At a quarter to six on a recent Monday, a bespectacled young hipster with an unkempt mane stumbles into barbara&barbara hair parlor in Logan Square and requests a cut. Co-owner and stylist Kara Wabbel hesitates: It’s nearly closing time. Unable to resist the opportunity to clean up his unruly mop, she sits him down, offers him a PBR and asks her standard question: “On a scale of one to ten, how boyish and how girlish do you want to be?”
Wabbel, 27, co-owns barbara&barbara with her ex-girlfriend and business partner Sierra Berquist, 24. In 2008, the two women opened an art gallery of the same name in the Ukie Village. Earlier that year, Berquist, an Arkansas native, had met Wabbel, originally from San Luis Obispo, California, while trying to connect with fellow artists through MySpace. “I was like, ‘We should get together and do some art,’?” Berquist says. “We met and made out instead.”
The pair rented a live-work space in Garfield Park that led to the opening of the barbara&barbara gallery near the Empty Bottle. Of the moniker, Berquist says, “One day we were talking about stereotypical lesbian names and we were like, ‘We should change our names because there’s no 20-year-old Barbaras.’ It went from there.”
The gallery became so busy that neither found time to practice their own art. And since they weren’t charging other artists a commission, they were constantly broke. To earn some cash, Wabbel, who went to beauty school seven years ago, set up a makeshift chair and bowl in the gallery’s back room. “People would check out the art and then come to the back and go, ‘Oh, you’re cutting hair back here,’?” Berquist says. “There was just one chair and a rickety bowl.”
Wabbel and Berquist discovered an abandoned storefront in a plum location at Logan and Kedzie Boulevards and Milwaukee Avenue. After six months of negotiating permits, purchasing three vintage salon chairs among other shabby-chic furnishings, hiring a staff that now includes seven stylists, and outfitting the space with nifty decor (tiny terrariums and a brilliant mural in their own likenesses), the pair opened barbara&barbara hair parlor in June at 3131 West Logan Boulevard. That month, they closed the gallery to focus on the salon.
At barbara&barbara, above-the-shoulder cuts are just $20; anything below, $30. More important, the salon’s diverse clientele includes queer patrons who appreciate the shop’s gender-neutral approach. “Not everybody who wants to look like a woman is a woman, and not everybody who wants to look like a man is a man,” Wabbel says. Regular client Chas Lovelace, who favors a gender-bending look, agrees. “I tried getting my hair cut [elsewhere], and it would just end up looking like a little boy’s haircut,” Lovelace says. “She can make it look good.”
Wabbel has given up art permanently while Berquist says the salon’s fixed hours have allowed more time to work on hers. The duo, along with friend Carlin Thomas, also throw roaming loft parties for charity they call Queerer Park and are considering a second hair parlor in Austin, Texas.
“It’s very cool that people can get a haircut on any gender spectrum,” Wabbel says. “You don’t have to have just feminine and masculine.” Adds Berquist, “We’re trying to tell our stylists, ‘Forget about what they teach you in school. If a girl wants her hair short as hell in the back, fucking take the razor to it.’”
For more information, visit barbaraandbarbaraloveyou.com.