There’s no chance you’ll stumble upon the place where Rocco D’Amore cuts hair. An inconspicuous handwritten sticker that reads “HAIR” is stuck in the space next to the buzzer.
“For a long time, it didn’t say anything,” D’Amore says, “Someone must have stuck that up.” There’s a reason it’s so private. D’Amore has created a space where her clients feel comfortable – a space where she could have an intimate moment with them away from the outside world.
She has about 175 clients. A portion of which are transgender men.
D’Amore, a "part-time drag king, full-time hair stylist”, gets how important hair can be in giving the face a more feminine or masculine edge.
“Cutting hair is like sculpting. Through cutting hair I can manipulate certain areas that will bring out particular features,” she says.
“A lot of my trans clients have had the same experience when they walk into a hair salon or barber. Regardless of whether it’s a man or woman cutting their hair, the moment they walk in and sit down, they’re automatically judged for how they look.
“Unfortunately, a lot of hairstylists have one fixed picture about gender. They don’t really get where trans people are coming from.”
The place where D’Amore works isn’t a salon, a parlour, or even a shop. She calls it a space, and that’s precisely what it is – high ceilings, exposed-wooden beams and a few indoor plants. There’s also D’Amore’s dog, a longhaired dachshund called Audrey who patters around on the whitewash wooden floors between the swivel chairs.
The space houses a hairstylist collective – a few different hairstylists who rent chairs and work to their own schedules. D’Amore has been renting a chair for just over a year.
“This was the place I was looking for, for a long time. I wanted to get away from working in what was basically a fish bowl. From having people walk by and peer in.”
It’s not surprising D’Amore cuts hair.
“One of my earliest memories is taking my dad’s comb and scissors and going out into the backyard to cut the grass.”
D’Amore’s father has worked as a barber since he was 12. First on an island off the coast of Sicily, and then in Kings Cross. When he moved to Australia he was too young to get a licence to be a barber, so he completed various hair apprenticeships, working his way up to eventually gain the accreditation.
“Because my dad was a barber, I never went to hair salons. My earliest memory of getting my haircut was standing on top of a couple of phonebooks. But it was always at home.
“The barbershops in those days were strictly men only. You’d have Penthouse or Post Magazine, and there’d always be some sort of nudie-girl calendar on the wall.”
While barbershops were still a man’s space, female-only hair parlours, where women went to get their hair washed and set under parlour dryers, were changing.
D’Amore says that in the ’60s and ’70s, with the rise of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, young men suddenly wanted longer hairstyles.
As the fashion moved away from short-back-and-sides, barbers were no longer equipped to cut men’s hair, because they didn’t have the necessary skills.
The training then was gender specific. Barbers, who were predominantly men, learned to cut short hair. Hairdressers, who were predominantly women, learned to cut long hair.
“But from the ’70s onwards, young men would go to women’s hair salons to get their hair cut,” says D’Amore. And so, the unisex hairdresser was born.
“Everyone just went to one person, and the training was set up that way. You got trained to do hair whether it was long or short, and it was common for men to go to Toni & Guy and pay $90 for a cut.”
However, the barber experienced a resurgence in the mid 2000s. Establishments for the modern-day gentleman have cropped up across Melbourne, offering the traditional hot-towel treatment and cutthroat shave. But accompanying the barbershop renaissance has been the reaffirmation of gender divides.
In 2014, a barber in the United Kingdom was accused of breaching equality laws because of the male-only door policy at his high-end establishment in Liverpool.
In Melbourne, even without gender-based door policies, barbers have once again, at least for the most part, become a space for men, where women, or male-identifying transgender people can feel uncomfortable walking in and sitting down for a $30 short-back-and-sides.
Unisex hairdressers still exist, but women will usually pay more.
There are, however, a few places around Melbourne where gender doesn’t affect prices.
The Little Rebel Collective, which opened in February 2015, is a gender-neutral space that houses several different creatives including Rhia, who specialises in unisex hairstyling and barbering; Kylie, an alternative hair colourist; and Miss Jay, a nail-and-beauty artist. The Collective charges the same price regardless of how a person identifies.
If you’re south side, RespeKt your HAiR in Windsor is the place to go. There is no mention of gender on its pricing list. Instead, rates are determined by length. “If you get a clipper cut you pay for a clipper cut, no matter your gender," says co-owner Ange, who has run RespecKt since since 2010 with her partner Julia.
While Prophecy Hair on Smith Street in Fitzroy lists "men's" and "women's" prices online, rates are subject to change depending on hair thickness and length. Upstairs at Drunken Barber, owner Brad Kooyman says, “If you want short-back-and-sides, you [come] upstairs, where there’s one price for everyone.”
D’Amore also charges one price regardless of gender. “I don’t see it as a man’s haircut or a woman’s haircut. It’s just a haircut.”
The Little Rebel Collective
2/104 Johnson Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9416 0477
RespeKt your HAiR
55 Chapel Street, Windsor
(03) 9510 8899
Prophecy Hair (downstairs) Drunken Barber (upstairs)
119 Smith Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9417 1561
This article was updated on August 9, 2016.