Athens barbers a dying breed

From 1930 to 1958 it was the ?Italian? style that was fashionable; a mop at the top and closely cut at the back and sides, like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in the ?Godfather? films,? remembers Constantinos Sarras, a barber in the Athenian neighborhood of Vyronas. ?From 1958 to 1968, the trend was for a very short classic cut. Men used to get their hair cut every Saturday back then, because the fresh-cut look was fashionable.?

Apostolos Stambolis, who lives and works in Rouf, southern Athens, looks back on the trends in shaving.

?In the 1950s men didn?t shave at home. They went to the barber. They enjoyed it. On Saturdays, the Ypovrichio [Submarine, a long-established cafe in the neighborhood] was jam-packed from morning to night. Men would gather there to play cards and then take a break to go for a good haircut or a shave, or both, at the barber next door, Marios Makaratzis.?

Sarras and Stambolis?s narratives come from the same book, ?Barber Shops: Their Evolution Through Time and Barbers? Narrative,? by folk historian Zoe Ropaitou, which offers glimpses into the lives and work of these professionals, who are today a dying breed in the Greek capital.

The book covers almost all of the surviving traditional barbershops in central Athens, but also travels further afield to other parts of Attica as well.

Born and raised in Athens, Ropaitou, who has written two books on the area where she grew up between Votanikos and Rouf, and another on nearby Elaionas, knocked on doors and spoke to all the traditional barbers she could find. Kathimerini met up with her and asked her what inspired her to embark on this adventure.

?As a folk historian, with a lengthy career at the Athens Academy?s Hellenic Folklore Research Center, my job is to salvage things that are facing extinction. There are very few genuine barbershops left, so it made sense to research them. There is, however, a more personal reason as well. I used to shave my grandfather, my father?s father. At some point when he got very old, I saw that he wasn?t shaving himself well and I promised him that I would shave him every Saturday, and I did. My brother also went to work at a barbershop, and my father had a very close friend who raised four children while working as a barber.?

The folk historian began with barbershops in the city center before looking further afield and rooting out a few gems outside the capital.

?I have also looked at the evolution of the business, how we got to where we are today. Basically, the concept of the hair salon began in the 1960s with Vidal Sassoon,? she said, referring to the legendary British hairdresser who died in May. ?He revolutionized hairdressing for men and women, at a pivotal moment in history, when men were letting their hair grow longer.?

Ropaitou?s book contains a wealth of photographs, as well as extracts from novels and poems relating to the profession, explaining how the barbershop was a part of the Greek male?s identity and his social life.

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