Back in Style

The follicles of my youth led me astray: a confession.

It took me decades, but I’ve finally gone back to the barbershop. I returned to this comforting, witch hazel–scented sanctum in 2015, after a long lapse. My last visit was when I was 13.

Back then, when my hair got shaggy, I hit a neighborhood joint with my dad. It was filled with men’s magazines, a shoeshine chair, and a couple of old guys in white jackets who wielded scissors and razors with almost frightening speed and precision. I got either a part on the right (in deference to a massive cowlick that precludes pretty much any other style) or sometimes a buzz.

This regimen continued until 1978, when I was a high-school sophomore. A girl convinced me that I should try a “cool” new style that necessitated growing my hair long, parting it down the middle, and then feathering the bangs so they looked like the wings of a majestic bird.

Such follicular prestidigitation was well beyond my barber’s capabilities, so for the first time in my life I sought out a stylist. Alas, the bird quickly flew south, but I never made it back to the barber and spent decades wandering from one haircutting chain and/or stylist to another.

I was part of a larger barbershop exodus. Charles Kirkpatrick, an executive with the National Barber Boards Association of America, says that in the late ’70s, we were down to about 195,000 barbers nationally. But at the dawn of the new millennium, things turned around. Now there are about 300,000 barbers. Kirkpatrick attributes this surge to the popularity of higher-maintenance short cuts—a revival that went hand in hand with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’ve been at war for 12 years,” he says. “The military haircut is what young men grew up seeing.”

Hair should have the serene sameness of a Zen garden.

Maybe so. But in my own case, it was my son who prompted a return to the barbershop. As soon as he could walk, his mother and I dragged him to the same sorts of chain joints I’d frequented for years, where he ran into exactly the same problem I faced—finding someone, anyone, who could cut hair properly. Visits had a roulette-like feel, and my son and I rarely walked away winners.

But then I discovered Bogie’s Barber Shop in Broad Ripple—a one-chair operation with minimal decor, a pile of magazines, a TV perpetually tuned to CNBC, and a sole proprietor named Larry. Just Larry. He understood that a man’s hair should have the serene sameness of a Zen garden: tended, but not altered.

Apparently younger men have received this message, judging from Larry’s clientele. The shop’s always packed, but many times I’m the oldest person there. The rest of the waiting area chairs are taken by Butler students and other millennials busily tapping away on their phones.

Bogie’s reminds me of the place where my dad took me. I’m hoping my son will one day have the same memories—minus that majestic bird.

This article is part of Indianapolis Monthly’s May 2016 Shear Genius barbershops package. For more slick advice, a crop of local grooming products, and buzzworthy barbershops, click here.