Bar­bers, beau­ti­cians are still poles apart

At odds over red, white and blue sym­bol

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY BRIAN BAKST

ST. PAUL, MINN. | Friendly ar­gu­ments aren’t hard to find in a bar­ber­shop, but try cut­ting in on a hal­lowed sym­bol — that red, white and blue pole — and it may be time to hide the scis­sors.

Steeped in his­tory and sym­bol­ism, those iconic cylin­ders spin­ning on store­fronts across Amer­ica are an in­creas­ing source of fric­tion be­tween bar­bers and beau­ti­cians.

Min­nesota and Michi­gan are the lat­est fronts in a spread­ing leg­isla­tive cam­paign to re­serve the swirling poles for bar­bers. The pro­pos­als, which of­ten in­clude fines for of­fend­ers, are driv­ing a new wedge in a trade where sex lines have long run deep.

“The bar­ber pole is the old­est sign in town be­sides the cross. It should not be dis­played where there is not a li­censed bar­ber,” said Charles Kirk­patrick, an Arkansan who has been a bar­ber since 1959 and keeps tabs on such leg­is­la­tion for the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Bar­ber Boards of Amer­ica.

For many, the only real dif­fer­ence be­tween a bar­ber and hair­styl­ist is the clien­tele they serve. But bar­bers say the tools of their trade and unique ser­vices they pro­vide make them dif­fer­ent, and that laws are needed to pre­vent beauty par­lors, sa­lons and other es­tab­lish­ments from pass­ing them­selves off as bar­ber­shops, in­clud­ing chain shops that bear the bar­ber name and logo but don’t have a sin­gle li­censed bar­ber on site.

Cos­me­tol­o­gists ar­gue that hair­cuts are hair­cuts, and say the pro­tec­tive ef­forts are silly and chau­vin­ist.

“They’re still try­ing to hang on to the ves­tiges that say they’re spe­cial. I can cut a man’s hair. Why shouldn’t I be able to put a bar­ber pole up?” said Jeanie Thompson, pres­i­dent of the Min­nesota Sa­lon and Spa As­so­ci­a­tion and owner of a beauty par­lor. “They’re mak­ing a moun­tain out of a mole­hill.”

Bar­bers and cos­me­tol­o­gists both deal in hair, but there are dis­tinc­tions in the crafts. A bar­ber — a term de­rived from the Latin word for beard — is uniquely per­mit­ted to of­fer shaves with a straight-edge ra­zor and spe­cially trained to use shears and clip­pers. Cos­me­tol­o­gists also cut and style hair. But un­like bar­bers, they usu­ally pro­vide man­i­cures, pedi­cures and an ar­ray of spa-type ser­vices as well.

At least 10 states have rules or laws that re­serve the pole for bar­bers, most re­cently passed in Ne­braska and Ne­vada. Alabama and North Carolina con­sid­ered go­ing that route in 2010, but their bills stalled.

The Min­nesota bill breezed through a House com­mit­tee last month and was due for its first Se­nate hear­ing Thurs­day. It hasn’t yet set pos­si­ble penal­ties for vi­o­la­tors.

Ohio long ago out­lawed the pole’s use by any­one but bar­bers. State in­spec­tors find about a dozen vi­o­la­tions a year, from sa­lons to dog groom­ing shops. Howard Warner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ohio State Bar­ber Board, said reg­u­la­tors can im­pose a $500 fine, but usu­ally just or­der the pole be taken down.

“We’re not out to beat any­one up or take their money,” Mr. Warner said. “Most of the time it’s done in­no­cently.”


Howard Ret­ten­meier has cut hair for 55 years at the Up­town Bar­ber Shop in Dy­ersville, Iowa, where a bar­ber pole spins. Bar­bers lay claim to the iconic pole and ob­ject to beau­ti­cians and dog groomers us­ing it.

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