Male grooming is often considered a modern phenomenon. ‘Real men’ don’t care about their appearance, scoff the critics. In fact, however, male grooming has a history dating back as far as Ancient Egypt.
We’ve taken a look at how men’s grooming secrets have changed over time.
Back in 10,000 BC, it was all about the milk bath. The Ancient Egyptian man would recline in a bath of donkey milk to keep his skin soft and supple, before lining his eyes with kohl (a powdered mix of burnt almonds, lead and ash, among other things). Then, he smothered himself in essential oil to disguise any lingering body odour.
The Romans were more concerned with cleanliness than their Egyptian forebears and there was a big focus on communal bathing and steam. Although like the Egyptians, they did have a predilection for essential oils, which they would add to their bath water to create a fragrant scent.
Roman men also experimented with hair dye, mainly as a way of maintaining a youthful appearance (no change there then). Sadly though, the dye they used was so corrosive that many of them ended up losing their hair completely.
Tudors and Stuarts
In the 17th century, men were discouraged from spending too much time on their appearance, for moral and religious reasons. Most men would visit the barber for a shave, but that was about the extent of men’s grooming at the time.
By the 18th century, however, more men were beginning to shave at home, and a sudden rush of associated products began to hit the market. From shaving soaps to powders and pastes.
Often these products were scented, and many claimed to serve other purposes as well. One liquid soap, produced in 1745, was purported to cure smallpox, ringworm and pimples, as well as making shaving easier. Male grooming was on the rise again.
The Victorian era
Forget shaving products, in Victorian times, beards began to make a comeback. Whilst many men were still investing in soaps and powders to help them shave, others were purchasing products like “Russian Oil”, which claimed to help your facial hair grow thick and lustrous.
Beard combs and clippers also started to become more popular at this time, with every bearded gentleman wishing his to be the most stylish facial hair in town.
Men’s colognes also started to make an appearance around this time, representing both a nod to, and a step up from, the essential oils used by their ancient forefathers.
Mid-twentieth century to today
By the 1950s, products like Brylcreem were having a moment, as men began to focus on the hair on their heads as well as their faces. The 60s and 70s saw us grow our hair and beards long, while the 80s sent us spiraling into the crazy world of the mullet.
Fast forward to today, and anything goes as far as male grooming is concerned. Men’s cosmetics are having a moment, but you wouldn’t expect every man to use them. Beards are in, but so is a clean-shaven face. And long hair is as acceptable as a shaved head.
Whatever your male grooming style, rest assured that men have been taking an interest in their appearance just as long as women have.