All the buzzing of the clippers and swiveling of the green-accented Kochs 1920 barber’s chairs at 4:42 p.m. on a Friday came from the Lab Barbershop, a gentrification of a traditional barbershop that welcomes all gentleman seeking to get a fashionable, contemporary haircut.
This barbershop surpasses the salon corporations that are “too commercialized, that are just not in touch with the new gentleman look,” according to regular client James.
The barbers were covered with tattoos and had styles that ranged from hip-hop to hipster attire, from baggy shirts and jeans to printed button-ups, Vans, leather boots and suspenders.
This shop, located in the pseudo-depths of Orange County that is the LAB, “Little American Business” in Costa Mesa, supposedly receives no traffic but attracts all the hipsters that are charismatically beyond the suburbia of contemporary living.
It is a busy and nostalgic barbershop with a unique feel, and owned by Tom Galieo. There are three seats for clients in a space no longer or wider than eight feet. The wait for clients, if there has not been any prior appointment, is two hours.
In Orange County, barbershops see a variety of ethnic demographics. In Westminster and Fountain Valley, Vietnamese barbershops have become local forums for men. The language differs in each barbershop, whether it is just slang or an entirely different dialect other than English. The cuts are what control who comes in to the shop. If one were looking for a standard haircut etched on a pad displaying nine styles like a fade or flattop, local small shops that charge around $10 would be the spot to go to. For more contemporary and fashionable looks, one might be looking to invest more into a haircut and get a cut from someone who understands what an ‘undercut’ (shaved sides, long top, no blend) or what a ‘pompadour’ (hair swept upwards away from the face) is.
The Lab Barbershop is attached to the Crew Salon. The difference in names is to avoid the salon stigma, and to give off the masculine vibe of a barbershop; as well as to provide a space where men can care about their look.
Thomas Gaglio said, “I created both entities, in order to attract and keep that manly vibe that comes with getting a haircut, and a separate space for those seeking a salon rather than manly conversation and styling that captures the Lab Barbershop’s environment.”
The New York Times coins this new generation “The Barbershop Revolution,” being nostalgic for a ‘man’s place.’ The Lab Barbershop is a catalyst to this movement in Southern California.
The stylist who introduced me to the modern barbershop atmosphere and process was Long, the first person one would see when entering the shop. His station was closest to the door and was usually the first person to greet clients. He was the Long-est remaining barber out of the bunch for the Lab Barbershop since being hired in 2012.
Long, 26, is a Vietnamese barber from Fountain Valley with ‘The Connoisseur’-styled curly mustache, dark polka dotted shirt and leather boots. Just like the other barbers, his arms were covered with tattoos.
If it were not for his Vietnamese cultural roots, he probably would not even be a barber. Long would make his two-week routine visits to get a haircut from an older gentleman named Kenny who runs a Vietnamese barbershop in Westminster.
For Long, being a barber happened for one reason: his son.
“My boy was about to be born and it was not expected. So I told baby mama, I need to get a job,” he said. “I went to get a cut from Kenny the Barber and I told him my story and he sat me down and asked me what the fuck I was doing with my life, you know? He told me if I’m willing enough I can turn haircuts into a living. So, he let me observe how to cut hair and I came every day.”
“I used to give shitty haircuts in my garage to my homies. They were fucking terrible,” he said.
“I got better. I found a listing on Craigslist, emailed Tom, got an interview the next day. On the same day, he hired me and I started right away. I would do six clients a day, but in the same week, Matty [another barber at the shop] was like ‘I’m gonna go out for a bit’ and I handled more than sixteen clients that day, no clue where he went. Shit was crazy. No joke.”
Long finishes, “It’s just crazy how shit works out. Learned one day. Interview the next. Then, working just like that. No stops, breaks, training.”
Long never has to worry about a walk-in, though he will always welcome them. His clientele remains loyal to him and choose him every time after their first cut.
I knew exactly how they felt. I tried to pay Long $30 for a cut with tip before, and he just pulled the $10 bill from my hands and smiled at me. He was more concerned with my loyalty for making him my regular barber rather than the money for the haircut.