Traditional barbers in Singapore didn’t even bother with shops initially. Roadside barbers along Barber Street near Jalan Sultan would set up makeshift tents and stalls, plastic chairs, mirrors and water-filled basins to tend to their customers.
Today, street barbers are all but lost. For hygiene and regulatory reasons, they have been asked to move to proper barber shops. However, it is still possible to find the odd street barber along the back alleys of Chinatown or Tanjong Pagar.
Although most barbers have moved to proper shops now, you can still get a taste of the Singaporean barber experience in barber shops in the heartlands. These men-only barber shops are immediately recognisable from the spinning blue, red and white poles outside.
Whether on the street or in barber shops, most traditional barbers didn’t go to special colleges or styling schools. They’ve simply been in the trade for many decades and might have learnt the business from an older family member or as an apprentice.
Traditional barber salons tend to be operated largely by ethnic Indians and Malays, and most of them have a long history of cutting hair. Most barbers prefer to use old-school tools, and even prefer old-fashioned shaving blades to the more modern electric shavers.
Talcum powder is used liberally to soothe the skin after a shave, and a large thick brush used to remove excess powder from the skin afterwards. Prices are lower compared to boutique or chain salons, and generally include a vigorous head and shoulder massage, banter, humour, and valuable advice on life!