Sailor Bup’s looks no different than any other barbershop in Halifax.
Vintage barber chairs line the shop on Sackville Street, men in black capes chatter amongst themselves and shelves of men’s hair products cover one of the walls.
But what sets Sailor Bup’s apart is not the shop itself, but its employees.
Three male and four female barbers work there, making it one of the few shops in the city to employ women in a typically male-dominated industry.
Owner Mark Peyton says he made sure to employ a mix of men and women at his shop because he feels “barbering is not only a male game anymore.”
“Barbering is coming back again and I’ve had quite a few men looking for a male-oriented environment, but that’s not the mentality that I have,” he said. “Females are employed here based on their skills and they’re all phenomenal.”
Barber and Bup’s employee Christina Barrett-MacKinnon thinks the men who come to the shop don’t care about gender ? just a good hair cut.
With more than eight years of experience, she says, “In this line of work, it all depends on how good you are. If you butcher their hair, or whatever, they’re not gonna wanna come back to you whether you’re a male or a female.”
She says because two men and two women usually work during the same shift and everyone has around the same number of clients, she doubts men come to the shop for the women.
Peyton agrees. He doubts men come to his shop to ogle at the women that work there.
He says Bup’s is a “professional environment” and employees are expected to dress professionally.
“The shop is never, ever, ever, sold on sex appeal. They’re never exposed or anything. People come here for the services they’re capable of,” he said.
Female barbers are not a new phenomenon.
During the Korean War in the 1950s, American soldiers stationed in Japan noted how “quickly and deftly” female barbers cut hair, and in Singapore female barbers have been revered since the 1980s.
In the last few years barbering has increased in popularity thanks to the return of the traditional or vintage haircut commonly endorsed by hipsters, professionals and everyone in-between.
Dalhousie University professor Karen Foster, who specializes in the sociology of work, says because more shops are opening to cater to this demand, more barbers will be needed ? regardless of their gender.
“A lot more women are coming out of hair school and apprenticing with barbers because these jobs are growing and they’re becoming trendy,” she said.
Though Barrett-MacKinnon says she “loves” barbering, she acknowledges some clients have doubted her abilities because she’s a woman.
“I’ve had people say ‘Oh, you’re a barber? Oh, you mustn’t make any money then.’ Which is completely opposite. I probably make a lot more money [being a barber than a hairdresser] because of the high turnover I have,” she said.
Female barber Christy Goodwin says she’s also faced discrimination based on her gender. She owns Upper Cutz Barber Shop on Bayers Road and employs two female barbers.
“People will call us and when a woman answers they ask if the barber is there. I’ve had a little old man walk in and say ‘stupid bitches’ and run out the door,” she said.
Goodwin opened her own shop because other barbershops wouldn’t hire her based on her gender, she said.
Foster says Goodwin’s inability to find a job in a male-dominated profession is nothing new.
“The idea that women’s place is the home [makes them] less attractive to [some] employers. Certain jobs that are male dominated and continue to be male dominated have a process of gatekeeping, and women are excluded as a way to protect the trade,” she said.
But Goodwin says regardless of the discrimination she has experienced, several men continue to come to her shop everyday.
“I find most of our clients love the women cutting their hair, and I don’t know why, but they just do. And even the ones that used to go the man [barber], once they come here they keep coming back,” she said.
Times are changing
Peyton says because barbering is popular right now, female clients have started to go to his shop to get short haircuts.
With an increasing female clientele and more female barbers working for him than men, he says “the mentality that barbershops are male only is done, it has to be.”