Mom vs Karen – The Fine Line

These are my observations.

Moms try hard not to be Karens…. Karens believe they’re being moms.

Moms are awesome… they’re here with their kids because we take our time with them and don’t churn them out like an assembly line.

Karens are so…. well… let me put it this way… Wikipedia’s write-up about them is amazingly detailed.

Note: I love all people… but that doesn’t mean that I have to allow people to act inappropriately in the barber shop.

“Now I don’t want to go on a rant…”
— Dennis Miller

What is a Karen? The barbershop version

Karens are simply mad people who want everyone to see how mad they are… They are waiting for some imperfection to pounce on, and if they don’t get that imperfection, they manipulate facts and situations, and love to play “gotcha” games.

When I worked at a chain salon, Karens were pretty easy to spot. You could usually see, hear, and feel their behavior in the lobby, and if you missed the hints there, they became really easy to spot once their child was coming to the chair.

They were also easy to spot during the haircut, after the haircut, out to the car, and out the parking lot.

Mom vs Karen – How they act

There are distinct differences between the two that every barber should become familiar with.

Mom vs Karen during the consultation

Moms know what they want, and take the time to describe it to the barber – we have a great conversation. They probably even have a picture and often say “as close to this as you can get.”

I like to ask several questions before I start cutting, and moms have a deep appreciation for this. When I tell them that a certain cut won’t work for their child, they are receptive and we have a conversation to find an alternative.


Karens have this “glare,” usually from the moment they get out of the car. It’s difficult to put into words, but it seems like everybody knows that glare… that  It’s as if they are looking for clues to find where they can “gotcha.”

Karens will assertively tell you what they want…


It almost always starts with “nobody can get it right,” “the last person really screwed this up,” or “I can’t get my regular barber.”

You can tell they have something in mind… but you’re not sure if it’s a specific look, or if it’s how they’re going to get a free haircut.

Instead of telling the barber what kind of haircut they want, they often tell what they don’t want, and then do what amounts to playing a guessing game with the barber.

They will give a couple pieces of information – and then go silent or start rambling… and then they will wait for the moment to go into Karen mode (usually during the haircut, itself).

Note: The most common example I’ve seen of this is trying to make the barber look like they don’t know what they are doing… eventually leading to the magic line: “What the others have done is….” (which is almost always the information which was needed in the first place).

Mom vs Karen as the haircut begins

Moms almost always say “I’ll wait in the lobby,” or ask if they can sit at the next chair. If they know their child is going to have a difficult time, they will often ask how they can help or assist.


Karens often take a stance two or three feet away from the barber’s scissors. When they are asked to sit down (preferably in the lobby), they will go the absolute minimum distance to technically do what they are asked. They will sit at the very front seat in the lobby. They will often try to sit at the next chair or at the opposite wall.

…with their glare intact.

I often have to repeat the request with them.

Mom vs Karen – the kids

By nature, kids’ behaviors and attitudes cover the spectrum, ranging from kicking and screaming to “silent teen mode.” Yet I’ve seen differences between Mom’s kids and Karen’s…


Mom’s child is often engaged to some extent, even if they are having a hard time with it.

They usually communicate tell mom what’s going on and what they like or don’t like… unless they’re in “teen mode,” in which case, they’ll say anything to get back to whatever it is that they want to be doing. 🙂

They are usually pretty loose, and most fidgetiness in the younger kids come from being excited and taking everything in… they’re not in the barbershop every day. This is new to them.

Their ticklishness is… well…. ticklishness… they just don’t want to be tickled and are avoiding the trimmers.

If a mom’s child is kicking and screaming, they are simply not comfortable and/or afraid of the haircut. This is so far out of their day-to-day routine and some just naturally handle it differently than others. The ones who are having a hard time with it have a look of “mom, I don’t like this – help me.”


Karen’s child, in my experience, is almost always afraid to talk or move… to the point where I can see it in their eyes and body language.

They sit uncomfortably still… they are disassociated. It is as if they don’t want to anger Karen, or something really bad is going to happen. If they do move, it is an exaggerated painful expression on their face, typically in the more ticklish moments – to them, though, the whole experience is a negative one, and is emotionally painful for them.

They speak quietly… “It’s okay” is one of their most common phrases.

Karen’s kicking and screaming child has the same issues as the mom’s child… but they’re also afraid of what Karen’s going to do… and their body language reflects it. Their face says “mom, don’t hurt me.”

Dealing with Karens… for Barbers

Most of the barbers I have spoken to rarely deal with a Karen.

Some comment that it’s because Karens normally go to a chain salon where they can bully the stylist and have a corporate structure that they can use to threaten with.

Others say that it’s because we don’t put up with their antics.

Karens are a dime a dozen at the chain salons… but I think I’ve only seen more than a couple in a barbershop. Maybe they wandered in by mistake, or just didn’t know that we don’t tolerate certain types of behavior in barbershops.

If it were my own shop, as much as I love providing customer service, I would have avoided the problem entirely and sent them on their way as soon as I saw the signs.

However, since I’m cutting in someone else’s shop, I have to represent them well.

I’ll normally see if we can get the cut done… and if I sense that it’s going to be a problem, then I’ll politely convince them to leave.

But my overall advice in dealing with a Karen is don’t… don’t let them be comfortable in the barber shop.

Karens are comfortable at the chain salons… they thrive on being able to threaten with a call to corporate or “I want to talk to the manager.” Don’t let them be comfortable at your shop.

You’ll need to continue to be professional – yet at the same time, tell them that their behavior is not okay in a barbershop… It’s a hard balance to strike, and they will try to push you off that balance.

You can bet that they are going to talk about you… no matter what

Karens thrive on trying to show their power and getting what they want… or by showing that they are hurting someone else.

You will become part of their gossip with each other one way or another.

Karens are like pigeons… if they get what they want
  • They’ll tell other Karens that you did a bad job and they got the haircut for free
  • This will tell other Karens that they can also get over on you
  • Your shop will become known as a place that caters to Karens
  • You’ll get more of them in your door because they know that they can
  • Your shop will lose precious time, energy, and money
…if they don’t get what they want
  • They will look for other places where they get their egos fed
  • They’ll tell other Karens that you are a bad shop and to stay away
  • They may post on social media – and you’ll have a chance to respond – and the court of public opinion will see the truth
  • They will probably never go back to your shop again

Mission Accomplished, as far as I’m concerned. I’d rather spend that time serving customers.

“Then again, that’s just my opinion… I could be wrong.”
– Dennis Miller