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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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A cut above the rest: The S&B reviews Sharp Barbering

Sharp Barbering owner Dustin Sharp (left) cuts hair with his brother-in-law Ryan Dayton (right), who is a barber’s apprentice. Photo by Hannah Agpoon.

 It’s not uncommon to find sinks full of hair in Grinnell College dorm bathrooms. Whether it’s due to the limited number of services in town, general thriftiness or a desire for eccentricity, Grinnell students often brave the clippers to give themselves or their friends a haircut. 

Ryan Dayton began cutting hair much the same way. Now, he’s one of the first barber’s apprentices in the state of Iowa, learning the craft at Grinnell’s newest barbershop, Sharp Barbering. 

Owned by Grinnell resident Dustin Sharp, the aptly named establishment opened in April 2021. Sharp previously worked at RJ’s Barbershop before making the decision to start his own business, located just around the corner at 821 4th Ave. The potential for an apprenticeship program, which Dayton has been interested in for a while, was part of Sharp’s motivation to make the commitment to his own place.  

I interviewed Dayton while he cut the hair of my friend Finn Dworkin `22. Neither Finn nor I, both about to graduate, have gotten our hair cut in Grinnell before, always opting to squeeze a trim in while at home. This time, we decided to try something new. 

As he parsed through Dworkin’s coarse, curly locks, Dayton told about how he got started cutting hair, giving trims to friends throughout his college years at Iowa State University. 

“It was always in somebody’s kitchen where they’re sitting on a stool and I have my plug-in clippers. It was just a pain to do it and cleanup was too much,” said Dayton. “It’s been really awesome to be in here where I can do it in a professional setting.”  

Dayton, who grew up in Grinnell, has worked at Sharp Barbering since last October, when the apprenticeship program became official. Since graduating from Iowa State, where he studied philosophy, Dayton has sold insurance in Des Moines and worked as a personal trainer and manager in Minneapolis.  

Last year, he moved back to Grinnell to be closer to family. While barbering interested Dayton, he did not want to spend the amount of money required by a traditional barbering school, which was the only tenable path to a license before the creation of apprenticeships. 

“You’re basically paying tuition to the school and providing haircuts for free,” said Dayton. “You’re not getting paid, but you’re there all day, every day. I always thought if I was going to go back to school it was going to be law school or grad school, not barber school.”  

Ryan Dayton (right) cleans up editor in chief Abraham Teuber `22 (left), who once donned a bouncy head of hair. Photo by Hannah Agpoon.

Sharp, who got his license through the traditional path, was eager to help create an alternative way into the profession for Dayton. For years, Iowa has had barber’s apprenticeships available in prisons, but never through a general statewide program.  Early last year, the brothers-in-law began working with local lawmakers such as State Representative David E. Maxwell and State Senator Dawn Driscoll to lobby for the apprenticeship program.  

Governor Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 424 into law last June, deeming apprenticeships sufficient training to receive a barber’s license in the state of Iowa. Apprentices must still complete practice hours, attend classes and pass an exam to receive their license, but get the clients, coworkers and compensation afforded by a full-time gig. 

“I think it’s a combination of art and science, almost,” said Dayton, reflecting on his first months as an apprentice while dampening Dworkin’s hair with a spray bottle. 

“The misting feels pretty good,” said Dworkin. Dayton chimed in to explain that at Sharp Barbering, they  keep the metal spray bottles heated with candle warmers, one of the many small touches that add to the shop’s warm atmosphere.   

Sharp Barbering has a rugged yet clean aesthetic, which comes through in the decor: a hanging electric guitar, a mounted deer’s head, shelving units made from pipe and wood stained by Dayton himself. “A salon for men” is how Dayton describes the vibe. 

The misting feels pretty good. – Finn Dworkin `22

Despite the masculine mood, Dayton was quick to add that Sharp Barbering serves customers of any gender, regardless of hair style or texture. Guests of age can also enjoy a complimentary beverage from the liquor shelf while they get a haircut, which also displays a sizable jar of candy for younger customers.  

“We pride ourselves on making it a really fun, welcoming environment,” said Dayton. “We want it to be an experience, too, not just transactional where you come in, just get your haircut and leave.”

After transforming Finn’s hair from an endearing mop to a cleaner, classier look, it was my turn in the chair. I opted to go for the shortest cut I’ve had since first year. While I was unsure about how to communicate exactly what I was going for, Dayton walked me through his process, ensuring I’d be satisfied with his vision before even touching the scissors.  

“Some people come in and just say, ‘Short on the sides, a little off the top,’ and that’s fine,” said Dayton. “But personally, the creative in me wants to do fun haircuts. We don’t want it to just be a chop shop, where you just come in, get buzzed, and that’s it.” 

While the shop is relatively small, with just three swiveling chairs and a small seating area at the front, the space lends itself to smalltown conversation and hospitality. In my two hours at the shop, I was offered both a ride and a business card by other workers and patrons. I left more than satisfied with my new cut and, thanks to Dayton, have been steadily collecting compliments the past few days.  

The current price for apprentice cuts is $13, with cuts by Sharp starting at $20. Appointments can be made online via Booksy. The shop is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m to 1 p.m. on Saturday and closed Sunday and Wednesday. Sharp said he is hoping to expand the shop and move to a new location in the future. In the meantime, I’d say the extra steps from your bathroom mirror to 821 4th Ave are more than worth the walk.  

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