Adventures in the Tonsorial Underbelly | A Girl In Barber School

The last 11 months have changed my life completely.

A little over a year ago, I found out that my recently acquired Quebec barber license would not transfer to Illinois. I was devastated. You see, I had just spent thousands of dollars and a great many hours becoming a barber, and found that I loved it. Back to the drawing board.

Unfortunately, here in Illinois, getting a barber license takes about $10,000 and 1500 hours. Gulp.

The Barber Academy

Chris (second from the bottom left) is a third generation barber. There is a photo from the school that both his father and grandfather went to, posed just like this, hanging in his shop. Pretty proud that I got to be in the recreation that will now hang beside it.

During these last 11 months in school, I have polished my skills, convinced my boss at my shop (I have been working the front desk there for awhile now) that we needed a Facebook/social media strategy and designated overseer for our 6 Chicago shop pages and that I could do a good job of it, started this here blog, started submitting my writing to other, bigger blogs (and the first three have been accepted!), started my product line (out soon on my Etsy shop!) and began work on the Leave Me to My Projects book.

The barber school is not like an actual school, it is essentially a barber shop where we don’t get paid. As in, when it’s slow, and you’re there for 12 hours a day, you have a lot of time to kill. I killed my time in the classroom, which is usually used for studying, sleeping, or playing poker. It is also the only place in the building where the unsecured Wifi from the bar next door gets decent reception.

So let me show you what I have been up to while this blog has been taking shape. This is my undercover adventure of a girl in barber school – 1 of 2 in a school of 40-something students, and the first to graduate the school.

My Cuts & Clients

Afro After

My first afro. Special moment. It was awesome. Sort of similar to cutting topiary.

Bald Fade

My first bald fade in the school on a super bumpy head. I think I proved my mettle.

Impossible Bald Fade

Alex is a Marine. Over the course of our once-a-week haircuts, he  Hulked out something wicked. His skull seems to be made of ropes of muscle. Ross (one of the instructors) calls him “The Impossible Bald Fade.”

The Impossible Bald Fades

The other “Impossible Bald Fade,” little Jordan. He is 5 and absolutely adorable and squeaky with a tough head of fine, curly hair. He loves Dum Dums.

American Crew haircut

Cory, my really tall and really cute client, and his brand new American Crew haircut. After he went with me on a new longer style, the ladies at work started referring to him in Spanish as “pretty boy.” And he is. He sells boats and he is single, ladies.

Perfect Hair and Beard

Mike is one of my most loyal clients, and a sweetheart. He also has a fantastic head of hair. I love it when it’s easy to make someone look great.

Paulie D Haircut

Although I am not what you might call a “fan” of the Paulie D haircut from Jersey Shore, I have always wanted to cut one. On my last day, I finally got to! On a new fellow student, no less. As it turns out, it’s basically a scissor cut flat top.

Father Daughter Haircuts

Andy and Amelia, two of my favorite clients. Dad gets a straight razor head shave and beard shaping, little one gets haircuts where instead of crying, like she used to, she squeals with glee at my “sad fat unicorn eating a broken rainbow T-shirt.”

My Fellow Inmates

Phantom Flat Top

This guy. He comes in a lot, he hovers like the Grim Reaper, and he asks for a flat top. No irony. Tom (the owner, in the red hat) calls him Phantom Flat Top. The guy cutting is Wes, Tom’s brother from another mother.

Barber Twinsies

Tom, the school owner, and Wes, our oldest student. The resemblance is just downright creepy. They got to be quite good buddies. Lots of grumping about the govrn’ment.

Creepy Van

Wes is the world’s nicest guy with the world’s creepiest van. There is a running joke about Wes and his puppies and candy and balloons in there. No, of course you don’t hear children screaming, that’s silly. It’s a joke of course. Except the part about the candy. He really does always have hard candy with him. Usually butterscotch and root beer candy. Oh Wes.

Senor Chang!

This is my teacher Ross, cutting one of his long-time customers. Dude looks just like Senor Chang from Community.

Father Son Haircut

One of my fellow students cutting his adorable little boy’s hair. Sweetest, most silent 2-year-old ever.

Eddie may be the best student in the school. His work is fantastic, even when he gets punched in the eye the night before in a bar. Trooper.

Eddie and Sock Monkey Hat

This is Eddie much less bruised up. Boy has some character. He would fit in ever so well at my crazy shop. I need to make that hat, too.

Ricardo Fade

Oh Ricardo, my next door seatmate. So quiet, and then I find out he’s a Latin ballroom dancer who flips girls above his head in competition. Go you, Ricardo. Love this kid.

Weird Day at Barber School

John Juan always, ALWAYS matches perfectly, and has the most warm and cozy-looking hoodies and winterwear on the planet. We all had some cabin fever going on that day.

Barber School Moments

I love this photo. Kevin on the left, and the dude with the great facial expression, and Nick on the right. Nick ended up graduating the day before me, and he made every day a little brighter with his loud singing of classic rock songs, often from the Supernatural soundtrack.

The bar after the Christmas Eve from hell

The night after the Christmas Eve from hell. It came down to five of us students left for hours, cutting as fast as we could to clear out the full waiting room. Lee, on the left there, had been in school for a week, and had no barbering experience. We needed drinks.

