London Tales IV

London Tales IV

London Tales IV – LondonHair

The late eighties, early nineties saw the rebirth of the crop. Women sported carefully-crafted, faded napes and sides, cultivated tops whether their hair had been completely cropped, whether they wore longer tops, cropped napes, wispy sides…

Steps, stepped backs, structured crops, cropped bobs, flattops, French crops – they were all in around that time. It was the era of the yuppie and the whole country was buzzing and London was thriving. Convent Garden at that time had more hair salons within two square miles than most county regions put together. We were lucky, we were slap bang in the middle of it all – Soho, London.

Bruce had decided to open another shop in North London and spent most of his time there. We had taken on another member to replace Bruce; a skinny Italian girl named Rosa. After a few weeks of working at the shop she began to build herself a handsome portfolio of male clients – she could really cut hair. Rosa had little preference in cutting men or women’s hair, although she always said that men were far fussier. We had a regular stream of clients and plenty of walk-ins. The modelling, or practice nights as we called them, had been reduced to twice monthly and there were always plenty of volunteers.

A typical Saturday for me would be something like this…

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We would get to the shop for eight in the morning; one of us would pop next door and order three coffees. The first couple of early morning clients would be a couple of local coffee bar waiters wanting trims. I would probably know the guy and we’d talk about the afternoon’s football outcome. A quick trim around the sides, back and top a bit of gel and he was out. There were only a couple of seats behind us where people could sit and wait, therefore more often as the day progressed people would either try to make appointments or they would stake the shop out whilst taking in a coffee and enter the shop as soon as they saw someone leave the place. Another guy would take his place in the chair and the trimming would start, then another and another. Someone would enter the shop and ask for one of us specifically and we’d say, “twenty minutes, half an hour OK?”

Around ten the first signs of the female species would manifest themselves: standing outside, looking straight in, staring up at the sign – which would give no clue to whether this place was a unisex, a barber’s, though the four or five black and white 2 by 2ft photos of female models should give something away. She plucked up some courage and gently pushed the wooden framed glass door open.

“Hi – morning, is it all right to get a haircut?” She hadn’t quite entered the shop and had stood half in, half out.

“Sure, be about 5 minutes if you’d like to take a seat,” one of us would say.

De-frocking the client I had just done and brushing hair off the chair I asked her to take a seat. Money in the till – “see you soon, bye” and returning to my chair I would place the cape over my first female client of the day.

“What would you like done?” Her hair was short around the perimeter but with longer layers at the top with highlights.

She replied motioning with one hand, “Short at the back, sides – have it shorter on the top.”

“How much would you like cut off the top? About two inches?” She had a good four or so. “When did you last have it cut?”

“Er, about five weeks ago.”

“How short do you want to go at the back?”

“Yeah – I want that cut really short.”

“Do you want it clippered?”

“Yes, that’s fine.”

“I’ll clipper it first then I’ll wash it.” The grade 2 was still in place from the last trim. I would add, “I’ll do a grade 2, alright?”

Possibly a slight nod.

The two or so inches she sported at the back oozed off as the clippers ran up her nape, the thin fluff on her nape which hadn’t come off from the clippering stood on end. Removing the attachment I now club cut the sides, lifting the hair with the comb and running the clipper teeth clean against the comb. With the side cut short, I left some length on the sideburn. I carried on with the longer layers towards the top of her hair – just cutting it down to size. The top layers I would take an inch or so all around. Both sides completed and the top trimmed down, I swivelled the chair round and tipped the backrest down. A quick hair wash, chair swivelled back into position, start with the top all the way through with the scissors. An inch or so off through the top, cutting the side lengths shorter as I worked my way down. Trimming the hair off the ears and a little V either side. Switching on the baby clippers I cleaned the fluff away. A few more strokes with the baby clippers and comb at the base of the nape and we were done.

“I’ll show you the back.” I lifted the small hand-held mirror. “Is that short enough for you?”

“Yeah that’s really great, thanks.”

The other two girl stylists were busy away, I looked up at the clock – ten twenty-five.

“OK who’s next?”

A squat-looking oriental girl stood up. “Do you want to take a seat.”

The woman paid, smiled and said goodbye as she left.

The cape went on the oriental girl. “Yes, what would you like done?” She was Canadian.

“Really short all over.” No hesitation.

I pumped the chair up a couple of inches. I took the comb from in front of her and ran it through her hair all the way to the back. At some point, someone had taken a pop at her hair, as it was uneven on both sides. “How short do you want it?”

She made a small C with her thumb and forefinger – I could barely see the gap she had left between her fingers. “A skin…” she paused “head cut, like a skinhead”

“Right, you want it cropped.” – Not a problem – “Have you had your hair cropped before?” I asked.

“No’wah – I’m going trekking.”

Trekking? I thought “What, Star Trekking?”

“Wha’?” She didn’t get it.

