No More Ten-cent Shaves

This photograph of two barbers and their shop is from the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Dundy County Collection. NSHS RG3907-1-5

The idea of a man shaving himself was still novel to many Omahans in 1899. Although the first American safety razors dated to the 1880s, many men preferred to leave this delicate process to their barbers—until the rising cost of such a luxury (and the invention of a new type of safety razor using disposable blades) encouraged American men to begin shaving themselves.

Along with the old century, the day of the ten-cent shave was rapidly drawing to a close in 1899. The Omaha Bee on December 17 noted the growing pressure among barbers for an increase in the price of a shave from ten to fifteen cents. Those favoring the increase in prices “claim that too much has been given for 10 cents. They hold that a shave, steam for the face, neck shave and a moustache curl is together too much work for a dime.”

For ten cents a barbershop customer could still expect “a neat, plain and comfortable shave, but when it comes to the matter of all these nice attentions and luxurious elegancies they feel that the man in the chair should be willing to pay a higher price. . . . If he wanted the other attentions he must pay at the rate of 5 cents each for them unless he paid 15 cents for the shave in the first place and then he was given the accessories along with his shave.”

This photograph of a barbershop in Clearwater dates from the 1910s. NSHS RG2986-2-6

Not all Omaha barbers supported the increase in prices. One told the Bee that fifteen-cent shaves would lead more men to shave less often or to try shaving themselves. Another barber recommended taking advantage of a program available at some barbershops whereby for a flat monthly rate “[a] man could get shaved, his hair cut and have all the first-class attentions of a first-class shop for this amount. He said he had worked in a shop of this sort and had figured up what it cost a prominent man in this town for his shaving, and it came to just 8 cents per shave under this method.”

By the 1920s the advent of bobbed hair styles for women brought a new class of customers into the barbershop. With more and more men shaving at home, most of the shops were glad to accommodate the new female patrons. One Omaha barber remarked in 1926, “‘We have lots of women and children; they come singly, but we are also building up a family group business. Father, mother and children often come here at one and the same time.” – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications


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