Usually when one thinks of a barber shop, the memory is a mix of the musky scents of aftershave, the well-worn sports and fishing paraphernalia, the heartily cracked leather chair and the gruff yet amiable gravitational center of its pull — the barber, a man of heft and experience, thick of mustache and forearm, packed with an array of jokes and quips as quick as his shears.
Rarely does that memory include a woman with blue hair, who’s barely old enough to drink, festooned with tattoos that have nothing to do with time in the Navy.
But Renee Schneckloth, all of 22 and looking about as much like Floyd the Barber as Miley Cyrus looks like Andy Griffith, is proving herself a rising star on the tonsorial scene, and she’s among a growing trend in grooming — the ascendance of female barbers.
Yes, barbers. Not hair stylists, or beauticians who concern themselves with more aesthetic concerns such as color and nails. But barbers.
“I liked the idea of becoming a barber rather than a stylist," Schneckloth, who works at a shop in East Moline, said.
"I didn’t think about being a female barber; it was just something that appealed to me.
“It’s a different culture; it’s more where guys go to sit back and talk about their hobbies and stuff. It’s not gossipy talk; it’s about sports and sneakers, just laid back. It’s a totally different atmosphere. My younger clientele will talk about relationship issues; the older clientele will talk about golfing and fishing. It’s fun.
“People know because of my tattoos and crazy hair, I’m not going to judge them by how they look,” Schneckloth said. “It’s cool.”
It was Schneckloth’s unique, creative style that got her into barbering.
“I used to go to a barber to get crazy designs shaved into the side of my head, and my barber used to tell me he thought I should do it,” she said. “I figured, it’ll take me 10 months to learn, it’s pretty cheap, so if I don’t like it, no big deal, I’ll do something else and I’m not out much time or money. But I love it. It’s awesome.”
Veteran female barbers echo Schneckloth’s sentiments.
“I always liked cutting hair, and I like my men,” laughs Colleen Carmack, owner and barber at New Frontier in Rock Island. “I went to beauty school first, but switched to barber school. I just liked it better. It’s easier, you don’t have to worry about all that fluffy stuff.”
Carmack, who has been barbering since 1976, has worked across the country, logging stops in Chicago and Colorado before returning to take over New Frontier in 1997. She has a thriving and diverse clientele in Rock Island's downtown District, from lawyers to judges to business owners, most of them long-time regulars, and she strives to make them all feel special.
“It’s just a very relaxed, friendly place; they feel at home here,” she said. “I think a barber shop should be dedicated to doting over your customers, paying attention to the details, giving them the shoulder massage or trimming the eyebrows, telling jokes, to make them happy, to help them enjoy the visit.”
Allison Franklin, of Miss Franklin’s Barber Shops in Colona and Moline, has been cutting hair for nine years. She has followed in the hair-clipping-covered footsteps of her father and grandfather as a third-generation barber.
“I was raised in the barber business,” she said. “My parents had seven children and half of the kids would go the barber shop with my Dad. The barber shop atmosphere was something I grew up with.”
“I like barbering,” Franklin said. “I meet a lot of different people and characters in the shop. It’s honest work and a job that keeps you striving.
“I decided to become a barber because I believe there is a need for it, otherwise the barbering business wouldn't still be around,” Franklin said. “Men and even more women these days like the atmosphere that a barber shop brings and the reasonable prices they have. Men like a place they can go and feel comfortable. I had a customer tell me once, `Allison, you know it’s not just the great hair cut I get in here that brings me back … I just feel comfortable in here.’”
All of the women have encountered sexism in their careers, they said, given the stereotype of barbers being predominantly male. But they don’t let it bother them.
“A guy could do stuff I could never do and we can do things they couldn’t,” Scheckloth said. “We do things our own way; it’s really just customer preference.”
“The only thing that makes male-run shops different from a female-run barbershop is the customer who decides on a personal choice of who he wants to cuts his hair,” Franklin said. “Due to my father being a male barber, I can see the need and want for both male and female barbers. It’s clearly the person’s choice and what a barber thinks about whether a male or female barber is preferred doesn't matter. The customer is right.”
“It’s harder for girls to get the respect men get in barbering,” Schneckloth said. “I took over for a guy who was retiring and some of his old customers refused to come to me because I was a female. But you can’t let that affect you. You just have to be yourself.”
And, through your efforts, allow others to be the best-groomed version of themselves as well.