August 25, 2013

One for the aged: A young barber

Statistics show the state's population of barbers dwindling; a young man hopes to reverse the trend.

By MATT HONGOLTZ-HETLING Morning Sentinel Staff Writer

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Derrik Vigue trims the neck of Josh Gilbert of Oakland during a cut at the Faded Lines Barber Shop in Oakland on Thursday. Vigue is a rarity in Maine: a young barber.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

For example, he knows a thing or two about hair, having shorn enough of it to fill his own shop with clippings many times over.

Buzzell gives bags of the stuff away to farmers and gardeners, who hang it in nets, he said, because when the wind blows through, it keeps the raccoons out of the corn.


One reason for the decline of Maine's barbers is that until recently, there were no barber courses offered in the state. An aspiring barber could either go to an out-of-state school or apprentice to a barber for an intimidating 2,000 hours.

With few new barbers being trained, barber shops struggled to find workers, said to Tony Coco, owner of the Capilo Institute, an Augusta-based cosmetology school.

Coco said he once fielded a call from a retiring barber looking for an up-and-comer -- he wanted to retire and give his barbershop away.

But without any student barbers enrolled, Coco could offer the man no help.

In order to boost the number of barbers in Maine, the Legislature in 2011 approved a bill, put forward by the state professional regulation department, for a limited barbering license, which separates the services a barber is most called upon to perform -- cutting and shaving -- from services such as perms and hair coloring.

Under the law, barber students must spend 20 hours on toupees, 65 hours on equipment sterilization and 275 hours on the basic principles of haircutting as part of an 800-hour total course.

The law prompted Coco to offer the state's first barber course in 17 years.

For about $10,000, and six and a half months of study, Coco said, a student can earn a limited barber's license, helping to fill the void left behind by those leaving the profession.

Vigue is one of seven newly licensed barbers who have gone through the school. Four more are attending, and the next class is slated to begin Nov. 5.


A new barber can't coast on old traditions because, Coco said, there are two distinct markets.

"There's the traditional type of barber. They're hunters. They fish," he said. "Then I've got, like Derrik, the trendy guys. They're looking for the New York, Boston, hip type of men's shop where guys can come hang out and keep up with the latest styles."

In keeping with the 21st century vibe, Vigue doesn't yet have a sign on his shop, but he does have a large request on the door to like him on Facebook and he maintains an active Facebook page.

Coco said youth culture barbering has begun to emerge in Portland and will spread through the state over time.

Right now, not enough young men seek trendy haircuts to support Vigue's shop, and so he tries to include traditional clients while maintaining a youthful edge.

His shop features items both old and new -- a poster of the movie "Barbershop," starring Ice Cube, faces a display case with antiquated hair-clippers and straight razors, used by a funeral home that was once on the site to deliver final haircuts and shaves to the departed.

His products include Lucky Tiger, a hair tonic so popular in the '50s that its fragrance has become an integral part of the authentic barbershop experience.

"It gives it that barbershop smell," Vigue said.

The shop also has a television tuned to sports coverage, which he said helps to break the ice with clients that seem nervous about sitting in the chair of a tattooed 23-year-old.

On Friday afternoon, William Cook, a white-haired Oakland resident was driving by Vigue's shop when the new barber pole caught his eye. He came inside and sat in Vigue's chair for the first time.

When he got his first look at the young barber, "I wanted to run in the other direction," he joked.

"No, I'm kidding," he said. "It didn't bother me. And he did just fine. I would definitely come back."

As much as Vigue wants to be the bold trendsetter ushering in a new age of barbering, he is also getting an education about traditional family businesses.

Many of his clients, referrals from Vigue's mother and grandmother, have memories of Vigue as a small child in the corner of his mother's salon, memories that predate his own.

It's a good feeling.

"I guess I didn't understand the community of it," he said.

For Vigue, a young man who wants to change the world of barbering, his own world is changing, sometimes in subtle ways.

Vigue still sits on the stoop outside his shop, exchanging waves with friends in cars. These days, though, the hair on the heads of most of those who wave, he said, is white.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be contacted at 861-9287 or at:


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