In 1865, two years after Boise was founded, the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman announced that hard times in Boise were over. An excited crowd gathered at the Overland Hotel, on the corner of 8th and Main, to watch a man employ his barber. It stood to reason that a city that could afford a good barber enjoyed a modicum of civilization and, more importantly, that the citizens possessed the earnings in which to pay for such luxuries. Boise was certainly moving up in the world.
Out in the plains, beyond the edge of civilized society, a haircut, a shave, and a bath were luxuries that were hard to come by. The best chance a man had at a clean cut and shave was at a hotel or boarding house. These institutions provided room and board no doubt, and perhaps a drink and a hot meal, but it was more often than not a chance to enjoy a little personal maintenance. And at a time when lawlessness and violence erupted anywhere, there was only one place you could find a man relaxed at the mercy of a straight blade.
As Boise grew, so did its establishments. As the boardwalks gave way to sidewalks, the hotel barber gave way to the barber shop. At the turn of the century barbershops downtown were open every weekday from 8 am to 6 pm and then until ten on Saturdays; but the wait was longer on Saturdays. A haircut cost 35 cents; a bath, including soap, towel, and washcloth was 25 cents; and a shave was 15. If you wanted to have your hair shampooed and your neck shaved it would cost a little extra, and when you were done the colored porter would offer to shine your shoes for another ten cents.
By the early 1900s there were a handful of barbershops located downtown, and while they still served the same civilizing functions as the hotel barber, the institution had grown into something of a male social event as well as a practice of good hygiene. The barbers were men and the customers were men, and when the men brought their sons to the barber, it was looked on as something of a stepping stone in life. And one thing was for certain; at the barbershop you were likely to encounter discussions about news and politics, conversation that was part of the male sphere. A haven, it provided a relaxed and familiar space for men of the city, and the barber became a confidant and a friend.
In 1906 Gillette introduced the safety razor. This product shielded the dangerous edge of a blade and made replacements easy and personal consumption affordable. The personal razor changed the relationship men had with their barber as shaving at home became a reality. Then in 1911 two “lady barbers” opened a shop on 7th Street, south of Main. It would be a slow transition, but eventually the barber shop gave way to the beauty parlor, and men found themselves more often than not at the Quick Cuts down the street for, well, a quick-cut. Beginning in the 1960s and 70s, Boise barbers began closing their doors after 40, 50, 60 years of service. Some men today bemoan the loss of the male-oriented barber; the smells, the society, and the overall experience that, to many, had at one time meant that they had reached “manhood.”
Looking for a Barber today? Here are a few great Boise Barbers:
Philip Bell @ 10th St. Barber Shop, 208-389-1000
Ryan Blizzard @ North End Barbershop, 208-343-2100
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