Style: Image and Identity

The Community Roles of the Barber Shop and Beauty Salon

© Leonard Freed & Magnum Photos, Inc.

Since the turn of the 19th century, beauty salons and barber shops have served as special places among African Americans. They have been places not only to get hair care services but locations where black people could be vulnerable and talk about issues of importance in the community. There were spaces where customers played games such as chess, cards, and dominoes, while having conversations about local gossip, politics, and community affairs.

Over the years, beauty salons and barber shops have come to provide a unique social function. Scholars often cite these sites as “sanctuaries” for black people. Many film adaptations of African American themes use these businesses to show black culture in the United States. Coming to America (1988), Malcolm X (1992), and Barbershop (2002) are examples of films used to showcase African Americans’ unique relationships with barber and beauty shops.