There’s a barbering school within walking distance of Clarendon, and it offers what might be the cheapest haircut in town.
Amid million-dollar homes and trendy apartments, the American Barber Academy has a low profile at its third-floor office in Lyon Park, at 2300 N. Pershing Drive. What the school lacks in street signage, though, it makes up for in pricing: among other services, it offers hot towel shaves for the cost of a large drink at Starbucks.
The academy is owned by master barber Kristen Kelly, who’s been in the business for some 20 years. Kelly, who also lives in Arlington, opened the school in 2014 after realizing that the D.C. region was lacking in schools for barbers.
“And I knew if I opened the school, students would come,” she said.
Currently, Kelly has a dozen students in her first class, which is scheduled to to graduate in the fall. She has also taught advanced-level students seeking to further develop their hair styling skills, she said.
Receiving a degree in barbering from the school take about a year to complete and costs $10,o00 at the college. The school offers the 1,500-hour license, which is standard for D.C. and Virginia, but also works in Maryland where the license only requires 1,200 hours, Kelly said.
The American Barber Academy offers day and night classes and Kelly has students with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She also enrolls students as young as 16 and has pupils of all ages, including one in his 60s, she said.
And while there are other barber colleges in the area there are two aspects that make the American Barber Academy unique, Kelly said. The first is that the college has a multicultural focus, while many other colleges only focus on a specific hair type.
The school is one of the only female-owned barbering schools, Kelly said, which can be difficult.
“I’m a women-owned business in a male dominant art,” she said. “They don’t expect it to be me. I’m the last person expect to see run a barber shop.”
In addition to being a school, the American Barber Academy is a fully functional barber shop. Kelly offers men’s haircuts for $7 and hot towel shaves for $5.
“If a guy comes here once, he tells his roommates or his friends because you can’t beat our prices,” she said.
And Arlington residents love the shop, she said, adding that there are not many traditional barber shops in the county.
In addition to the American Barber Academy, Kelly also runs the American Pinup Academy, which offers degrees in cosmetology and makeup. The two schools are located in the same building, with the American Barber Academy on one floor and the American Pinup Academy a floor below.
The cosmetology degree costs $13,000 for a 1,500-hour license, a price that is half the amount of other competing cosmetology schools, Kelly said.
“We’re completely affordable,” she said.
And while most people don’t know the difference between barbering and cosmetology, the two are very different.
“Most people assume barbering is like cosmetology,” Kelly said. “That’s like saying your family doctor is a dentist.”
Barbering is an art form that uses a special blade, she said. Barbers will also only cut men’s hair or women who have very short haircuts.
“Most people don’t know about us [barbers],” Kelly said. “They go to Hair Cuttery or Super Cuts and think it’s all the same.”
Kelly has experience in both cosmetology and barbering. While she holds a degree in history, she turned to cosmetology after she couldn’t find a job. She ended up working at a barber shop when she realized she didn’t have the education she needed to cut men’s hair. She went back to school and got a degree in barbering and worked in multiple barber shops, including the Art of Shaving in D.C. She is considered a master barber and one of the best in the tri-state area, she said.
“People who get into barbering are creative,” she said. “It’s an art form.”
Now that Kelly runs the school, she gets to share some of her 20 years experience with others.
“I love teaching. I love when the students grasp the concept,” she said. “I really like when they have that aha moment, ‘I got this.'”
But it can be difficult as barbering is not something people can master overnight. It takes years of experience to fully groom the skills, she said.
One of the benefits of running the school, Kelly said. is helping people create a career that will bring in money — a career that will always be in demand.
“It can really change a person’s life,” Kelly said. “Cupcakes are cool. I would have a cupcake shop. But they don’t change a person’s life.”
Barbering is a “recession-proof job.” People can always do it as a side career and men always need to have their haircuts.
“You can’t outsource us,” Kelly said. “A computer can’t cut hair.”