Istanbul (CNN) — Nihat Aram stands at the door of Turan Erkek Kuaförü, where he's worked for 20 years, waiting for his next customer.
In the barbershop behind him, down a few stairs, square black chairs are positioned in front of an immaculately clean white counter, inset with individual washbasins for each customer. The decor is minimal, just a few photos on the wall, and the lighting is bright. Across the way, '90s pop music plays over the speakers of a café while up the road groups of men sitting on low stools sip ruby colored tea from small tulip-shaped glasses.
This narrow backstreet in Kadıköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, teems with men's hairdressers. It's not surprising because male grooming, particularly shaving, is on a level of its own in Turkey.
The rest of the world could learn a thing or two from the standard of personal care men observe here, and there are some techniques below worth replicating at home.
Becoming a master
Many men in Turkey visit their barber every week.
Establishments range from small local places such as this one to uberexpensive, upmarket salons and everything in between.
Although shaving dates back to the time of the Egyptians, little is known about the specific history of barbers in Turkey before the 16th century. Prior to that, shaving was haram, forbidden, and men grew their beards long in keeping with Islamic belief.
When Süleyman the Magnificent took over as Sultan in 1520, Turkish society changed. The first coffee houses opened up, providing public spaces for debate. Barbers were quick to see the potential and arranged with owners to set up in a corner inside. A few opened shops next door.
Nihat Aram learned to be a barber through apprenticeships in his teens.
Would-be barbers most likely learned through observation and endless hours of practice, much like Nihat Aram.
"I didn't go to a trade school. At that time, there wasn't a trade school," he said. Instead, he began an apprenticeship at 14 in Tunceli in eastern Turkey under an usta, a master. Aram's first usta was Hüseyin Okyay, a highly disciplined and very exacting man who placed great emphasis on dressing neatly and well.
Aram was planning to complete another year of middle school during his apprenticeship, but his father became ill and he had to return to his hometown of Elâziğ.
Aram needed to work full time, and he started with a new usta, Kazım Alca. Aram learned honesty and morality from Alca, but it was another barber working at the salon that had the biggest influence on the 15 year old.
"His name was Mehmet ... I saw that he was the best at cutting beards and hair ... customers came to him from far away. I was impressed, because he was the best barber in that region."
Mehmet encouraged Aram by giving him private lessons. Aram recalls how his usta inflated a balloon and shaved it. "It's called a balloon shave. He had a knife sharpening stone and used a cut-throat razor. He had such a high level of skill."
Aram works in this barbershop in Istanbul.
For two years, Aram watched and learned and practiced his razor skills at home, on his friends and sometimes even his mom, before becoming a master himself.
Master Turkish barbers not only pass on their expertise, they school their apprentices in an ethos based on customer-focused service and attention to detail second to none. With migration, their precision skills have been introduced to the world. Visit a Turkish barbershop in Istanbul, London or Berlin, and the experience will be the same.
Finding a good barber
From 1840 onward, those who practiced tooth extraction had to sit an exam to assess their level of knowledge and skill. If they passed, they were allowed to advertise their services. Some of the more creative set up boards using teeth they'd pulled out to spell their names.
Thankfully, customers don't have to worry about having their teeth removed when they go for a shave these days.
However, they should consider the attributes of the barber they choose. During the Ottoman Empire, candidates were tested to see how they reacted under pressure. Anyone found to be quick to anger and prone to making mistakes was ruled out. A good guiding principle, even