”
For now, however, clients continue to seek out their hair-cutting peers, enjoying cheap haircuts and a do-it-yourself aesthetic. As for the barbers themselves, their potential is nearly limitless, keeping the campus looking fresh and clean as they grow in both skill and confidence.
“I’ve actually got a trademark haircut,” Black said, “I call it the Sex God.”