Colliers, Brilliantine and Floyd: barbershop memories.

Topeka Capital-Journal
Nov. 3, 1986

One day recently I had a late-afternoon haircut and was the only customer in the place. I also was the only man in the place. My barber (barberess, beautician, hair stylist, coiffeuse, friseur, cosmetologist, clipper, cropper or whatever) was a woman.

Two or three more of the above were sitting around, waiting for the place to close. There also was a child – a little girl, naturally. I was at their mercy, but they didn’t take advantage of it. Maybe it was because the little girl was present.

Driving home, I thought about how times have changed. I remembered some of my first haircuts and the barbershop back in Britton, Okla., where I grew up. You don’t see anything like it these days.

I read somewhere that in the early 1960s, a man named Stanley came up with the idea of serving both men and women in the same barber chair. He created the first unisex hair salon. Things haven’t been the same since.

Stanley is the big reason that barber poles are going the way of cigar store Indians and zoot suits. They are becoming a thing of the past.

There was a barber pole in front of Harry Williams’ barbershop in Britton, a real one that turned slowly, as barber poles should. Inside, the place smelled of Bay Rum, Brilliantine, rose-scented hair oil and Fitch’s fancy hair tonic.

Like most barbershops of the day, Harry’s was a one-man operation. There was one barber chair, and armchairs for those waiting or just visiting. There was a razor strop hanging from the barber chair, and Harry kept his razors in a velvet-lined case. There was a big mirror, so everybody could see what was going on.

The reading material included several copies of the latest issue of the weekly Britton Progress, a single copy of the day’s Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman, and old and battered magazines such as Colliers, the Saturday Evening Post and National Geographic.

In my current unisex salon, the literature is limited to slick magazines dealing strictly with hair styling and care. They are about as exciting to read as “What’s new in tombstones.”

The talk in Harry’s shop covered a wide range of subjects. There usually was a crowd because it was almost as much a meeting place for men as it was a barbershop. It was a place you could hear the latest, or unload a hot item that was too good to keep secret.

Most of the men liked to talk, and they would agree easily that for one reason or another, the government – local, state and federal – was going to hell.

They couldn’t agree at all, however, on whether the Philadelphia A’s were any match for the Cardinals. They would talk about how the high school football coach should be fired and about how the kids of the day weren’t as tough as the players of years gone by. When they talked about the college football powers, they mentioned Minnesota, Notre Dame, Army and Fordham.

A frequent visitor was the town marshal, Leland Corbett. He would tell of the locals latest brushes with the law. And one day he held his audience spellbound when he said he had been informed that “Pretty Boy” Floyd was thought to be in the area and to be on the lookout The orders were to shoot on site. Man!

Harry charged different prices for men, boys and young children. The passage from adolescence to manhood was marked by Harry shaving the back of your neck and over your ears to conclude your haircut. He, not you, decided when your time had come.

I can’t remember the exact price for a man’s haircut, but it couldn’t have been much. I know this because I recall some of the prices at Doc Snider’s drug store next door.

King Edward cigars were two for a nickel. The best cigarettes, like Lucky Strike, Camel, Old Gold and Chesterfield, were 15 cents a pack, two for a quarter. Cheap cigarettes, like Wings and Twenty Grand, were 10 cents a pack, 3 for a quarter.

There was no warning on the packs. If there had been, it should have read, “Warning: These babies will burn holes in your lungs that will go all the way to your socks.” Twenty Grand was a horse, and we always said he provided the material for the cigarettes.

The barbershop was the closest thing to an all-male establishment in the town. About the only time a woman came in was to accompany a youngster, and she probably was happy to leave and end the obvious lull in the conversation.

When I visit my current coiffeuse, the talk usually is about softball, of all things, and the condition of one Bob Hentzen. The reason is that she is the third-base person on the Capital-Journal softball team Hentzen manages. As a friseur, she, she doesn’t look much like a third-base person, and she sure doesn’t look like old Harry Williams. But she gets the job done.

It’s too bad Harry isn’t around to collect today’s prices. The most he ever got for a shave and a haircut was probably 50 cents, and his only tip would come when the town wag would laugh and say, “Want a tip, Harry? Here’s one: Save your money.”

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