Confessions Of A Female Barber

Photographed by Cait Oppermann.
The following is an interview with Ashley Overholt, a 29-year-old barber who creates styles like clipper cuts, classic straight-razor shaves, and fades at Freemans Sporting Club barbershop in New York City. As told to Erika Stalder.

Breaking Into Barbering
"I finished cosmetology school about 10 years ago. My first job was at an upscale salon doing women's hair for almost five years. Instead of just having fun with hair and color, I found myself becoming a therapist, which overwhelmed me. I’m giving all this advice and I’ve never been married. I’ve never been divorced. I have no idea about kids yet. After hearing about my clients' divorces and affairs, I was getting really sad. I thought, I don’t know if I can do this, emotionally.

"That's when an old friend of mine opened up a cool and trendy barbershop in Milwaukee. I went to visit and it was such a relaxed environment. Everyone was laughing. There was good music. People were drinking beer. I was like, This is cool. So I got a job there and it changed everything. All of a sudden, work was fun again for me. After three years, I moved to New York and got a job at Freemans, where I’ve been for two years."
Shop Talk
"Men don't talk about their personal lives unless something major is going on, or if I ask questions. I like to talk about travel, summer trips, what restaurants they’ve been to lately. It’s really basic, light conversation. It’s much more casual, like party banter instead of therapy talk. It never gets personal. And, for me, that’s a breath of fresh air."

Loyalty Rewards
"Guys are extremely loyal to their hairstylists. Extremely. If you give them a haircut and they like it, they'll stay with you for years and years. And many come in for a cut once a month, so you see the same guys all the time. If they have to go to a different barber, they feel so guilty, like they cheated on me. And I’m like, 'I actually don’t care at all!' Guys really value getting their hair cut by the same person."

Men don't talk about their personal lives unless something major is going on... And, for me, that's a breath of fresh air.

Building Trust & Busting Chops
"It’s really rare to have any negative response to me being a woman. If I do sense a client is unsure, I’ll mention my experience. 'I’ve been doing this 10 years,' I tell them. 'I’ve got this.' Sometimes they need to hear that.

"Only a few times has someone asked, 'How do you know how to straight-razor shave if you’re a girl?' I’ve developed a thick skin; I’ll just say something like, 'Oh, girls can do anything these days. We can vote. We can be police officers and lawyers and presidents. We can do a lot these days.'"
Locker-Room Language
"Guys can really start to talk in very sexual language, like, 'Did you see that ass?' And I’m thinking to myself, You guys sound like total idiots right now, but whatever. I just tune it out.

"The biggest challenge is when men refer to women as 'bitches.' I hate that. I think it’s gross. But it happens a lot, unfortunately."

Only a few times has someone asked, 'How do you know how to straight-razor shave if you’re a girl?' I’ve developed a thick skin.

Freakin' Weekends
"On the weekend, it’s not uncommon for people to come in drunk or hopped up on coke. It can get to be a little too much of a party thing. Those have been the weird times where I’m like, Whoa, this is crazy. I don’t know if that would ever happen at a ritzy salon. But that’s not all the time."

Kicking It Old-School

"When it’s nice, we all put chairs outside and hang out in front of the shop and talk. Even though it’s changing now because we’re not all old Italian men, it’s that same kind of atmosphere."

Keep It Simple
"With men, if [styling your hair] takes you more than 30 seconds, it’s not good. So I try to do a good cut, so they don’t have to worry about taking more than a few seconds.

"Guys have such beautiful, healthy hair because they don’t use styling tools. They don't put so many products in their hair. And their hair ends up being thick, gorgeous, and healthy. And that’s good advice."

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