For barbers, getting guys ready for prom sparks memories of their own

While the prom rush for guys is still a few days away, local barbers are ready.

“We’ve only had a few people so far,” said Roosevelt Cato, a barber at Fresh Cuts on Midvale Avenue in East Falls. “I’ve noticed recently they’ve gotten the same hair style. It’s either a light fade or dark fade. Some of them are getting boxes.”

Cato’s colleague Gene Jenkins said he noticed that while the young guys on a regular day would answer cell phone calls while seated in the barber chair, one recent customer who came in for a prom cut turned off his cell phone so he wouldn’t be tempted to answer it and interrupt his barber’s flow.

“He doesn’t want anybody interfering while he is getting his thing tossed off,” said Jenkins. “That’s how they do it.”

Cato is 25 but noticed that changes have taken root in haircut tastes for formal occasions among guys.

“It’s actually kind of funny because when I was in high school, guys would bust on you if you came with a fade,” he said. “In my day the cut was even all over. I’ve seen a couple who have let their boxes grow very high.”

‘Self-esteem is flying high’

Memories of proms past are displayed in headshots on the walls of Fresh Cuts, the Hair Cuttery on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough and Ron’s Barber Shop on Stenton Ave. in Mt. Airy.

“I enjoy the time of year,” said Joe Davis, owner of Fresh Cuts. On the night of prom, “guys will come through in their limo and wave. They have on the same colors and matching shoes as their girl. They’re proud, self-esteem is flying high. They’re wearing the bow ties. They come through every year.”

Tyrone “T.Y.” Newton, who works at Ron’s on Stenton, also drives a limousine for hire. “They are excited, but the guys play it very cool,” he said. Newton knows young men find prom season as special as the young women because “they might come in for the extras like getting a shave in addition to the haircut.”

Prom season increases seat traffic for hair stylists, but in between shape ups and tapers, it increases advice-giving as well. The men and women barbers advise the young men about how much dye helps improve their look in photos, for example. They help them make choices about what colors of dye match with the bow ties, cummerbunds and date’s dresses. A lot is at stake since getting ready means looking right for one’s date, the families and one’s peers at the formal dance.

Sharing stories of past proms 

For some barbers, the prom prep process sends them down memory lane. 

“This time of year is fun. In terms of preparing guys, we tell them our stories,” said Oliver Coleman, who owns Ollie’s Cuts on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough. He tells customers about how in his 30 years in the business, the styles have gone from blowout afros and tapered edges to include angled parts, high spikes, and an emphasis on very wavy tops, to name a few. The bonds between guys are seen when they come together for prom cuts. Coleman mentioned that the bond can be seen in his case, too, even though he did not go to prom.

“I went to Germantown High School. My best friend was Lester Bishop. We liked the same girl,” Coleman said. “Carol was her name. She was the finest thing up here. She was gorgeous.”

“It was 1974. We flipped a coin to see who takes her and I lost. We wanted the same girl, so I didn’t even go,” Coleman said. “Me and my friend, whoever won, had to help the other [buy] the tux. He didn’t have any parents and I didn’t have any. Whoever got her, one guy would help the other get the tux. So that’s what I did. I think it was blue. Lester had a great time.”

Then and now, guys during prom season become caught up in their own world. Cato would like to remind young men that a good half hour in the barber’s chair can do wonders for nerves and give young men a chance to show off in a positive way. “A few do come by with their girl just to show off. A barber is like a therapist,” he said.

“A person comes in with the old face because they’re wolfing. We say, ‘You’re stressing if you’re wolfing.’ They may say to me that they like the cut and ‘you gave me exactly what I like.’ They feel better [on the way] out of the chair,” he said. 

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