History always seems to repeat itself if you wait long enough, and this now seems to have happened to the hair business.
The latest thing, pioneered by a Japanese company called QB House, is a high-tech quick version. You go in, pay (Octopus is not just accepted – it is insisted on) and unless you have to wait on the bench supplied you will be done and dusted in 10 minutes.
The business model excludes all the usual frills. They do not do perms, they do not do colouring, hair transplants or even shampoos. They just cut. The 10-minute duration is guaranteed.
There are some ingenious innovations, like a sort of tame vacuum cleaner to make sure your hair debris doesn’t accompany you out of the shop. There is the promise that the implements are disinfected between clients, which is nice though I wouldn’t have missed it if it wasn’t there. And just so you know nobody else has used your comb they encourage the customer to keep it at the end of the performance.
I felt a bit guilty the first time. I have been going to the same, more traditional, place for a long time. They do a good job. But they do like to wash it, which I am personally happy to do myself, they take at least twice as long and charge at least twice as much.
So I have had the quicky a couple of times now. I was sitting on the bench waiting for my turn when I suddenly realised why the whole scene seemed, despite the modern design and equipment, eerily familiar.
Back in the 50s – that’s the 1950s, children – hair care was organised on gender lines. Ladies made appointments and went to hairdressers, where they spent a lot of time with chemicals, curlers and those monstrous driers which look like they’re trying to eat your head.
Men, on the other hand, went to barbers, so called because before the invention of the safety razor shaving yourself was a tricky matter and there was a lively market for shaving men, which of course had to be done far more often than haircutting.
When you went to the barber, you did not make an appointment, and there was no nonsense about choosing a “stylist” either. You sat on a bench and took your turn with whoever was vacant, although in most shops there was only one practitioner, so this was not a problem.
The barber only cut your hair. He – it was always a he – had nothing to do with its colour, shape or cleanliness. And in most cases, I suspect it only took about 10 minutes.
The loss of the shaving business was to some extent compensated by the sex segregation. As a sideline, many barbers sold items which you might not wish to discuss in mixed company, like surgical trusses and – ahem – contraceptives. The more up-market ones lurked in smart hotels or men’s clothing shops, where they could charge premium prices and did not need to sell… other things.
Now it seems quick, cutting only, places are going to be as common as rice shops. QB House is proposing to open 100 of them in Hong Kong, and local imitations have already appeared.
The question which then arises is whether segregation by gender will return. I suspect, and I say this with the deepest respect for all concerned, that a lot of ladies rather enjoy having a long hair session, starting with a detailed discussion of how their hair should be done.
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be happy with a 10-minute shearing starting with a choice from the QB menu, which offers short, long or medium.
My wife watched my first visit from the safety of a nearby café, and while she appeared quite happy with the results as applied to me, did not seem tempted. In fact, I have never seen a woman customer in one of these places, though many of the styling artistes are ladies.
QB House is, according to reports, anxious to increase its proportion of female customers. I take this to mean that the present number is quite low.
And I fear it will stay that way. There will no doubt be some Hong Kong ladies who will be happy to have a quick no-frills cut in 10 minutes, and probably some more who will go for it in emergencies when they haven’t got time for the usual marathon. Likewise, some of the more exotic hairstyles you see on men these days are clearly not the products of a mere ten minutes work.
But on the whole, there is a difference here between male and female views of the matter. For many ladies, having your hair done is a social ritual as much as a practical necessity. It is an enjoyable experience so cutting it short (sorry) is not a benefit.
Men, on the other hand, just want quick gratification. It is tempting to draw an analogy to matters of sex here, with ladies preferring a longer session and men annoying them with a preference for instant relief, but I shall resist the temptation.
Suffice to say that the quick barber version was fine for me and I would happily recommend it for anyone. But probably you won’t see your wife in there.