Nothing can match a great haircut’s ability to instantly make you feel better looking or more confident. Well, nothing legal, anyway. But for now we’ll keep it straight edge, with some indispensable advice from a straight-razor extraordinaire. It could be argued that nobody knows his way around the men’s grooming landscape (not to be confused with the manscape) better than Matty Conrad. The Schwartzkopf men’s grooming ambassador and self-proclaimed “old-school gentleman” is the founder of renowned barbershop Victory Barber & Brand in British Columbia, Canada. One of Details magazine’s “Coolest Barbers to Follow on Instagram” (@mattyconrad), Conrad took some time to answer your (okay, my) burning barbershop questions, including how to choose a great barber, what to ask said barber for once you locate him, and how to keep your cut looking sharp between appointments.
The undercut was the men’s hairstyle of 2014/2015. Why do you think it has been so popular, and where do you see us going from here? For bonus points, is there an “ultimate” men’s haircut—one that always looks great no matter what decade it is?
The undercut was a style that became popular in the 1930s, during prohibition. In recent years it’s been hugely popular and seems to have been reintroduced by shows like Boardwalk Empire and Peaky Blinders, and movies like Fury. The early adoption by the “hipster” crowd embodied a seriously vintage-looking lifestyle, and the hairstyle took off with the younger set, leading the way for its mainstream success. I think it has been popular largely because of the very classic, masculine nature of the look. It reminds us of our grandfathers and does away with that ugly swear word ,“metrosexual.” It allows men to be well groomed without being high maintenance or effeminate. While the undercut has clearly led the way in the past couple of years, we have started to see a big transition into more textured and less slick-looking side parts. The classic side part has definitely taken the main stage for men’s looks this season, largely because of its versatility. It can be worn messy and casual or super clean, depending on your needs. Different products will give it a different finish. It is the most enduring and classic haircut of the last century and always looks stylish. As for the “ultimate haircut,” not really. Haircuts are just as much determined by individual bone structure and personal style as they are by fashion trends and societal influences.
What can a guy do, or what questions should he ask, to ensure he’s choosing a great barber (without risking an awful haircut to find out)?
It’s not what a guys asks; it’s who he asks. My recommendation for finding a good barber is always this: Look at other guys’ haircuts that you like, then ask them who does it. If you hear the same barber’s name come up frequently, there is your man.
What is the maximum amount of time the average guy should go between haircuts, and how can he keep things looking a bit tidier during that time?
I recommend three to four weeks for my clients. Shorter hairstyles demand more frequency and longer hairstyles can usually get a little bit more ear time before needing a tune-up. If you want to extend the life of your cut, drop in between appointments and get your haircut “lined up,” which basically means the barber will clean up the outline and get rid of those annoying neck hairs, keeping you looking fit and fresh. Most barbers will do this as a complimentary service, so remember to tip the man who keeps you looking handsome.
Speaking of which, how much should you tip your barber, say, compared with a waiter or bartender?
Like most things, it depends on the service. A barber is a care professional whose job quality depends on paying extra close attention to the details. Grease the man’s palm and no stone will go unturned. Basic Haircut: $5–8 (£3–5); haircut and beard: $7–10 (£4–7); shave and haircut: $10–15 (£7–9).
Gel, wax, pomade—is there a simple answer to the question, “Which one should I use?”
It’s kind of like asking, “What paint should I use?” It really depends on what you are putting it on and what finish you want. Let me give you a few tips and tricks for each:
Gel will stay wet looking and shiny if you put it in wet hair, but it will dry crunchy and hard, and likely break apart if you wear a hat or helmet or need to change clothes throughout the day. It’s also not a good choice if you need to go to the gym, as it will melt as soon as you start to sweat and will get on your face and in your eyes. Gel is excellent to put in your hair before you blow dry. It will help you get volume and lift if you need it—great for fine hair that lays limp on its own. (I often call it the “backbone for your blow dry.”)
Wax is often very sticky and has a softer, more satin shine. It is excellent for creating lots of texture and a messy look in medium to coarse hair, but it’s not very good for combing through the hair. The best results will come from applying it to dry hair (wax and water are often not the best of friends), making sure to work it through your palms first to smooth the product out and remove any clumping.
Clay is ultra sticky, has lots of hold, and gives a matte finish. It is ideal for men with thinning or fine hair, as it contains the least amount of moisture and shine. (Two things you never want to create in fine hair are separation and shine.) It is also excellent for anyone looking to create that effortlessly disheveled and dirty look. Always apply clay to dry hair. Always.
Pomade is the most classic hair treatment and is perfect for the retro looks that we are seeing right now. There are two primary types: grease based (kind of feels like thick Vaseline), and water based (like a combination of wax and gel). Both are shiny and slick and look their best when they are combed through the hair. Pomade is the perfect choice for creating smooth and shiny looks in medium to coarse hair. The water-based one should come out with just a good rinse, but, like a gel, it will dry slightly and break apart over the course of the day. The grease-based one will not dry and can be combed all day long, but it will require some effort to remove from the hair.
What is the one piece of advice you most often give to guys who sit in your chair?
Smile more. Seriously. The best haircut, the nicest shoes, and the finest suit won’t look good on you unless you feel good in them. Whatever your look is, own it! Stride confidently through this world and hold your head up high. Be kind to everyone you meet, because kindness makes you more attractive. And always remember: The clothes and haircut don’t make the man. His heart does.
Photos: Matty Conrad