Women all over Long Island are busting through the doors of what has traditionally been a male, closed club: The barber shop. Armed with straight razors, edgers, clippers, beard trimmers and scissors, it’s becoming more and more likely that the person who cuts a man’s hair is a gal.

According to Sam Abayev, the director of the International Barber and Beauty School in Central Islip, “Five years ago, I would have one or two women in a class of 10. Today, it’s more like five or six.” 

Likewise, at the Barber and Beauty Institute of New York in Hempstead, 35% of the students enrolled in barbering classes are women. Director and owner Christopher Felder chalks it up to a change in men’s grooming attitudes. “Men want a spa-like experience and they associate that with female barbers. The male grooming business has sky-rocketed over the past two years and people are not as rushed anymore. They’re not just looking for a quick haircut. They may want a facial, a hot shave,” he says. 

Guys are pickier than girls about their cuts. They will look at every single strand.  They’re really bougey about their hair.

Jamie Lee Rodriguez, 30, Hair Magicians

So, what do you call a lady barber? Get this, A barber. It’s the tools of the trade that differentiate a barber from a hair stylist. By law, you can’t use a straight edge razor to shave a face if you don’t have a license via an apprenticeship or a school. However, many women going into the barbering business already have cosmetology licenses which allows them to perm, color and straighten hair along with cutting it, giving them a wide array of skills.  

Of course, barbershops are still considered by some to be a macho man’s world -- a place to shoot the breeze, watch a sports game, drink a brew in the company of fellows. To that end, some resistance to females in a barber shop still exists says Harry “Houdini” Hernández, the owner of Hair Magicians in Wantagh, where there are four female barbers.

“I think there’s still an old school way of thinking about it," he says. "But the new generation is very open to it ... these women,” he adds referring to his staff, “are a force to be reckoned with.”

Many of the women barbers we spoke to say cutting men’s hair can be more difficult than styling women’s because precision (and mistakes) show on shorter cuts and are less easily disguised. Oh, and in case you think that all that beauty parlor gossip is a just girly thing, think again. Word is, guys like a good tell-all too. Meet some of the women barbers of Long Island.

The TV star

Jamie Lee Rodriguez, 30, Hair Magicians, Wantagh (@JayLeeBladez)

Jamie Lee Rodriguez, a barber at Hair Magicians in Wantagh,...

Jamie Lee Rodriguez, a barber at Hair Magicians in Wantagh, was discovered by a casting director who was impressed by the barber’s Instagram page (@JayLeeBladez) and tapped for a commercial for Ruffles potato chips starring basketball superstar LeBron James that dealt with life’s ups-and-downs (as in ridges).  Credit: Jacqueline Shiffman/Say Less Ent.

Initially, “a lot of guys didn’t want to come to me, because they thought a woman didn’t know how to cut their hair. They’d come in for an appointment and say, 'ohhh Jay,’ (her nickname), ‘I thought you were a guy. I’m going to come back later.’” They didn’t, says Rodriguez adding that she was doing haircuts for free just to have men give her a chance. Today, they’re lining up for her services which include hair designs, braiding and color (she is also a cosmetologist). Last January, a casting director noticed her creative style skills on Instagram and tapped her for a role in a LeBron James commercial for Ruffles potato chips that dealt with life’s ups and downs (ridges) -- one of hers was not being accepted as a barber.

A talented touch: One of her clients, Monique Zacco, of East Meadow, believes that as a barber, Rodriguez, being a woman and a mom, was more relatable to her three sons. One in particular, Marcello, 11, was painfully shy until he started sporting the barber’s elaborate hair designs, a Rodriguez signature. “Working with young children is a different concept. She has the patience, she’s nurturing but still able to joke around,” says Zacco.  “She brings out a confidence and I’m all about that.” Rodriguez says there’s a lot of fellowship occurring in her chair. “The dynamic between me and my clients is really cool.  They open up and talk about what guys talk about it including girlfriends.  It’s a safe zone.”

Tough customers: Haircuts may generally be shorter for men says Rodriguez, “Guys are pickier than girls about their cuts. They will look at every single strand.  They’re really bougey about their hair.” 

The student

Tashara Gilyard, 39, Barber and Beauty Institute, Hempstead (@virtuouscutz)

Tashara Gilyard, 39, a student at the Barber and Beauty...

Tashara Gilyard, 39, a student at the Barber and Beauty Institute in Hempstead, cuts the hair of Xavier Hunter, 5, of Elmont. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Gilyard, a correctional officer for New York State, learned how to cut hair at a local barbershop as a kid, but says, “I didn’t stick with it.” Now, she’s planning for a next career when she retires in several years and attending barber school at night. 