The bar after the Christmas Eve from hell

That’s Uncle Bob on the right there. I love Bob, but he makes me crazy too. Ex Marine Drill Instructor, Republican county government, Free Mason, shit-starter. He wants to institute “No Pants Tuesday” in his barber shop. Although he will admit it to no one but me, he is a closet moderate. And every time I was having a bad day, he was the first to check on me. He also graduated the day before me. Love you Bob.

American Apparel T-Shirt

Lee, a self-described Irish Hillbilly from Southern Illinois, and our favorite T-shirt, the pink Kelly Kupowski. He wore it on my last day, and quietly admitted that he got it at American Apparel.

 The Quiet Moments

Spring Creek

The school resides in a little stripmall with a CVS and Wendy’s and stuff. Across the little side street is a 7-11. Behind the 7-11 and running through the strip mall is Salt Creek, which runs all through the state, and holds such a place in my heart. I took this there.

The Barber Shop

Waiting for the hours to tick by on one interminable day.

The Barber Shop

At a certain point in the day, the whole shop gets filled with the most amazing golden light. If you are cutting right then, it gets really glaring, but it is pretty nonetheless.

Sunset Glow

More beautiful parking lot light. Anyone know what these trees are? They drop softball-sized, window-shattering green seed blobs in the fall. We play softball with them.

My Hideout

The creek runs through the center of the strip mall, cutting between the bar and the Japanese restaurant. When I needed some quiet time, this was my spot, right on the ledge there. No one can find me…

Home Sweet Parking Lot

This place that I have spent so much time, the back parking lot of the school. It’s surprisingly pretty back there. I’ll kind of miss it.

Heaven Behind 7-11

On a cold and rainy day, I decided to take a little walk onto the golf course behind the 7-11. This little patch of heaven is what I found.

A Day In the Life of the Barbershop

Barber School Crafts

Ross is one of the teachers. His nicknames include Rosstradamus and Rossipedia. Kevin used Matthew McConaughey’s face from a magazine to make a freaky likeness. It’s uncanny.

The Barber Shop

The first photo, the first day Instagram came to Android. I was overjoyed.

The Barber Shop

These shoes are perhaps more hole than shoe. The rips are much bigger now that school is done.

The Barber Shop

Vince, who is now graduated and working at another location of my shop, has the coolest gear container. That is some nice repurposing right there.

Black Shatter

Occasionally I would decide to half give a crap about my appearance and do my nails. OPI Black Shatter is so much fun. And yes, that is the shaving chapter in the textbook in the background.

Barber Final Test

Ross makes up some different answers for the tests, just to see if people are paying attention. This was on the final. In some cases, it nearly came down to that. We have had to kick a number of people out of the place.

Crafting in the Barbershop

Rainbow Blorp

This is the Rainbow Blorp. He is the prototype of the first item that will soon be appearing on my Etsy shop. They are multiplying like rabbits right now.

Yarn Needle Storage

Sometimes you need a quick place to stash your yarn needle. Boots work. I did so very much knitting in school. The boys found it strange. And then awesome. See below.

Vampiric Panda

This little dude was made for a fellow student, EZ, who looked quite a bit like a panda. He left him at the school, apparently, and lied to me about taking him home. So when I noticed this guy sitting in EZ’s old station, I took EZ Panda back and gave him to Baby Bear. She loves him to pieces. He is a Vampiric Panda (from the Knit Wit book), and he is so very excited to suck your blood.

Chimney Sweep Brent

One day I noticed that I showed up looking like a chimney sweep.

Overwhelmed at Barber School

In the middle of a 90-page chapter in the textbook. But I was wearing my favorite T-shirt (Flogging Molly) and hoodie (Coheed) (both pilfered from Papa Bear), my fave scarf, and my newly knitted mitts. Good hair day too. But damn that chapter.

The Barber Academy

Taken on my way out the door. Goodbye Barber Academy. It’s been swell.

I learned a lot at the good old Barber Academy.

Thanks to the great teachers who would not let a substandard cut out the door (better than you can say for most professional barbershops). Thanks to my fellow students for both keeping me sane and making me crazy, while showing me some sick new tricks to take back to my shop. Thanks to the clients who came back to see me over and over again, especially the ones who weren’t creepy about it (like the moaning dude).

Thanks for all of the time I had during the slow days to think and work and give shape to the dream I have for my life and my family’s life. This blog sprung out of my time there, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

While it took nearly a year out of my life, I’m not upset about having had to go to school all over again. It was worth it. And it was a blast. Most of the time.

I’ll say one thing. I now know the bounty that CVS dumpsters can hold. Jack-pot yo.

And now I get to work here!

Floyd's Barbershop Chicago

Floyd’s 99 Barbershop Chicago, photo by Jamie Link Photography

Have you had a dramatic upheaval in your life that worked out for the best? Tell us about it in the comments below!


  1. Hoo boy, my life’s been one long series of dramatic upheavals that turned out for the best. But that’s another story for another day 😉

    Congratulations on your graduation! Love your classmate stories, love the place you’ll be working, love your knits, too. Can’t wait to see what pops up in your etsy shop!