My dad used to chastise me in the 80’s for my hair. To be honest, it was a time of the ‘wet look’ perm. I used to use styling mouse, gel and hairspray to create a ‘Jermaine Jackson’ that glistened and dripped down my cheek all night but then set so hard it kept my head off the pillow.
“putting all that muck in your hair, it’s not what men do!” he would say, as he rinsed yet another bottle of ‘Grecian 2000’ into his grey locks.
I looked at pictures of him in his day. He was a Teddy Boy in the 50’s and 60’s and wore so much Bryllcreem and grease in his hair, one dip in the ocean could have caused a danger to shipping.
So, it’s not just us modern men, scoffed at by older generations, that have been ‘into’ looking good, grooming and using all manner of products in our hair. It goes way back and has been a part of male culture for longer than cars, sports, sleeve tattoos and even civilisation itself.
As long as we’ve had hair, we’ve put stuff in it.
The ancient, mysterious Egyptians styled their hair using beeswax and a mysterious fat-based ‘gel’ that science has yet to unravel the ingredients of. It was used on their own hair and even the wigs of the dummy servants they were enshrined with when they died.
Ancient Greece, known for its virility and manliness, had male hairstyles that were oiled, waxed and even had gold powder sprinkled on to look ‘just lovely’.
In Ancient Rome, young men would rub lamp oil on their faces throughout their teenage years in the hopes it would help them grow a thick beard for their ceremonial first shave when they became a man (one assumes their faces would ‘light up’ at the prospect).
Even the Vikings, who in battle would cover themselves in the blood of their enemies, tie human bones into their beards and generally act all hard and grotty, were actually hated for their cleanliness off the battlefield because they bathed regularly, changed their clothes once a fortnight and combed their hair every day. The beards and moustaches would be trimmed and waxed in an upwards curl, and even dyed yellow with saffron and Lye to win the attention of the ladies, so… not so ‘rapey’ at all once they’d clocked off from work!
In Tudor times, a ‘gentleman’s barber’ applied starch, powder, wax, perfume and dye to the men’s shoulder-length style of the day. When curls became popular, thanks to Henry VIII, men would have their hair curled in a style known as ‘love locks’, which was cute but probably didn’t make up for the lack of hygiene, weeping sores and the plague.
In Elizabethan times long hair was all the rage but was also required to be curly (think of Shakespeare, Raleigh… Blackadder). Men had their hair curled with hot irons and kept in place with wax or gum (resin, not Wrigleys).
Have you ever been round your Nan’s and seen those bits of protective cloth on the chairs? They’re called ‘Anti-macassars’. In Victorian England, the most popular hair product was the Macassar oil. Made with a mix of coconut oil, palm oil and oil from flowers called “ylang-ylang”, it’s safe to say it was pretty oily, but so ridiculously popular that housewives began to cover the arms and backs of their chairs with those bits of cloth.
And so, to the present day. Pomade, although invented by a German in the 1800s, really only caught on as far back as 1925. Murray’s Pomade, invented by C.D. Murray, an African-American barber from Chicago, was created for the black community who wanted that wave and hold look that all their jazz heroes were sporting. It was heavy-duty stuff, unlike our own pomade, and they suggested using washing up liquid to wash it out (condition much?). Some customers claim rinsing your hair with Coca-Cola will do the trick but people say Coke does everything from curing cancer to melting kryptonite so I suggest just buy ours instead and wash it out normally.
In Africa, to this day, Masai warriors dye their hair red with a natural hair pigment found in volcanic regions. Mixing in ash, clay, and animal fat, then colouring it with ochre, to create a painted, solid, matt texture. Now, I’m sure that’s all very traditional but your average Masia doesn’t find himself looking like Einstein with only three minutes to get his bus to work so, again, I’d recommend our matt clay and moulding clay. They’re easier, quicker and don’t involve as much animal sacrifice.
So, next time some old fart tuts at you for using hair products, in spite of probably using way more in their day than you ever have, just remind them that men all over the world have groomed, styled and enhanced their hair since the dawn of time. Then get your look together, take a deep breath and go catch that bus!
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