We blokes have come a long way with regards to our grooming habits; from prehistoric scraggy beards and unkempt mops of hair, to today’s modern, perfectly styled stubbles and carefully sculpted quiffs.
In fact, our grooming habits have come that far that we now have an entire day dedicated to our lathering, shaving, plucking, rubbing, and combing. To celebrate National Men’s Grooming Day, The Bluebeards Revenge presents a history of male grooming.
Man’s association with grooming can be traced back to as early as 10,000BC. The Ancient Egyptians had a serious affection for the Aloe Vera plant, as well as bathing milks, fragrant oils, and kohl.
In the dry, hot desserts of Egypt, these luxuries served multiple purposes. For example, kohl (a powdered concoction made of crushed antimony, burnt almonds, lead, oxidized copper, ochre, ash, malachite and chrysocolla) was one of the earliest examples of eye-liner. It was applied in such a way that it helped to reduce the glare of the sun – much like the black lines American Football players’ apply to their faces today.
Whilst protection from the sun was one of the more practical applications for early grooming products, they were also developed and used as a way of improving the physical appearance and smell of their owners – just like the millions of modern products we use today.
The Egyptians smothered themselves in heavily fragranced oils in an attempt to cover body odour. Popular scents and ingredients in these oils included: myrrh, thyme, marjoram, chamomile, lavender, lily, peppermint, rosemary, cedar, rose, aloe, and even olive oil.
Unlike the Ancient Egyptians – whose time and efforts were predominantly put towards shrouding their stench – the Romans looked to establish private and communal baths to encourage overall cleanliness. The communal baths they established also became renowned hot-spots for men to share their grooming secrets – an early representation of the millions of blogs that exist today.
With a particular passion for warm water and steam, the Roman’s believed in removing impurities from beneath the skin and took inspiration from the Egyptians that came before them, using oil-based perfumes to dilute the baths. However, when pimples did break out, they used barley flour and butter to create a paste that sounds more edible than cosmetic.
The men of the Roman Empire were also some of the first to experiment with hair dyes. Blonde was the colour of choice and was applied in a desperate attempt to make them look younger, but the dyes they dabbled with in 100AD were often so corrosive that a large percentage of men lost their hair completely.
Middle Ages to Elizabethan era:
For a while, the dominance of the church and the fall of the Roman Empire kept male grooming and cosmetics to a minimum, with some priests even condemning grooming as “the devil’s work”. However, people made the most of what the Roman’s had left behind and even began to dabble with early concepts of the modern mirror; featuring silvered glass.
Under the reign of Elizabeth I of England, men’s grooming soon gained traction again: Rosemary water became a popular hair product; sage became the go-to herb for teeth whitening. Bathing in wine, using an elderflower ointment, and applying a honey and egg mask were all supposed to reduce wrinkles, and pale skin became a serious makeup trend. However, the pasty white brew that was slapped on men’s faces often contained arsenic and lead which resulted in hundreds of early deaths…
The Victorian era saw the introduction of the first serious mass production methods, meaning that popular grooming products could finally be provided to a larger audience. As a result, soaps became the norm in most households and people went ballistic for blemish treatments. Technological advancements also meant anti-ageing skin care products began to emerge, but more for women than men at this time.
Meanwhile, in America, soap specialists Procter and Gamble were monopolising on the Civil War by supplying the Union Army with sudsy products. And, in 1898, Anthony Overton established the Hygienic Manufacturing Company, where he produced one of the first market-successful make-up products for African Americans, ‘High Brown Powder’.
With the birth of Hollywood came an influx of celebrity icons with perfect, slicked back hair, pearl-white teeth, and cleanly shaven faces. These icons elevated men’s grooming to a whole new level. The everyday man started to take a little more interest in how he looked and the fragrance industry burst in to life, with France acting as its main hub. Men were also introduced to the very first safety razor, making shaving at home a somewhat enjoyable experience. The safety razors of the 1900s were very basic, yet had a style and reliability that is still universally acknowledged today.
This new found addiction to grooming was encouraged by companies that popped up everywhere with miracle creams and products that ‘guaranteed’ complexions similar to the celebrities that men wanted to resemble, along with style magazines that showered readers with freebies and samples.
Fast-forward to America in the 1960s and the popularity of men’s grooming becomes very evident with the birth of the ‘Mad Men’ style – men in pressed suits, with slicked back, side parted hair styles, clean shaven faces, and a love of whiskey were presented as the gentlemen of the advertisement industry, and would one day lay the foundations for the incredibly successful period drama of the same name.
Technology, science, and fashion have created a unique blend of men’s grooming trends since the turn of the millennium.
The rise of the metrosexual man has further raised the profile of men’s grooming, which has allowed men to indulge in a whole host of previously ‘forbidden’ grooming routines; moisturising is now perfectly acceptable, as is shaving chests, backs, eyebrows and even more private areas. This revolution has also allowed men to stop pinching products from the women in their lives and start proudly displaying their own brands.
Because of this, men now have access to a vast range of products too: pre-shave oils, shaving creams, shaving balms, moisturising creams, anti-ageing creams, anti-acne ointments, eye rollers, hair clays, pastes, pomades, and gels, shampoos, conditioners, face scrubs, the list is literally endless. This extensive list also highlights just how important the influences of the past have been on today’s grooming phenomenon.
As for what comes next, fashion has revealed that past trends often come back with a modern twist – just take a look at how well the barbering industry is doing right now, with thousands of men stepping away from fancy salons and returning to barbers who specialise in the now fashionable, retro hair cuts of the mid-1900s.
One thing that is apparent as you look through the history of male grooming is that, no matter what millennium you find yourself in, men have always paid close attention to how they look; whether that be a lethal concoction of arsenic and lead, or a modern moisturiser that rehydrates the skin. And, as we come in to an age dominated by technological and scientific discovery, you can bet that men will continue to develop new ways in which to make themselves look and feel great.