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A talk with the barber

The sounds of buzzing clippers and the snip-snip-snip of scissors echo through the long line of barber chairs at the Charleston School of Beauty and Culture.

Here, students learn the fine art of a flat-top haircut and how to handle a straight-edged razor, all under the watchful eye of master barber Jim Shields. For the past 10 years — until he retired in July — he dispensed his love and knowledge of barbering to a youthful group of aspiring barbers. Shields taught barbering in the old-fashioned way.

“Oranges are round; lots of heads are round,” Shields explained, while running his electric clippers over a client’s traditional flat-top. “Some of them are made like acorns, kind of square, and Jean has a combination between the two of them.

“So I don’t know whether you’d have a round head or a nutty head, but you have to form that haircut to whatever type of head your client has.”

Once a sought-after profession, the number of barbers diminished during the 1970s and ’80s, when long hair was popular. In recent years, however, short hair has found its way back into the mainstream.

A barber since 1958, Shields still runs Ye Old Barber Shoppee in South Charleston, where he continues to cut hair the old way.

“In a cosmetology shop, they won’t take it out of the ears,” Shields said. “They won’t take it off the nostril, they don’t trim the moustache, they don’t cut the eyebrows. An old-fashioned barber that shaves around the ears, he performs all the services. It’s total relaxation.”

A day doesn’t go by where former students don’t call on Shields for advice or the solution to some problem. He’s proud of the legacy he’s left with his students.

“That’s just one of the things I contributed after they got out of school,” he said. “If they had a problem, and they needed to find out how to correct it, they could call me. Any time that you can leave a group of people with something that you have provided to them, and led them, and steered them, and showed them, they in turn can take that and go on with it.

“They’re never going to forget what I offered them, and I’m not going to forget them either.”


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