What happened to the classic men's grooming routine?
It seems like nowadays most guys don't care what they look like.
They scrape their faces with cheap razors and use hair products with dangerous chemicals.
Was it always like this, or did we mess up along the way?
That's what we're exploring today. In this article I'll be delving into men's grooming habits from the 1920s and comparing them to what guys do in 2020.
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What I'll Be Covering:
1. Men's Shower Routine
Showering For Men In The 1920s
Your great-grandfather lived through World War I and the 1918 Influenza pandemic. These events inspired a hygiene revolution in America.
Regular showers and grooming routines were becoming commonplace.
What did the average American man have in his bathtub?
B.J. Johnson Soap Company introduced a soap with natural ingredients in 1898. Palm and olive oils were major elements. “Palmolive soap” exploded on to the scene, making the use of natural oils normal for men across the country.
Shampoo was similar to body soap in those days. They both used natural detergents in order to cleanse.
Not everyone bathed daily. House plans didn't include bathtubs until 1910. By 1920, new houses included indoor bathrooms. Most men didn't live in new houses though.
Bathing was usually done once a week. Men would drag the tub into the hottest room in the house and pour hot water inside. There they'd sit and scrub away.
This doesn't mean they were disgusting for the rest of the week. Men frequently washed specific body parts as needed. These included the armpits, limbs, and crotch areas.
Modern-Day Showering For Men
Having a shower in our homes lets us stay clean every single day. In fact, 65% of Americans shower on a daily basis. 4% shower more than once!
We don’t have to worry about spot cleaning different body parts, because we knock them out with every shower.
Unfortunately, we've gotten lazy in other areas…
Only 58% of Americans admit to washing their hands with soap after using the restroom.
That means that over 40% of us have nasty hands…
The ingredients we use have also taken a dive in quality.
Since the 1930s, men rely more on convenience at the expense of personal health.
While the 1920s gent could expect a few simple natural oils on his label, today we are beset by endless lists of artificial chemicals.
A few common ingredients I DO NOT recommend include…
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate, which can damage your hair and make it frizzy.
- Parabens, while protecting the shampoo from bacteria, can also introduce minor hormonal imbalances.
- Sodium Chloride – AKA salt – can dry the scalp and make it itchy.
- Formaldehyde, a carcinogen.
- Synthetic Fragrances which increase hair loss in men.
Part of the decline in the quality of men's grooming is due to reliance on these chemicals.
Luckily, there is renewed interest in Sulfate-free shampoos, silicone-free conditioners, and less shampooing overall to preserve scalp oils.
There may yet be hope, gentlemen…
2. Men's Shaving Routine
Shaving For Men In The 1920s
The safety razor dominated the decade…
People started to look for more convenient alternatives to the straight razor by the mid-19th century.
The first rudimentary safety razor came in 1847 by Willian Henson. The razor featured a comb tooth guard to protect the face. You could even attach the guard to a traditional straight razor.
It was in 1880 that we first see the term “safety razor” in ads by Frederic and Otto Kampfe, who operated out of Brooklyn, NYC.
King Camp Gillette won the patent for interchangeable razors in 1904. He was contracted to supply US troops with razors in World War I. It was because of the war that the razor took off.
It was common to go to the barber for a shave before World War I. American troops needed to shave by themselves on the battlefield. When the war ended, they brought their habits – and their razors – home with them.
Men used shaving brushes (which were around since the 1750s) in the comfort of their homes. These came with boar, horse, or badger hair – the latter being the most expensive.
Shaving soaps in the 1920s were made with natural ingredients. The very first bars produced in 1840 relied on walnut oil and were supplied to the British armed forces. They were known by the richness of the lather. The soap soon found a market around the world.
Another interesting fact: We did start to see a pre-lathered cream introduced in 1925 known as the Brushless Burma-Shave.
Strict standards for facial hair made a regimented shaving routine critical.
Your great-grandfather knew his shave map. He would shave with the grain, letting gravity do the work for him. Shaving over an even layer of shaving cream made the whole thing a breeze.
The strict standards on being clean-shaven meant that men needed to master this routine. Stubble was considered sloppy.
The risk of infection made aftershave a necessity as well. Aftershave contained antiseptic chemicals like alcohol or witch hazel which disinfected cuts on the spot. It also toned the skin while preventing razor burn.
