Stylists don’t typically encourage clients to take matters as delicate as hair into their own hands. But then again, Atticus James isn’t your typical stylist. Much like the clients they serve, Atticus first began to develop a deeper understanding of identity experimenting with a pair of clippers and a bottle of drugstore hair color as a teenager in their parent’s basement. While the results were mixed, the discovery was important. Hair can be a key part of unlocking who you are, but it can also hold you back.
What brought you to hair?
Well, there are only so many times you can shave your own head in your parents’ basement. I don’t know, I went through some issues with housing when I was in high school, and the last thing that you think about is getting a haircut. That was one of my adult goals—every four to six weeks I’m going to get a haircut when I turn 18. I never did. I just kept shaving my head. Other people saw I was doing it and wanted me to give them Mohawks and clipper stuff.
Is there a cut or style you remember that felt very distinctive and made you feel confident?
Not to be tooting my own horn, but I really like my haircut right now. I was shaving my head for so long and I find a lot of empowerment in that. I tell all of my clients when they joke around about it, I’m like, “No, I swear. I really recommend you do it once in your life. Take a 3” and go all the way around.”
It’s very refreshing, it tells you a lot about beauty standards. I started trying to differentiate between long hair equals feminine and short hair equals masculine, which is totally off. It took me a long time to really get to that point. So, I started doing two at once. It’s a weird mullet, mohawkey thing.
Do you think a lot of your clients seek you out because you identify differently than a typical barber or stylist?
I would say 70 to 80% of my clientele are LGBTQ. I have a lot of people that are recommending their queer friends to me or their partners, which is really great. Essentially, it’s just telling me that I made someone feel comfortable. They found somebody else who finds discomfort in getting their hair cut.
I’m now a family barber for lesbian moms with their two kids. I’ve had a lot of kids that are coming out as trans that I’ve cut their hair, which is a really big deal for me. They’re like “Hey, you look like someone that I would trust or look like somebody that I want to look like.”
That’s kind of how I felt too when I was younger. I do it still when I’m looking for doctors or therapists or anything like that. I’m like, “You look like an older version of me, we should probably talk.”
It’s cool to have that trust from total strangers and make that large of an impact on somebody’s home life right off the bat.
Tell me more about giving someone their first cut after coming out as trans? How do you walk through that?
Delicately, very delicately. It’s not something that I feel like should be taken lightly. If I can, I’ll extend the appointment a little bit because I feel like the consultation should be a little more in depth than 3” on the sides and long on the top.
A lot of people know what they want when they come in and some people are just like, “This is a really big life changing moment and I need some help.”
I tell my clients to think of me as somebody that you’re commissioning for a piece of art that you have to wear every day.
Can you read on their face or in their person a change as you’re cutting?
Usually, yes. And it’s been positive from my experience. I don’t want to say it’s always going to be positive because there’s so much emotion going in when you sit down for something like that. A lot of people don’t want to watch it happen.
They like a big reveal, like a fixer upper show. So, I will cut a lot of people turned away from the mirror. It’s interesting to watch that happen and the excitement that comes with it. “Okay, we’re going to cut off all of these years of shitty things that have happened to you. Here we go.”
When somebody’s coming out or figuring out their identity, do you think hair is important?
When your life is in shambles, you can control your hair. It’s definitely one of those first things that go when you’re going through that period. I feel like people hold a lot of their comfort and identity and history in their hair. Lots of people think of their life in stages of their hair. “What color hair did I have when that happened? When I went through this breakup, what did this look like?”
You were saying earlier that you think everybody should shave their own head at least once in their life. Why do you encourage that?
One night, I was hanging out with some friends, and we were talking about the beauty industry. This was probably 2010 or 2011, and my friend had kept the scene swoop a little too long. All of the sudden, they grabbed a pair of clippers and were like, “Fuck this industry, and fuck the beauty standards,” and just began shaving their head.
It was interesting to watch that person go through that because they had so much of their identity in their hair. They were like, “You know what? I don’t need to put up this wall. I don’t need this hair. People think it’s a part of me, and it’s kind of holding me back.”
You should challenge yourself. It’s one of those things that’s always going to be there for you, so just shave it off. See if you’ve got a weird mole on the side of your head that you’ve never been able to see.
You learn a lot more about the beauty standards when you don’t have any hair, and you challenge what other people think.
Do you ascribe to the saying “It’s just hair?”
It’s definitely not just hair. Even though I’m pretty sure earlier I said, “It’s just hair”. It can be really important to a lot of people, and it can be really not important to a lot of people. It tells other people a lot about how you want to portray yourself.
I’m definitely debating it again because I’m having one of those things where I’m just putting too much into my looks. Maybe I should take a step back and refresh, restart, think about what that means for me.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to step outside the box and try something different?
I strongly recommend experimenting with your hair, especially if you’re in a place of oppression and you can’t control a lot of the things around you or the way that people treat you.