I can spot an emotionally wounded or abused man from a mile away. Apparently they can spot me, too, because they tend to make a beeline for me and not any of the other stylists. This is because I’m the motherly type.
I’m a hairdresser and not a barber by training, but most of my clients are men. Many of them come to me frankly unsure of what exactly they want, but they usually want a big change. I typically steer them toward shorter styles, simply because I believe they suit most men.
One day a young man with shaggy dark brown hair came in with a large duffel bag. The back of his hair had grown past his shoulders while the sides reached his chin, with the fringe covering his eyes. He looked like he hadn’t had a haircut in at least a year.
How sensible of him to come get a haircut before going away on a trip, was my first thought. When he came closer, however, I sensed that there was something very wrong in his life. His eyes darted about the shop as if searching for threats. At least, I thought that was what his eyes were doing under all that hair. His duffle bag could very well be full of his personal effects. It was quite hot outside, and yet he was wearing long sleeves—perhaps he had something on his arms he wanted to hide, like tattoos, scarring, or bruising.
“What can I do for you today? I’m Leslie.”
“Julian. Is there space for me to put my bag? I may need to leave in a hurry.”
“Yes, of course, we can put it near your feet. Are you looking at a haircut today?”
“Oh, uh, yeah. I guess so.”
This was very strange indeed. Julian had entered a hair salon without even considering whether he wanted his hair cut or not. I had the distinct feeling that he was on the run from something. Judging by his manner and his face I doubted that he had done anything illegal or wrong. He seemed more like a battered victim of abuse fleeing a violent home.
“I guess we can put your bag by the chair in the middle—you still get a view of the street, without being too visible yourself—and we can decide what we’re doing with your hair today. You don’t have a beard to shave, after all.”
Julian seemed to wake from a reverie when I lightly touched his arm, recoiling for a moment before shaking it off. In that moment my suspicions were confirmed—he had almost certainly been battered.
Once I got him to sit down, I encouraged him to look through the magazines I keep for men who aren’t sure what they want. As Julian flipped through them, I got a closer look at his hair. It had likely been a regular short-back-and-sides cut originally, but had grown into a Beatles-ish shag, a sort of pageboy mullet thing. This look didn’t flatter very many men back in the 1970s to begin with; it certainly didn’t do Julian any favors now. He had vast quantities of thick hair with just a hint of wave to it. Because of the volume his face was largely hidden, drowning in all that hair. I hoped that he would decide to let me clipper most of it off.
His hand stopped when he reached the page showing short crewcuts. Yes, that’s the right idea. His finger shook as he pointed to one. “I used to have this style, before I got with Sarah. I liked how easy it was to manage, and people said it suited me. But she made me grow it out and dye it dark. She said she didn’t want other women to be able to get a good view of my face, but the real reason was that she wanted to hide bruises. She was so hot that I ignored the red flags.”
“And now you’re trying to get away from her. That took courage, to get away from an abuser. I agree that it’s a good idea to try to recapture a sense of who you were originally. The style you’re pointing to should work well with your hair type and facial shape. Do you have anywhere to go? I read in the paper that there aren’t many shelters for battered husbands and boyfriends.”
“No, I don’t. I thought about enlisting in the army, but I have a congenital heart condition so I don’t think they’ll take me. Anything to take me away from Sarah. She didn’t let me work outside the home, either.”
“No job, no home. Oh dear. Is there any kind of job you’d like to do?”
“No idea. I can’t think.”
“Hmm. I have a large extended family. I can tell you about the various career fields they’re in, and see if I can set you up with any of them. You can even stay with me tonight if need be. But first, let’s get this mop taken care of.”
Julian gave the faintest of smiles. “I always did prefer my hair short.”
“We’ll have you looking like yourself again in no time. Let’s see, how short should we go?” I aimed that last question mostly at myself as I ran my fingers through Julian’s hair and lifted the long forelock out of his face. Wow, he has such beautiful green eyes. It would be a pity to keep them obscured under a long fringe. No, the front would be short and out of his face, for sure. We would go with the number eight guard all over as a base, although I should probably take off some length first. I picked up a comb and my favorite pair of shears and inserted the comb at his neck. The first order of business was to begin taking length off the back with the scissor-over-comb technique.
As I worked my way up to the crown, I noticed the light-colored regrowth. The black color didn’t look bad on Julian, but I could see that it was a far cry from his natural color. I guessed that it was either mousy brown or red. He was much too young be grey—he looked no older than twenty-five at the max. Truly blond hair is extremely rare on a grown man.
Next up were the sides. I knew that I would be edging around his ears with the trimmers later, so I didn’t worry about being precise as I inserted the comb halfway down the side of his head and worked my way up, then went back in a little lower and little lower again until his ears were mostly exposed.
Now, for the top. I sectioned the top into four, then wound each one around my finger to slice off. That done, I snapped the number eight guard onto the clippers and fired them up. Julian smiled faintly at the sound. Good, he actually wants his hair short, he’s not just letting himself be pressured by me into getting a short crop.
I ran the clippers up and down his back and sides, then across the top of his head before changing the attachment. We would go with a medium fade. Now for my favorite part—edging around his ears and neckline with the trimmers. Even Julian was smiling now, probably because it was ticklish. Now it was easy to see that his head was perfectly-shaped and that he had cute ears and a manly neck, neither too scrawny nor too thick.
The last step was to refine the top with thinning shears. With his hair out of his face, I could see just how handsome he really was. No wonder Sarah wanted to keep his face hidden. Julian was smiling now, having cut more than just shaggy hair out of his life. The roots of his hair were clearly a different color, so with another month or so of growth he would be rid of the black entirely.
“There, much better. I hope you look and feel more like yourself now. Let’s see how else I can help.”
In the end Julian went to live with my cousin for a while as he learned my cousin’s trade. When he came back to see me a month later, I clippered off the last of the black dye to reveal a beautiful shade of ginger. My cousin had helped Julian report Sarah to the authorities as well.
Now Julian is successful in his chosen trade and happily married to a woman who treats him right. I know this because he still comes to me to maintain his short spiky haircut.