Back in the day, 'the owner of the shop used to pay for people’s cuts if they let me cut their hair.'

Today, she’s popular at the school with a specialty in free style hair designs which she sports on her own head.

At first: Using the straight edge, was “very scary. You don’t want to slit someone’s head. But they teach us the proper way to execute a shave and thankfully I didn’t pop the balloon we practice on.” Now, she’s enjoying her art and the social aspect of the job.  “It’s like talk time, you meet all types of people. Everything pertaining to life happens in the barber shop.”

Goals: Down the road, Gilyard hopes to open her own barber shop in the Valley Stream area.  “We plan on hiring all woman barbers.  I think we bring more to the table.” She even has a name for her place -- same as her Instagram handle: Virtuous Cutz.

The boy’s club

Michelle Gigi, 24, The Holy Black, Lindenhurst (@blvk.leaf)

Michelle Gigi cuts Tyler Foran’s hair at The Holy Black...

Michelle Gigi cuts Tyler Foran’s hair at The Holy Black Barber Shop in Lindenhurst. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Gigi is the only woman in this newish shop which dubs itself as an All-American barbershop and is a very male-focused environment.  “I always wanted to do something different and I gave this a shot and ended up loving it,” says Gigi who styles a everything from fades to pompadours to mullets to mohawks.

Part of the team: The shop’s co- owner, Matthew Gaudio, says, “To be honest, she’s really one of the guys.” Occasionally, says Gaudio, “Guys might feel that they don’t want a pretty girl cutting their hair, but once they meet her, they find out she’s awesome. She’s a dynamo barber and cuts hair just as well as my guy barbers.”  Adds Gigi, “Rarely, an older guy might have reservations about a woman cutting their hair. But, if anything, men sometimes prefer a woman for our attention to detail and softer touch.”

Step into my chair:  Besides being a good haircutter, “You have to be personable, and you want to make clients feel comfortable,” explains Gigi. “We talk about whatever, sometimes they ask me for advice or talk about their life… you almost become a therapist.”

All in the family

Olivia Skye Sirota, 20, Noble Savage, Bay Shore (@liv.blends)

Olivia Sky Sirota, 20, started as a receptionist a few...

Olivia Sky Sirota, 20, started as a receptionist a few years back at Noble Savage Barbershop and was encouraged by her uncle, Thomas O’Rourke, who co-owns the shop to become a barber. She did it and loves it and today has a steady client list of some 80 men. Credit: Olivia Sirota

Sirota’s uncle, Thomas O’Rourke, is the co-owner of this busy shop, and Sirota, who started there as a receptionist, caught the bug for barbering by watching – “it looked fun,” and encouragement from her uncle who, she says, “is one of my biggest supporters and the reason I got into it.” Although she has her cosmetology license, “I don’t really practice it a lot. I like cutting men’s hair better.” She’s noted the trend of more women coming into the industry but feels, “we do need more.”  

A following: After doing an apprenticeship in 2020, and being “scared at first,” nowadays, Sirota is “completely comfortable.”  As she should be with her roster of some 80 regular clients for whom she does a fair share of mullets, though she says fades are first and foremost.

The teen scene: Being so young, Sirota attracts plenty of teen clients, (about 50-50 with adults), and, apparently, the kids don’t talk that much. “A few people share secrets, but honestly, I’m kind of quiet behind the chair. I’m very focused. You have to be very careful. It’s very intricate work and takes a steady hand.”

'Anti-Inflation' haircut prices

To celebrate their 10th anniversary, Mad Men barber shops in Williston Park and Wantagh, are offering haircuts for the same price they did when they first opened…$15.

The discounted price is, “available to anyone who gets their hands on one of our post card coupons whether they’re new clients or existing clients,” says Edward Dennehy, co-owner of the shops. That shouldn’t be too hard. Dennehy says the cards, which don’t expire, will be mailed out soon to approximately 80,000 homes in Nassau County.

So why the price cut? “Trying to adequately celebrate our 10 Year Anniversary while coming off the heels of Covid-19 and now entering another troublesome period with inflation and gas prices has been perplexing,” says Dennehy. “We decided to acknowledge the moment in time we are in and reduce prices back to 2012 levels while many others are instead taking the opportunity to raise them.” He adds, ‘Our “Anti-Inflation’ program will certainly help cash strapped families and broaden our already deep relationship to the community… shedding light on why you should shop family-owned, shop local, with people who are also sharing the same struggles.”

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