“Never mind.”

“OK – do you know what number you want?” Silly question


“I’ll do a number four, I can cut it shorter if it’s too long – OK?”

I fastened the cape a little tighter, cutting off what little blood was already flowing to her brain.

I rummaged around my drawer for the attachment, which rarely got used unless I was cutting a flat top. Again, I combed her hair back and switched the unit on. Her eyes focused upward without moving her head as the clippers entered her hair. I don’t particularly like the grade 4, as it tends to leave a mottled effect. But in her case, her hair was thick and strong and looked even as the clippers ploughed over the top. The clippers made little work of taking all the hair off. I worked the back, shaving upwards, then the sides. Her hair was an even short-cropped length all over. Her dark hair made the grade 4 cut look too long.

“Is that short enough?” I asked. I can’t say I liked the way it looked, it made her head look too round – though it did suit her, short.

Long lengths of hair lay where they fell in clumps, around her shoulders, on the floor. One of the girls went round sweeping up the floor before she served her next client.

“Yeah, I like the top – but I want it really short at the sides and back.” She was a cool cookie.

We had a styles book. I pulled it out and showed her a couple of crops. She picked one, which I’d forgotten about, with some model who literally had a grade 1 up the sides and back. This style was soon to be immortalised by Miss O’Conner (Sinead).

“That’s really short,” I stated. I think the last trickle of blood had ceased to flow to her head as she just stared at me like a goldfish. “A grade 1 it is then.”

Replacing the attachment, I tilted her head forward and ploughed the back as high as I dared before reaching the crown. An almost white lane divided the back of her head, like a white stripe on the road. The back done, I carried on with the sides. To give the hair one last hope of graduation, and I figured Deadhead would appreciate it, I removed the grade 1 and set the clippers to gradual. Running the clippers around the base of the nape and sides this in fact gave the grade 1 a fade. With very little to clean up, I marked out the hairline at the nape and cleaned the little fluff there was.

“Cool hair,” was about the only remark she made as she stood up.

“Did you want it washed?” I asked.

“Nah,” she nasaled.

“Happy trekking,” I said as I waved goodbye.

Eleven o’clock. “Anyone want coffee?” Two ‘yeah’s reverberated.

I returned with the three polystyrene cups and motioned for my next client to take a seat. A young guy with shoulder length hair who wanted an inch off the tips.

Eleven twenty. My next client was a regular – a local girl who came in every three or so weeks. She worked toward the Carnaby Street end in a leather shop. I don’t know how long she had been coming and she never really had any preference to who cut her hair. But I remember that she had started out with a permed bob and now she sported a French crop, which needed trimming.

“The usual?” I said jokingly as she sat down.

“Yeah if you like.”

Amazingly her hair seemed to grow quite fast considering she always left the shop with such short hair and in the space of time between her regular haircuts – good business I thought.

“So what have you been up to?” I attached a grade 3 to the clippers and was already running the unit up her nape. Her head tilted down she proceeded to tell me about her Pakistani boss who was trying to come on to her.

“So I told him, I don’t like blokes – do I,” she mumbled

“And don’t you?”

“Well, I don’t like that Paki – that’s for sure.”

Up the nape, over the crown, from the top back down again. Up the sides and over the top. The only hair that was left uncut was the small pointy fringe, which ran from just over the temple and slightly over her forehead. She was very attractive, I thought. With the grade 3 done, I ran a grade 2 through the sides and nape. Catching the fringe between my fingers I snipped the tendrils softly almost feather-like.

“See you in a couple of weeks then,” I said as she span on one heel turning from the chair.

“Ah, no me and me boyfriend are off to Spain in two weeks.”

“Alright, see you when you get back.”

Eleven forty-five – another regular. One of the boys as we’d say. He was about fifty – and I’d once heard that he had done five years for slapping some other guy – some slap.

This trim would normally take me five minutes (with a toilet break in between), but you had to like this guy and the trim process took just over half an hour.

Twelve twenty – and a small debate about who could snatch half an hour for lunch began. I won and went round the corner for a light beer and a sandwich.

One o’clock. When I got back, Rosa had sneaked out and had left Sonya by herself. Two people were seated so I asked the next customer up. We had a ‘his and hers’ situation. Sonya was already cutting the boyfriend’s hair and I had got the girlfriend.

Boyfriend was having a flattop and was halfway to being plucked by Sonya. Girlfriend looked up via the mirror and unfolded a magazine cutting of a really short flat-topped model. The only thing that would differ quite frankly, from the his and hers was that the model had wispy sideburns.

“And you want it this short?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said dreamily – very much in love, I thought. Girlfriend had ginger curly hair. The process of cutting a good flat-top is quite easy – if you have the right head and look.

Girlfriend didn’t. I had to ask if she was really sure this was what she wanted as boyfriend caught my eye.

