The Artistry of Barbering

At 70 years old, Tony Di Santo is three days into his new job at Teddi's Barber Shop. IMAGE: Sarah Joy Photography

At 70-something years, most people would be content to settle into a well-earned retirement. But not Tony Di Santo.

The former Queensland barbering champion and national hair-cutting judge is a brand new hire at Teddi’s Barbers, delighted with the opportunity to continue challenging himself in the field he loves, while passing on his know-how to the next generation.

How long have you been barbering for?
I started when I was 10, going to my uncle’s shop in our village near Naples, back in Italy. He kept kicking me out and I kept going back.

Where did the interest come from?
I was attracted to it – the people and the atmosphere of the barber shop. You need to remember that at that time the barber shop was the centre of the village and people used to come in from all around the countryside to get a haircut and a shave before they went to church. It was where people met and discussed the weekly happenings.

You’re 70 years old and here you are, three days into a new job. Why?
Because I get bored silly staying at home. This gets me out of the house and the people here look on me not so much to teach them but to give them pointers. Like I just did with that man who was doing the haircut. Because I was a teacher for 20-plus years, I know how to teach people how to do it and that’s part and parcel of what I do.

IMAGE: Sarah Joy Photography

So what are you teaching the younger barbers you’re working with?
Basically all about men’s hairdressing – the customer service, haircutting, shaving, which seems to be the “in thing” now days, but not many people can do it properly. They know how to do it, but not properly. The difference is I do textbook things, some people do the way they think it should be done, nothing to do with a textbook.

Has barbering changed much over the years?
Not really. Hairdressing goes in cycles, whether it be men, ladies, whatever. Men’s hairdressing doesn’t change much. The sort of things that we do now in barbershops, I basically learned when I was 10, 12, 15 years old – the same thing comes back. You’ll probably find maybe 10 or 20 years down the track everybody will be having long hair again. Things go in cycles.

If not much has changed, how do you stay interested in the job?
Every time you do something you need to take a step back and say “OK, I’ve done that now. How can I do it better next time?”

You don’t get to be any good, as judged by your clients, if you’re on the same level all the time. You need to say to your clients “Look I did this last time and I wasn’t happy with it – you were, but this time I’m going to do it a little bit different” and that’s how you show your clients you’re improving all the time.

What do you love about hairdressing that keeps you coming back after 60 years?
The challenge that every customer who comes in is different. With every client that you do, you have to be at your best because you’re only as good as your last client. You challenge yourself to do better and better every time you do something. Hairdressing has been part of my life for the last 60 years, and I can’t see anything changing for the next 20 if I’m going to be lasting that long.

Find Tony at Teddi’s Barber Shop on Charters Towers Road.

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