The barber pole spinning around outside, scissors and combs and other instruments bathing in a blue liquid, gentlemen and their sons sitting and chatting in chairs. You can only be in one place…..The Barbershop. For many years this was the place where men went to talk and chat about whats going on in the world and their neighborhood. Heck, until the past 10+ years cigars and cigarettes were smoked while awaiting your turn. I am also quite sure that the odd ‘gentlemen’s’ magazine was browsed while waiting.
However with all of the hair salon franchises, local barber shops declined in the 80’s until recently. However, there seems to be a resurgence of barber shops offering not only haircuts but straight razor shaves as well. An ode to the old school. A simpler time, many would say a better time. Now if only we could capture that scent in a shaving soap!!! What would that scent be??
As wet shavers we have all most likely heard the term ‘Barbershop scent’. I was asked to write a post about what this scent is by a few guys on the Canadian wet shavers Facebook group. I quickly agreed, then quickly wondered what I had gotten myself into. Describing a ‘barbershop’ scent is like describing the meaning of life(to a lesser extent of course). It is not a cut and dry answer. It’s not like a citrus scent or Fougere which there is a certain theme or primary note.
For me this scent is even more difficult to describe because I grew up going to chain stores to get my hair cut like “First Choice” and other unisex hair cutters. So the smell of women’s perfume, hair spray and Vidal Sassoon hair products dominated the olfactory senses……I am sure this is not what a barbershop of the 50’s and 60’s smelled like.
To me a ‘barbershop’ scent would have a hint of Barbicide, maybe some cigar notes, men’s cologne, and even a bit of canned foam smell such as Gillette Foamy or Barbasol. And possibly some talc along with hair tonic. Now the beverage of choice in a barbershop probably varied, but likely coffee and maybe some scotch, rye, or whiskey as well would add to the overall aroma.
Two of my favorite ‘barbershop’ scents are Stirling Soap Company ‘Barbershop’, and Proraso Green. Yes, both are considered ‘barbershop’ scents and yet they have virtually nothing in common aside from being shaving soap/creams. As you can see rather than making it easier to identify what a ‘barbershop’ scent is, it would just appear that I am making it even more unclear. Fear NOT my friends!!!! It will become clearer…….maybe.
Take a closer look at barbershop scents such as Stirlings Barbershop, B&M Seville, and PAA CaD they all have one major thing in common……They are North American artisan soaps. Therefore are more likely to be formulated based on what a North American barbershop would smell like to them. PAA CaD for instance was based on the scent of Barbasol which is one of the most common shaving foams…hence its original name ‘barbersoul’ then ‘barberpole’ and then onto its latest reincarnation ‘CaD’ which stands for Cease and Desist. Barbasol does have that familiar smell and I am sure was used in many barber shops as the go to shaving software. This soap is one of the most popular shaving soaps available and gets great reviews. Stirling’s take is a sweeter scent. To my nose like a sweet, really creamy and powdery pipe tobacco. Strilings take is actually one of my all time favorite scents. Then there is Seville which has notes of Bergamot, lemon and patchouli to name a few……again quite different from the previous two, yet it does conjure up feelings of being in a high-end barbershop.
Now look at Proraso Green. It is a European made product. This is a bold eucalyptus and menthol scent. Maybe not a traditional barbershop scent to North Americans but likely it is to Europeans. I would even guess that in certain barbershop around North America it would be used as it is an Italian Standard! So clearly different parts of the world may have a different take.
Now when it comes to aftershaves (I am not going into fragrances like EdC’s and EdPs) Old Spice is probably one of the first that comes to mind along with Pinaud Clubman. These two aftershaves are loved by many wet shavers and have been around for quite a while. However the Clubman does have some similarities in notes used as B&M Seville by using lemon and lavender. Again neither are all too similar in my opinion, but are spotted in most barber shops. Others would argue that Bay Rum is a barbershop scent, but I think personally that Bay Rum is a category in itself.
So, to be completely honest I don’t feel like I have really cleared things up. Rather just given a couple of examples and why they may be considered ‘Barbershop’ scents. What I will say is that a ‘Barbershop’ scent is what reminds YOU of a Barbershop. Depending on where you are from, where you grew up and where you got your hair cut this all affects your perception of a barbershop scent. I cannot speak for anyone but myself. A friend of mine call ‘barbershop’ scents the most ambiguous of all scents and I think he hit the nail on the head. Nothing is set in stone as to barbershop scents. Perhaps your barber used sandalwood cream or aftershave and therefore sandalwood may be a key to what you think of as a ‘barbershop’ scent.
For me I will end by saying there are a lot of ‘C’s’ in what I picture a ‘barbershop’ scent to be. Clubman, cologne, cigar/cigarette, comics, canned foam, and coffee. Yes, comics because the shops all had comic books and they all had that distinctive paper smell….. Obviously there is more than just that, however that’s what I will go with.
I would love to hear your feedback in the comments on this article. Did I hit the nail on the head? Was it a swing and a miss? What is a ‘Barbershop’ scent to you?
Cheers guys and happy shaving!!!