When it comes to grooming, most men fall somewhere between Grizzly Adams and Don Draper. One is all wilderness style with shaggy hair and an untrimmed beard; the other is super slick—and slicked back, literally, thanks to pomade—with a structured haircut and a razor shave. But your everyday guy lands somewhere in-between.
In fact, judging from the photos that often accompany print and online articles about men’s grooming, George Clooney is viewed as the ideal poster boy. He’s kempt, but not afraid to show off some salt-and-pepper hair and an occasional five o-clock shadow. At this year’s Academy Awards, he wore a neatly trimmed beard and mustache with his tuxedo, causing Esquire to name him “the silverest fox.”
Not every male may want to be that silver or that hirsute, but men are increasingly open about embracing the opportunities for specialized hair and skin care that women enjoy.
“We absolutely see more men visiting the salon these days, for both cut and color,” says Aaron David, a stylist at Maxine’s, a full-service salon on the Gold Coast of Chicago. Their biggest concerns, according to David, are thinning hair and receding hairlines—regardless of the age of the client. “Men are definitely taking better of themselves,” agrees Robert Bennett, a colorist at Maxine’s who works with a large number of male clients. “That stereotype that only `metrosexuals’ care about grooming is gone.”
The concept of a metrosexual, a grooming and fashion obsessed male, was created by advertising agencies in 2002, during what Ad Age calls “the heady days” when personal care companies decided to tap into the male market. But their strategy was too narrow and, in a few years, the metrosexual niche quickly collapsed.
Nowadays men are looking for target-specific services. A case in point: the rapid growth of HALO [For Men] Salons in Chicago. Started in 2005 by Robert Patrizi, who bought a unisex salon and turned in to a “Guys Only” place for hair and spa services, HALO now has salons in six Chicago neighborhoods.
“The idea was that Bob wanted to create a place where men could feel comfortable getting any grooming service they needed, from cut to color to manicures,” says Liz Vitellaro, Patrizi’s business partner. While Vitellaro admits that the recent rocky economy has resulted in less men going for more extraneous services like paraffin hand dips and manicures, HALO’s hair cutting business is strong. “Our average client is any guy who wants a great haircut,” she says.
At Maxine’s, the age of the male clientele runs from college age to men in the 70’s. “It doesn’t matter what age, they are concerned with looking good and camouflaging their gray hair,” says Bennett. L’Oreal has now developed an in-salon color called Homme that blends out grey subtlety and washes out gradually. “It doesn’t have that red/orangey obvious fade out like hair color in the past could have,” says Bennett.
But while some men are going the salon route, others are heading back to the roots of men’s grooming: a barbershop. “All we do is haircuts and shaves,” says Josh Cooley, owner of the Belmont Barbershop in Chicago. Started in 2005, the Belmont Barbershop has been named one of the top sixteen barbershops in the country. Cooley opened it after finishing barber school and becoming frustrated with the lack of places a man could get a good classic haircut. “Most times, the best look is keeping it simple,” he says. “And we can do that. We aren’t applying styling techniques for women’s haircuts. We do tapered cuts that last longer because they grow in more smoothly.” The shop’s specialty is high-and-tights (think Don Draper’s perfect look), but they can do pompadours, short cuts, or just about anything a guy can ask for. Including a razor shave.
“It’s almost a lost skill, doing a razor shave,” says Cooley, “but there is nothing closer or better.”
For those who want to learn how to do a razor shave at home, the Merz Apothecary offers an evening called The Great Shave every fall; it’s a fun night dedicated to teaching the best methods of the wet shave and grooming. If you can’t wait until then, the Belmont Barbershop has a curated collection of its favorite shaving tools available online at the apothecary.
Not interested in shaving? Beards do appear to be trending. It wasn’t just Clooney who wore one at the last Academy Awards. So did Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman and Keith Urban. “We see an increasing number of men coming in for mustache and beard grooming,” says Cooley. “Some guys are going with the big elaborate mustaches and they wax them, but most men are trying it out with a classic simple mustache and sometimes a beard. It ‘s a good look, but it has to be groomed.”
David at Maxine’s agrees. “I see men growing out their beards into a five-o’clock shadow look,” he says, “ a scruffy look.” But even deliberately scruffy needs hands-on attention. “Men are actually coming in more often for their grooming,” says David. “Sometimes as often as every two weeks.”