The Pantyhose Barber
By Sophie Allen-Barron

Making a Dream Come True

Say the word “barbershop” and you’ve probably already conjured an image in your head: white walls and a cheery cleanliness. The Pantyhose Barber is no exception, mixing old school vintage with classic flair. But while haircuts are her beat, Rita Pereira has built a small pantyhose-centric empire out of her space on Dundas West.

Rita is open about her rough start: after spending many years bouncing around the foster care system, she realized she had a natural aptitude for cutting hair and decided to run with it. She worked in various salons before starting up Salon Beauty Mark, which closed in 2013. Rita knew how difficult running a business could be but felt motivated to open a full-service beauty salon again. And so The Pantyhose Barber was born, offering quick quality haircuts in the heart of Little Portugal in 2015.

The only thing left? A name. Strapped for inspiration, Rita turned to her own “uniform”: a dress, heels and, of course, pantyhose. She could never have imagined how it would take off. "Within the first week from social media, I got messages from fans around the world,” she says.

You're part of weddings, you're part of graduations, you're part of people's lives. That's very special for me. - Rita Pereira, business owner
Photo courtesy of The Pantyhose Barber

From Salon to Social Media

Rita quickly learned that there's a worldwide community of pantyhose enthusiasts. While her own love of pantyhose is purely sartorial — “I like being feminine,” she says — she’s accrued a fan base who regularly interact with her on social media. In response to her popularity and fans' requests, Rita recently started her own line of pantyhose under The Pantyhose Barber brand, which she sells online and in store, with more designs to come. She also offers T-shirts, hats and a coffee table book in an effort to share her story with the world.

Rita is adamant about keeping things classy and keeps her posts to inspirational quotes and personal revelations. Not afraid to be honest and vulnerable, she’s candid about her difficult years in the foster care system, where she grew up until the age of 15, when she was then emancipated – not by choice. She says, “I feel like I'm raising a child with this business, and I have to be honest, integral, kind, loyal and, most of all, I have to be trustworthy.”

The Pantyhose Barber offers quick quality haircuts.
Photo courtesy of The Pantyhose Barber

Barbershop Therapy

The relationship between client and barber is a strange fusion of intimacy and brevity. Many of Rita's clients relate to her struggles and trust her enough to share their personal stories. "It's like I'm a barber therapist," says Rita, "which barbers are have been known to be since the first barber pole was hung outside the shop."

Rita says it wouldn’t sit right with her to provide emotional support to the customers cycling through her shop – some dealing with ennui, some with elation – without providing that for herself. "It has to start with me. Do I believe I'm worthy of being The Pantyhose Barber? Do I live all the stuff I say on social media and tell my clients and fans?” Rita leads by example, working hard to achieve her goals and to put herself first so she can then turn around and help others, especially children. "My perseverance not to become a foster child statistic drives me every day," she adds.

Rita's clients range from newborns (including her 21-day-old nephew, born with a very long mullet) to 90 year olds, who receive cuts on the house. Her shop has kid-friendly touches, from a  fantasy hair collecting dragon called Harrietta to her two friendly budgies, Prince Hairy and Ms. Pickles. "The children are the most rewarding, and watching them grow,” says Rita. "They can trust you to start talking about growing pains and becoming young adults. That's when they get their first razor shave on the back of the neck, the initiation into manhood,” she says with a laugh. She really enjoys the connection she makes with her clients. "You're part of weddings, you're part of graduations, you're part of people's lives," she points out. "That's very special for me.”

The Pantyhose Barber is home to two birds.
Prince Hairy and Ms. Pickles help make the barbershop a more comfortable place for children. Photo courtesy of The Pantyhose Barber

An Inspiration

As she snips and shears, Rita’s dream is to establish a scholarship fund. She wants to help foster children like her gain access to life coaches, something that’s been a great help to her. “The kids come in and they like the logo and they think I'm Super Woman," she says. " I feel a great responsibility from that and I try to be an inspiration for the children."

Rita strives to offer a safe space and what she hopes is the best barbershop in the city. She works hard to inspire others to dream big, to follow their hearts and, like her, to never give up. "Nothing is impossible," she says, "and I am living proof."

The Pantyhose Barber opened in the heart of Little Portugal in 2015.
Photo courtesy of The Pantyhose Barber
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