At The Tease, we’re always looking to highlight cool salons, barbershops, and spaces. This month, we’re spotlighting Barbara&Barbara, a gender-inclusive salon in Chicago that’s just bursting with color.
Barbara&Barbara may have started out as a small shop in the back of an art gallery, but the gender-inclusive salon has since become a colorful safe haven for Chicago’s LGBTQ+ community.
Described by their customers as “your kooky aunt’s house” — Barbara&Barbara is definitely not your average salon. Step foot into this cozy spot and you’ll be welcomed by an assortment of eclectic knick-knacks and vibrant artwork from local artists. Not to mention, there’s plenty of interesting reading material, like comic books and zines discussing race and women’s health, to keep you company while you wait for your trim (writer’s note: due to COVID-19, all books have temporarily been removed). If this space feels like home, it was all intentional, according to co-owners Lauren Kieninger and Mandie Williams.
For the pair, it was super important that the salon appeared inviting for customers.
“A lot of salons are just very sterile and very neat because the main focus is always the hair,” said Kieninger. “However, it doesn’t really show the personality or doesn’t necessarily show what types of clients you’re wanting to attract.”
The salon certainly radiates good vibes with it’s cheerful color palette. The duo enlisted the help of one of Kieninger’s close friends, Erin Schremp, who’s an interior decorator, to help them decide on the coral and turquoise hues that dominate the space.
As for that beautiful mural of an enchanted forest in their waiting area? That’s the creation of Cheri Lee Charlton, a local muralist who actually jump-started her career by creating a mural for Barbara&Barbara’s original salon space.
At the moment, Kieninger and Williams have had to make a number of changes to the salon, as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For them, this meant getting rid of their waiting area, their fun reading material, and their complimentary beverage service (pre-coronavirus, they offered tea, coffee, water, and beer). Not to mention, they now only use every other stylist station in the salon to account for social distancing and even added an extra station for their stylists to utilize during appointments.
But it’s not just their decor that puts a smile on the face of their clients, it’s their dedication to truly creating an environment that welcomes everyone. Inclusivity is at the heart of the business and both owners shared that making sure the space was designed with everyone in mind was their mission from the very beginning.
Both Kieninger and Williams bought the salon several years ago from the original owners. At the time, the salon was already called Barbara&Barbara and the pair simply decided to carry on with the name.
“The two original owners just thought that it was the most vintage, lesbian-sounding name,” said Kieninger. “That was why they were attracted to it. It does kind of speak to wanting the salon to be a safe space.”
But Barbara&Barbara is not only inclusive in name alone, the salon also employs gender-neutral pricing. In fact, they were one of the first salons to introduce this pricing structure to their area. Rather than charging different prices for men’s and women’s haircuts, like traditional salons, Barbara&Barbara charges their customers based on the length of their hair.
“It’s the most fair way to charge. It’s not necessarily fair to charge somebody more money just because they are getting a “female” short haircut. Like, that’s not right!” said Williams. “Really, if you’re cutting short hair, it doesn’t really matter the gender of a person because you’re essentially doing the same thing. It’s the same thing with people who maybe identify as a male, but they have really long. Why should they be charged less than another person who has long hair?”
As of late, gender-neutral pricing has been a growing trend in the salon industry. Locally, both Kieninger and Williams have seen a number of other salons adopt the pricing policy since they first brought it to their salon. As if that’s not enough, back in 2017, Illinois passed a law that made it illegal for salons, dry cleaners, and tailors to charge women more than men for services and required these businesses to provide their customers with a full price list.
But, their unconventional pricing is not the only thing that sets their salon apart. Barbara&Barbara employs an eclectic bunch of people as stylists who bring with them a unique mix of interests and hobbies that span Dungeons & Dragons, cooking, knitting, and even drag.
“I feel like a lot of our stylists have side passion projects and that’s always something that’s interesting and important to us. A lot of stylists are creative people and I think that a lot of salon atmospheres kind of want you to only be in the salon and have that be your main focus,” said Williams. “To us, this is important obviously, but we also want people to be able to focus on things that they enjoy. We want everyone to feel comfortable. That’s super important to us.”