New barbershop revives art of the straight razor

LACONIA — Practitioners of steampunk — a design aesthetic derived from a genre of literature — enjoy applying to the modern world the imaginations of authors such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Spurred by what they saw during the Industrial Revolution, those living in the late 19th and beginning of the 20th Century imagined a future that was in some ways familiar to their own world yet altered by the advancement of steam-era technologies and contraptions.
Bree Henderson, an Ohio native and owner of the new Polished & Proper barbershop and shave parlor on Main Street, is a fan of the steampunk ethic. She particularly admires the craftsmanship and attention to quality and detail of the Victorian and Edwardian periods, and it seemed for her a perfect design theme for her barbershop, which she has modeled around the type of shave parlor one would step into in the early 1900s.
"It's an old-school thing, I love old school," said Henderson. "Back in the day, they knew what they were doing."
Her shop is designed to evoke that era, often by employing antique items, such as a cash register or straight razors, which date back to a century ago — Edwardian-era craftsmen may not have had computers, yet they managed to build many things that remain functional today.
Asked about her attraction to that period, Henderson said, "It's the combination of the pride that the Victorian era took in making their useful things pleasing to the eye. It's gorgeous but it's meant to be used. I like my shop because I have a bunch of old stuff, and it all works."
Like an antique device still useful in a modern day, Henderson thinks the barber services of yesterday are ripe for appreciation by the modern customer. With a haircut, her barbers use a straight razor to clean the back of the neck. Customers with 45 minutes to spare can also indulge in a full facial shave, including a warm lather, straight razor shave, warm towel and aftershave. Polished & Proper opened on January 24 and Henderson said response has exceeded her expectations.
Henderson's route to barbering comes after a 2007-2010 service in the U.S. Air Force, when she worked in that branch's security forces. After sustaining nerve damage in one arm, she found herself unable to apply the military training she received. Her marriage brought her to Newmarket, where an advertisement she heard on the radio got her thinking about cutting hair and shaving faces for a living. "It just felt right," she said.
She ended up at the New England School of Barbering, in Penacook, then worked for a year in others' shops while she developed the concept of her own. She heard that there wasn't anyone in Laconia offering shaving services, so she came to visit the city. She was smitten by what she called the "Main Street, U.S.A." character of the city's center. "It has a really cool downtown that has a lot of potential."
Polished & Proper is located in the Main Street storefront that was previously occupied by JD's Barber Shop, which has since relocated to Busy Corner. 
Like steampunk, Henderson thinks re-introducing modern customers to services of the past could prove a compelling proposition. She thinks of it as an older gentleman taking his grandson fishing: "If you combine their two powers, amazing things can happen. It's the best of both worlds."

Bree Henderson, owner of Polished & Proper barber shop and shave parlor, gives Ross Tine a cut. Henderson's shop specializes in services which hadn't been available downtown for decades, such as a straight razor shave. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)