The preponderance of grooming advice for men has much to recommend when it comes to shampoos and detanglers, hair wax, facial exfoliator, shaving cream, and cologne. Under-eye cream: also covered. But when it comes right down to it, the single most important element of grooming – aside from basic washing and scrubbing, which we trust you to manage – is the haircut. It frames the face. It says, "I'm a successful Madison Avenue ad man" or "I live in the woods like Jeremiah Johnson" or "I just don't give a damn." Haircut advice typically suggests where to go and what to ask for.
Our question, to the chagrin of partners and loved ones: Can we just cut it ourselves? To find out, we met with Jen Atkin, a Los-Angeles-based hairstylist and the celebrity stylist for Clear Men Scalp Therapy. Atkin has cut some famous hair in her day – George Clooney, Josh Hartnett, Kid Rock even – and was kind enough to give this author a cut. She also rather cautiously outlined a strategy for tackling the do-it-yourself haircut. Not surprisingly, she has strong reservations about us men cutting our own hair – "You don't want to do major damage right in front of your face," she says" – but we believe in it. The idea here is not to replace haircuts altogether; it's to keep a good cut looking fresh without going to the barber or salon.
A few weeks after the appointment with Jen, on a trip his native New Hampshire, far away from the fancy barbers and stylists of New York City, this correspondent steadied his hand and followed the steps below – and, damn, he looks pretty good. Go out and do likewise, gents.
Use a shaving razor or beard trimmer to clean up the edges.
Use a shaving razor to trim your sideburns. Again, no blunt cuts. The length is really up to you. If you're going for an early-1970s Michael Caine look, then leave them at the bottom of the ears, perhaps lower. Otherwise, a good baseline is the depression just below your cheekbone. After cutting, put your fingers right underneath your sideburns to make sure they're even. The back is a bit more challenging. What you're looking to do is trim the "wings" that develop when most people's hair gets too long. Atkin suggests going into a barbershop instead of doing it yourself. In the spirit of DIY, we did it ourselves using a beard trimmer. Start on a high number setting so that the razor just barely touches your hair when you run it up the neckline. Continue with lower numbers as necessary, being careful to cut just enough to taper the hair at your neckline. Use a second mirror (or the iPhone camera in reverse) to check your progress.
Credit: Photograph by Jeremy Berger