LAFAYETTE — Lyle Owens was trained to cut hair, but like many men lured by better wages, answered the off-shore call of the oil industry. Not anymore.
Barber shops are enjoying the boom and Owens is back — so is his profession.
He works at Al’s Barber Shop with owner Mike Legendre, 34, in the two-man shop just off Johnston behind Cal’s Western Wear that’s been there since 1968.
“It’s definitely coming back around,” Legendre says.
According to Terry Allen, owner of Terry Allen’s Salon on University Avenue, the return of the barbershop started in London and New York and is trickling down.
“It’s a certain comfort zone for men, like an old diner,” says Allen, who has cut men’s hair for 30 years.
He emphatically refers to real barber shops, not places where hipster girls in bandeau tops give hot shaves.
Owens and Legendre agree they’re starting to see men want haircuts by traditional male barbers. Legendre only cuts by appointment, while Owens does appointments and walk-ins.
According to AdWeek, America’s second largest advertising trade publication, it’s not just the local barber — although there are some 15 “barbers” in Lafayette alone — who’s made a comeback. Seattle-based Rudy’s Barbershop has spread to two coasts with 15 locations and Wisconsin’s The Barbershop franchise has spread to six states.
These shops give men an unabashedly masculine place to gather. And, while some see the barber shop resurgence as a sort of cultural backlash, a rebellion against society’s digital age, others like Legendre see it as what goes around, comes around. He’s convinced a new generation of men are revisiting a longtime masculine mecca.
“It’s a mix,” says Owens, 37, originally from Erath. “I have a good flow of appointments, or they’ll walk in and take their chances. If you walk in, you have more time to visit and socialize.”
Al’s offers a basic men’s haircut and straight razor shave, hot towels, pre-shaves, oils and creams. They also supply nostalgia.
Jacob Marlowe, 25, is in Owens’ chair. He works overseas in the oilfield and says his grandfather was a barber for 46 years in Morgan City.
“It was Al’s over there, too,” says Marlowe, who drives in from Church Point because he likes the barber and the shop.
Marlowe usually grooms his own beard, but not today. Just angle it, he says, as Owens takes the clippers to him.
Owens’ station is neat with old-style shaving brushes and pots of Johnny B. Pomade and Johnny B. Gel. Soon Marlowe’s hair hits the floor.
Modern improvements include a Vizio TV tuned to “Sports Center” and an analysis of the Auburn and Ole Miss offense. The parking lot begins to fill up.
Owens says men mostly request a nice, clean, short haircut — not a high-end type — because the less they have to do in the morning, the better. Marlowe is going all in this morning, and soon his head’s completely shaved.
Bryce Ducote, 24, jokes with him from the sidelines.
“I knew a guy once who was bald with just some on the sides,” he says. “Said it was like prime real estate.”
“Barbers pick up jokes all day,” Owens says.
Ducote has brought with him Bryson Ellerbee, a friend’s son. It’s 3-year-old Bryson’s first haircut by someone other than his mother and he’s taking it well.
“He would have acted up with his mom,” Ducote says. “He knows what he can get away with.”
Bryson’s mini-Mohawk begins to take shape and the little boy grimaces, but remains stoic. “He knows he’s a future man,” Ducote says.
“A guy knows another guy means business. After a few haircuts, they’re (children) relaxed,” Legendre says. Just in case, he keeps the lollipops coming.
Owens says barbers are like counselors.
“The longer you’re in it, the more knowledgeable you are about your people,” Owens says.
Next to his chair hangs a magazine rack full of Maxim, Bass Master, Bow Hunting, Game & Fish and Time. A Coke machine stands in the corner and the original Al’s portrait looks down from the wall. Al’s opened in 1968; Legendre took over in 2003.
“It’s like everything,” says Owens. “Everything comes back around. It’s a special feeling for a man.”
The buzz of male voices and clippers fills the shop. Owens starts on Marlowe’s beard. If he looked good before, he looks Hollywood now.
“He doesn’t need any encouragement,” his wife says laughing. “Don’t tell him that.”
“Cocky’s just confidence bleeding through,” Owens says.
He’s in perpetual motion now, putting the final touches on Marlowe with a single blade razor and neatening his neck. “It all depends on the prep,” Owens says. “Preparation is key.”
Marlowe says using the razor just around the ears is just like his grandfather used to do. “It’s clean, refreshing,” he says.
Owens explains there’s no strop anymore due to health codes. All implements are washed, disinfected and lubricated. Disposable razors are used, and customers can even bring in their own shaving mugs.
The going rate for haircuts in Lafayette is $15 to $20.