Letting your guard down might seem like the last thing you’d want to do when someone is wielding sharp instruments near your head. But the barber’s chair is, for many men, effectively a therapist’s couch, their barber a “head shrinker” in more ways than one.
That’s no exaggeration: several initiatives, such as The Lions Barber Collective in the UK and The Confess Project in the US, train barbers in counselling and recognising signs of depression or suicidal tendencies. Barbers have carried out a dual function since Greek and Roman times, when their shops doubled as forums for socialising and gossip. From the Middle Ages, “barber-surgeons” also performed primitive surgery, including extracting teeth; the red-and-white poles symbolised blood and cleaning cloths.
Of course, barbers wouldn’t be around for long if they divulged gossip or anything more sensitive that they get out of patrons. One of the three master tonsorialists that MR PORTER consulted for this article insisted that “like with a doctor or a lawyer, the confidentiality between a barber and his client is sacred”; another simply replied: “No comment”. So instead, we asked them to share pointers on life, style and all things hair.