The Tao of Cutting Your Hair

Kary Middenfern takes on the business of professional hair cutting by studying how to cut his and his friend's hair for free.

| July/August 1970

Cutting hair

Learning how to cut hair was a mini-gesture of dissent against the technocratic society that insists we have to go to an expert for everything we need rather than learn to do whatever needs to be done ourselves.

Photo by Fotolia/Aaron Amat

Reprinted with permission from Free Press. 

Two years ago I walked out of a barber shop, ticked off at the whole barbering trade and swearing I'd never pay a professional to cut my hair again.

I was so mad at the butchering I'd just received that I planned a one-man campaign against the haircutting trade: I would learn everything there was to know about cutting your hair, get really good at it, cut anybody's hair the way they wanted it cut and do it for free.

I was hoping that other people would pick up on the idea of cutting your hair and, together, we'd put the barbering and hairstyling people out of business. It was a mini-gesture of dissent against the technocratic society that insists we have to go to an expert for everything we need rather than learn to do whatever needs to be done ourselves.

My roommate at that time was holding down a straight gig and had to keep his hair beaten back to a reasonable level, so I began to learn on him. My first efforts were major disasters, so I went to the library to see what there was on haircutting.

Most of the barbering books I found were written in 1843, but I did pick up some information: How to hold the scissors, how to aim them, what a blunt, shingle and layered cut was. Modern treatises were available for women's hair styles, but most of these were more concerned with how to use human hair as a raw material like plastic (endless information on setting, teasing, lacquering, gluing, etc.) than with giving simple advice on cutting.

frederick sargolini
11/5/2012 3:33:50 PM

I began cutting my own hair about a year ago. My cut involves keeping the sides trimed and letting the back grow. I guessyou could call it a modified mullet, but I can't call it that because my wife doesn't like mullets. I don't care about mullets, but I have always liked a tail. So that's what I am shooting for.

2/15/2010 3:43:59 PM

Victoria.. this is now a tongue in cheek article.. It isnt about race.. but do you have curly hair?.. coz I do.. and I am not of african-american descent. They didnt mention specifally asian hair, either, as I see. Why think of yourself as a special case, when you are just a human being like everyone else.. I thought it was hilarious, when you consider today's hair products.. yeah.. I am in my 60s, and when I was a teenager, I rinsed with beer or vinegar finally, being a rbunette.. if I was a blonde, I would rinse with lemon juice. and conditioner was a relatively new product... as was deodorant.. They wuz strange times.. talk to your grandma.. she will tell you.. As for using soap to wash your hair.. it leaves a scum on the hair.. I much prefer shampoo, even if not the expensive ones.. We used to wash our hair once a week, not every day, or every second day, as we do now.. I slept with rollers in my hair, to straighten it some..and used a lot of hairspray.. today I am wash and wear.. much more preferable.. Talk to some oldies Victoria.. dont be calling the race card.

1/31/2010 4:41:39 PM

Hey Victoria. The article was written 40 years ago and so the author may or may not still be with us. The magazine is making these old article available more for a flashback than currency. But, if he (the author) were still alive and with the magazine, I suspect from what I know of the magazine back then, he would definitely not have meant offense and probably would indeed update it to make it more inclusive. God bless.

12/18/2009 12:29:13 AM

Oh, how quaint: an article from 1970 addressing home haircutting but forgetting the person of African descent (were we even known as African-Americans back then, or were we still Negroes?). I sure hope the author updates this article to the sensibilities of all people who decide to cut their own or their families'/friends' hair; it would be sad to see this article stay in the past, especially since many more people have biracial children and grandchildren now and will need to know how to navigate styling hair so very different in texture and curl from their own.

2/6/2009 10:35:30 PM

I am offended by the first part of your article. I am a stylist and I consider my profession to be one of art and training. My profession is riddled with many people as all professions are. But, shame be to the person who feels the need to try and belittle and berate what some are very good at and loves many components to the beauty industry. Shame on you ... Don't be fooled. Yes - Anyone can cut hair. But, as seen not everyone can touch someone's heart the way a hairstylist can. We care more about the individual and less about the hair. So when you want to attempt all the silly things this person feels are valid... Just remember that the cosmotology profession goes far beyond a cut of hair but a relationship and bond of two people

3/28/2007 6:07:29 AM

I love this article on cutting hair yourself - but could not for the life of me find the cartoon he did to illustrate his article. Please please could you send it to me? Crystal

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