It looks like the barber shop is on the rise again, with a number of new places popping up around the city demanding their share of the lifestyle spotlight.
While some places have retained the old-school charm of thorough male grooming services, a few places have pushed the setting beyond its traditional definition, making the barber shop more than a male community but also a subculture in itself - lately with the influence of hip hop flourishes - where kindred spirits share ideas, fashion, music, culture and lifestyles.
Life searched out these up-and-coming places, traditional and otherwise, around the city, and they are not only a clear indication of where the industry is going, but also reflect the shape of contemporary men's culture and lifestyle.
NEVER SAY CUTZ
"Blue told me to remind you niggas, ah!" slammed Jay Z. "F*** that sh** y'all talk about, I'm the nigga, ah!" As some customers bob their heads along to the dope beats while waiting to have their hair cut, passers-by outside Never Say Cutz might feel a little intimidated to walk in if their T-shirts aren't super loose and their pants aren't hanging halfway down their butts.
Within walking distance of Thong Lor BTS station, this barber shop, owned by famous rapper Way of hip hop group Thaitanium, is one of the most recognised places when it comes to new-generation clipper joints. With a black-and-white chequered floor and their own line of clothes and accessories at the back, barber Samai Sudsaeng, or "Jack", said that this is not just a place to get a hair cut but also a venue for like-minded people to hang out.
"With other barber shops, you might tell the barber which style you want and that's the end of it," said Jack. "But here we can have a talk and exchange ideas. It's like going to your friend's restaurant where you feel comfortable. It's an old-fashioned procedure but we also do new and contemporary hair designs. These days, urbanites have very different lifestyles and individualities and we can cater to that."
Because it's owned by a rapper, Jack said that it's a common misunderstanding that the barbers here can do only hip hop hairstyles like fades and lines.
''Our customers range from people in their 70s to kids carried here by their parents. Looking from the outside, people might think we only do hip hop hairstyles. But actually we have customers of various types, whether it's rock or indie.
''A lot of our customers are people who are being themselves and have their own lifestyles.''
As to why this kind of barber is getting more and more popular, the shop's graphic designer and manager Panu Chuai-petch said that it's a culture. ''There are various types of people coming in. There's music and there's clothes. Coming here is like being on a weekend break, you can talk to the barbers about things like football,'' he explained.
Bowler hat over a bandanna, tattoos lurking underneath and scattered outside his colourful Hawaiian shirt, Udomkiat ''Kui'' Thong-rattana's look speaks for the type of customers who come to his barber shop, Three Brothers, hidden underground at MRT Chatuchak Metro Mall. While his friends (the other two ''brothers'') can do any type of male hairstyle, Kui admitted that the ''rockabilly'', a slicked back quiff with short back and sides, has always been his expertise.
''It started with getting my tattoos, and this kind of hairstyle usually goes with a tattoo shop. I'm very much influenced by 50s rockabilly, it has to do with music, clothes and lifestyle.''
He was once a pub singer, but as nothing was likely to materialise out of that profession, Kui joined when his friend asked him to study at a barber school together. He said that he didn't expect the barber shop trend to boom, admitting that the only reason he decided to open his own shop was because his mother was pressuring him to do something with his life.
''I do it because I like it. I used to work as a barber in a tattoo shop but when I quit, there were quite a few regulars still calling me so I thought this might work. I have never worked in any other barber shop and this is the only style I have always done.
''I like cutting hair for friends and acquaintances, people who can understand one another.''
Uncertain about how long this barber trend will last, Kui guessed that this trend, especially his rockabilly speciality, must have come from the revival of vintage fashions.
''I like this kind of barber shop, it's quiet and relaxing. I think people like it because we are very thorough, giving each customer a lot of time. Some of them bring a few friends along. We can talk in a very relaxing atmosphere.''
Disappointed faces are a common sight with walk-in passers-by because reservation is needed at least one day in advance.
''I deal with only about seven or eight customers a day,'' said Kui. ''I have no idea how long this will stay on, time will tell. I won't raise the price, and I won't recruit more barbers because that would be funny with 'Three Brothers' as a name, and we wouldn't be able to control the quality.''
''Customers are not just customers,'' said the owner of Wave Haircutz, Nattapon Jankarn, or ''Daeng''. ''They are like my brothers and friends, and I always ask them how they are doing and how they're get on with their work.''
Standing out among old-looking buildings and flats around Mansri intersection in Pomprap Sattruphai district, this 30-year-old joint doesn't look quite the same as it was under his father, and this itself is a testimony to how the barber shop has developed over the years.
As opposed to old and staid-looking barbers in more traditional places, the barbers here sport tattoos all over and huge ear piercings through which four or five straws can comfortably fit.
''This is a new generation barber shop,'' says Daeng of this newly-renovated shop, with bare brick walls and cool graphic-designed letters to give it a modern look. ''With traditional barber shops, old barbers and young customers don't have anything in common to talk about. There are only the usual traditional hairstyles to go with, but here I can do any hairstyle there is and it's not only just for men.''
Daeng said that there are a lot of customers who are into tattoos like himself.
''We can get along very well, about the hairstyle and also about the lifestyle,'' said Daeng. ''The appeal of this type of barber is there's more talking, about tattoos, clothes and lifestyle. Unlike traditional places where you might say you want a short-back-and-sides and that's the end of it, here I always exchange ideas with my customers beforehand, like asking what they do or whether they often have their hair set.''
Daeng said retro hairstyles have become quite popular and this is probably due to the vintage fashion trend.
''When people turn to vintage clothes, the only thing left to complete the look is the hairstyle. It's the hairstyle that salons can't do, the style like Elvis and James Dean.''
But to Daeng, it isn't quite right for any barber shop to label itself as a ''vintage'' barber shop; for him, a barber must be able to deal with everything hair-related.
''Being a barber is not easy. I have been doing this for almost 10 years and still have to keep learning all the time.''
For Sawad La-art, a barber shop is all about comfort and thoroughness. Having been a barber for over 40 years (once servicing American soldiers on their break from Vietnam war), now in his 60s, he works at the stately Blue Harbour barber shop at K-Village where his regulars are major corporation executives and ministers, most of whom have been his customers for over 20 years.
Decked out in navy blue, black and natural coloured wood and with sailboat and seagull motifs, the inspiration for his barber shop came from how there were usually barber shops at harbours in the old days. As opposed to salons where it's usually noisy and hectic, Sawad said his barber shop is all about customers' comfort and privacy. Sawad said that services like eye and ear cleaning are not something that can easily be found in other places like salons. It's this and also the thoroughness of the service that he thinks ensure the popularity of Thai barber shops continues.
''I have tried barber shops abroad myself but they are not as good as the ones here. Thai barbers are the best and the most thorough.''
Each barber has his own separate compartment here, and there's hardly any noise except for unintrusive music in the background and the receptionist on the phone taking reservations. Other services include manicures, face massages and peels.
''With salons, it might take only about 10-20 minutes for each customer so it might be good for young people in a hurry,'' said Sawad. ''At barber shops, it's mostly people at executive level who are looking for comfort and relaxation. The appeal of the barber shop is there is also a relationship between the barber and the customer, who have known each other for a long time and can have a friendly chat.''
He added that the barber shop trend will continue to rise as he thinks classic hairstyles are much more beautiful than those sported by Korean boy bands.