The grade 4 came out again, and girlfriend was shaved. Her chin length hair all gone – just a ginger stipple brush. We had these flat-topper combs which we had ordered from a supplier, these Afro looking combs had in the middle a small ampoule – a spirit level. Actually I never got to grips with this level because by the time you prepared your client to keep the head straight and level, then worked the comb just right, the client would sneeze or fart and you’d have to start all over.

I placed the plastic comb flat against her skull and with a grade 1 attachment began to plane. The fringe was going to be left standing about half an inch whilst the rest of the top would taper to and over the crown down to a few millimetres. If you looked at the style profile on you would see a grade 2 nape running up over the crown and then rising flat to the half-inch fringe. The sides, also grade 2 would continue up the head until the very top where they would angle slightly inward – very sharp. I left the sideburns long and wispy as per the recipe. I cleaned the hair around the ears and marked out the nape.

Boyfriend was already finished and was waiting by the door as girlfriend climbed down from the chair.

“I fink it’s really good,” said boyfriend.

“It’s a bit short,” whispered girlfriend.

And they left.

Rosa had returned by now and Sonya had “just popped out”.

One thirty. Up on the chair was a stocky-looking guy who wanted a Peel. A grade 2 all over.

One forty five. My next client was a woman, late thirties – a few flecks of grey poking through, short hair, strong features. She described that she wanted her hair cut short through the sides and back. Her hands motioned outwards as her fingers reached the top of her head. The top she simply wanted trimming. A straightforward scissors-over-comb cut. I washed her hair first, then I cut it as short as I could take it with the comb and graduating the hair as I got higher. I trimmed the top and left it at that.

Two fifteen – a bubbly teenage girl jumped up and sat on the chair, her friend sat also waiting, blowing and popping gum.

“Yes Madam, what would you like?” She had shoulder length hair.

She ran both hands up the sides of her head. “I want the sides shaved and the back really, really short…” then holding her long hair she clasped it in one hand to form a ponytail, “…and I wannit cut about there.” ‘About there’ was her collar.

Although quite young she seemed to know what she wanted.

With her hair tied in a ponytail I asked her “Do you know how short you want it?” I was referring to the back and sides.

“Shaved,” was the reply.


She giggled as the grade 2 buzzed up her sideburn. Long strands of hair fell and some stayed fastened by the ponytail. With the clipping done this was one young lady who in a few years time would turn some heads. I also told her that short hair suited her and one day she should consider having it cut short all over.

“No, my mum would kill me!”

Her mate by now was also being treated to the long Mohican crop.

I let her long ponytail fall to her back and with two snips severed the connection between mummy’s little girl to “What the hell have you gone and done” – growing up.

She was very pleased and was talking to me about having the first couple of inches shaved over her forehead. I told her to forget it.

Two forty-five. The next client was also a young lady except she was in her early/mid-twenties. She already had a pretty-looking bob. Her hair was light brown but as I looked closer – and this was the reason she had come – some days previously she had had her hair cut at her local hairdressers. She had wanted the back cut very short and stepped. The unfortunate thing was that whoever had cut her hair, had cut the step at an angle – not on purpose, but badly cut. In fact, the step was so uneven that it began just behind and over the left ear and finished off almost halfway down the right ear. What’s more her boyfriend didn’t like the style and preferred her with shorter hair anyway.

“So what would you like done?”

She had a small picture taken from a hair magazine – the black-and-white picture was of a back headshot of a model. The caption read, “Ultra-short nape with layered top”. From what I could see it was a model sporting a bob just on the ears, with a few layers and an ultra-short nape. My client’s bob wasn’t much longer except the back wasn’t even cropped, and the sides just came down to mid-ear. Her hair was pretty much one length.

“Do you want it done like the picture?” I asked.

“Yes please.”

“Did you show this picture to the stylist who cut you hair? Because it’s nothing like it.”

She said, “No not this one.”

This style that she wanted was going to be a little more taxing because the back was very short and quite high. If I inadvertently cut hair which belonged to the side, I may as well convince her to have a short back & sides now.

The cape went over her – she slid her arms through the sleeves – clever girl.

“I’ll shave you first and then I’ll do the cut.” She nodded.

I combed as much side hair away from the back as I could and pinned the hair forward with clips. I gently tightened the cape around her neck. These blue plastic clips framed her nape and back of her head. I had two options of doing the back: I could club-cut the whole area and taper as I worked my way up this would give me more control or I could go for the attachments. The cut had to be perfectly tapered or it wouldn’t work, also there was a fade at the base of the nape, which carried quite high up the nape almost to the top of the ears. It really was an ultra short back.

“Did you pay the hairdresser?”

“Yes – I didn’t notice how bad it was until I got home on Thursday night,” she said apologetically.

“I don’t suppose your boyfriend was too happy either.”

No reply.

I decided to utilise both methods.



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