The oldest aftershave is Pinaud Clubman. It came around in 1810 and is still around!
Modern Day Shaving For Men
Once again, men ditched luxury for low-end convenience…
Cartridge razors came about in the 1960s – now the most common razor across the world. These are made using various plastics such as polystyrene, polypropylene, and other resins that are cheap and easy to produce.
This often means you can throw the razor away once the blades dull. That starts to suck once you realize what it does to the environment.
Cartridge razors generate approximately one million pounds of plastic waste a year.
Cartridge razors come with multiple blades (at least two). The first blade hooks the hair while the second one cuts it. Fine in theory, but it makes the razor prone to pulling the hair and causing bumps.
Out of the 67% of men who actually use shaving cream, I’m willing to bet most of you use crap from a can.
One of the most popular shaving creams was released in 1919 by Frank Shields, a former MIT professor.
He developed Barbasol, canned shaving cream that's still available today. This is what most modern men opt for as it requires no brush.
Let me ask you something – would you put propane on your face? It's a common chemical in canned shaving creams, along with Laureth Sulfate and synthetic fragrances.
Most guys don't care whether they shave with or against the grain. This makes the problem worse. Don't be surprised when you see cuts, irritation, and bumps on the skin.
Gents, we messed up here. We've forgotten the therapeutic benefits of a daily shaving routine, the healing properties of natural ingredients. It's time we got back to basics.
3. Men's Hairstyling
Hairstyling For Men In The 1920s
Brilliantine was the major hair product of the 1920s.
The product was first introduced in 1900 by French perfumer Édouard Pinaud and it soon spread across the world. Brilliantine is a fragrant oil used to soften men's hair and give it a clean, glossy look.
It didn't provide much hold, but it did allow men to style their hair in a myriad of ways.
A lot of guys opted for a simple, slicked-back look. This was the single most popular option for styling in those days.
Other styles included a deep part down the middle of the head – something we'd probably think of as silly today.
Finally, we also had the classic side part.
What about different hair types? Men with curly and wavy hair could use hot irons to straighten it – though this was only common in the movie industry.
However, most guys let their hair bounce freely with a bit of Brilliantine to clean it up.
Men who couldn't afford Brilliantine used petroleum jelly, which had been around since 1859. Though it functions primarily as a skin ointment, men used it to imitate their wealthier counterparts.
Modern-Day Hairstyling For Men
We have a lot of options these days. Men can choose from at least 15 different hair product categories.
The problem is… you guessed it, synthetic ingredients.
To be fair, ingredients in hair gel are not necessarily harmful, but they can cause issues if mishandled.
If you allow too much buildup and fail to wash your hair appropriately, it can cause scalp irritation and dandruff flare-ups.
We've also taken a huge leap when it comes to styles:
The undercut, the quiff, the pompadour, the crewcut, the buzzcut, the tousled look, the fade, and the hockey cut are just a few classic modern styles. You can learn more about them in my article for men's hairstyles.
4. Nail Care For Men
Nail Care For Men In The 1920s
Patents for modern nail clippers start to crop up around 1875.
Valentine Fogerty was credited with the first US patent. The design resembled a circular nail file embalmed in a keratin clip.
By the 1890s, whole nail care sets were being sold. However, these tended toward a limited range of files and clippers.
Properly groomed nails were indicative of a luxurious lifestyle. Nail care products were also part of the medical industry, rather than style.
Modern-Day Men's Nail Care
Nowadays, we have many more tools at our disposal.
The good news is that most guys take advantage of the tools. 86% of men use nail clippers on a regular basis… But what about the remaining 23%?
They admitted to BITING their nails in order to clip them. Gents, over 3 million kinds of bacteria grow under your nails every 5 hours. That is unsanitary.
You can get a complete nail kit for less than $15. What does the average kit come with?
- Fingernail clippers
- Nail scissors
- Fingernail nippers
- Nail files
- Cuticle scissors
- Cuticle nippers
- Nail cleaners
That means there are NO excuses, gentlemen!
Men's Grooming Routine – Did We Get Worse?
A lot has changed in a hundred years.
Most of it for the worse.
We've abandoned natural, nourishing ingredients in favor of quick convenience.
It's time to get back to basics, gentlemen. Your great grandfather knew what he was doing!