For decades, Cyndi Abell’s trimmers have glided through the sideburns of fraternity boys galore.
“I have many cuts with names,” Abell said. “I have the ‘Frat Swoop,’ I have the ‘Grandma, I need more money’ cut, I have the ‘Oh crap, Dad, I’m sorry’ cut, (and) I have the ‘Wedding’ cut.”
Abell runs the eponymous Cyndi’s Barbershop tucked inside a mall corner in West Campus, a rebuke to chains such as Supercuts. She has worked near campus since the late ’90s, predominantly cutting men’s hair.
Her virtually all-male clientele draws heavily from UT’s Greek population. This is due, in part, to her past job as a fraternity mom for Sigma Alpha Epsilon in 2008.
“I started drawing in more customers because my name was getting out there,” Abell said. “The majority of (fraternity students) still know I was a house mom at one (point), even though it’s been nine years.”
After recommendations from past fraternity brothers, government senior Tom Parker, a Sigma Alpha Epsilon, or SAE, member, regularly gets his hair cut by Abell. Parker said Abell is recognized not only in SAE, but in most fraternities as well.
“She is really kind of intertwined with fraternity life around here,” Parker said. “She definitely cares about each kid. She remembers these kids by name, which is really nice.”
Abell often plays a role greater than barber, offering guidance to those new to UT. As a freshman, mechanical engineering senior Ben Graber said he appreciated Abell’s advice when he first joined Phi Gamma Delta.
“She always kind of gave general life advice for fraternity guys, like be smart with alcohol, treat women with respect,” Graber said. “She would always have crazy stories as a house mom … (students) swinging golf clubs and lighting things on fire and being blackout drunk. It’s funny, but she kind of intends for those stories to be like, ‘Hey, don’t be this idiot.’”
Abell’s clients also said they know her life experiences extend beyond her time as a fraternity mom. Before she settled in West Campus, Abell said she worked as a firefighter and later as an emergency medical services worker in Austin. In 2015, during the Wimberley River floods, Abell volunteered and led a search and rescue team in Austin to find family members who went missing.
Not only does she enjoy working with her community, Abell said she enjoys the work itself and never desired the drudgery of office work.
“I could not be put in a cubicle anywhere,” Abell said. “If I wouldn’t have been a barber, I would have been a mechanic, but I didn’t like the grease beneath my fingernails.”
Born and raised in Lubbock, Texas, Abell said she always wanted to move to a city like Austin where she could build a career and mingle with a more diverse community.
Her passion soon became shears, combs and, eventually, students. Abell said she loves meeting students not only from fraternities but from other backgrounds as well. Since her shop is located near an English as a Second Language center, Abell said she has serviced students from numerous countries, ranging from Germany to Korea.
“We have every type of person you can imagine, every color, every religion,” Abell said.
Decades of cutting hair can put a strain on barbers, but Abell said her clients and her love of the craft motivate her to keep working day-long shifts during the week.
“I enjoy it because it’s art,” Abell said. “It’s the gratification of being able to see your artwork, and your artwork is actually your advertisement.”