Big Mike vs. the hairstylists

"There’s a history of barbers and hairstylists here feuding"
Nicholas Köhler
Big Mike vs. the hairstylists
Photograph by Mitchel Raphael

To hear New Brunswick barbers tell it, they are members of a persecuted race whose very existence is threatened by the province’s hairstylists. As Mike Doucet, of Big Mike’s Barber Shop in Grand Bay and head of the New Brunswick Registered Barbers’ Association, puts it: “There’s a history of barbers and hairstylists here feuding.”

Now the barbers, who number just a few hundred province-wide—there are 7,800 stylists—are seeking to settle another score: they want a law regulating who can use the classic barber’s pole, preventing stylists from appropriating the pole and bringing the province in line with the 40 or so U.S. states that restrict it to licensed barbers. The barbers hope the idea will be tabled next month in the legislature as a private member’s bill; it’s believed it would be the first law of its kind in Canada.

Blaine Harris, the barbers’ registrar, accuses the Cosmetology Association of New Brunswick, the stylists’ group, of encouraging members to use the pole, with its promise of expert men’s haircutting and low prices (barbers there charge between $6 and $12 per cut, stylists often more than that). “When you have a barber’s pole with the red, white and blue stripes on a salon, it misrepresents what that salon is,” says Harris, who contends that stylists can ably apply hair gel but can’t cut hair. Harris wants stylists to use a special stylist’s pole—made by the same Minnesota firm that manufactures the classic pole, it has more blue and the word “stylist” shot through its middle.

But Gaye Cail, executive director of the stylists’ group, argues the barbers are in no position to make demands, saying of the pole: “It’s an icon. Not any one person or organization should own the rights to the barber’s pole.”