A Look at Men's Hair Care

Man who is styling his hair with a blow dryer
Photo: Ollyy/Shutterstock
Styling and Grooming
The field of men's hair care has been, until recent years, a very small portion of the hair care and beauty industry. There were a few products on the market specifically designed for use by men in their grooming, and half of these had been around for decades: Brylcreem (styling cream), Grecian Formula (hair color), Just For Men (hair color), The Dry Look (hair spray). This lack of variety in men's hair care products wasn't considered a problem, because the general attitude was that real men didn't "make a fuss" over their hair.
Men's grooming already had a step that women didn't have to contend with: dealing with facial hair. For most men, this meant that not only did they have to get up in the morning, shower, wash their hair, brush their teeth, and comb their hair, but they also had to shave off their facial hair.
Shaving was time-consuming and often hazardous, resulting in nicks and cuts that had to be staunched. The general thought for most men seemed to be "if I'm going to have to get up every day and shave off my facial hair, I'm going to make styling my hair as easy as possible."
Before 1960, the vast majority of men had cookie-cutter hairstyles. The professional who cut, styled, and otherwise groomed men was also a man, known as a barber. Men's hairstyles all consisted of short back and sides with a little variation in the hair on top, depending on preference or necessity (in the case of balding men).
The trip to the barbershop every other Saturday was quick - buzz, buzz, buzz, snip, snip, snip, and voilĂ ! Fifteen minutes and you're done and on your way out the door. Most of the time you spend twice as long waiting to get into the barber's chair as you actually spend sitting there.
But the late 1960s brought a cultural revolution, and men's hair became a symbol of one's social attitudes. Young men who disagreed with the "establishment" or were protesting the draft and a government that was sending thousands of young men overseas to die in combat began to let their hair grow longer.
The idea was that by wearing your hair longer, you showed freedom of thought and individuality, and stood in opposition to the conformity of societal norms and military indoctrination. This idea was adopted and spread by the celebrities of the period, making it more popular among their young fans.
Man who is using a flat iron to do his hair
Photo: Pixelshot/Canva
In the 1970s, after the end of the military conflict, the ideal of longer hair as an expression of individualism remained, and became normalized as just a trait of the younger generation. However, it's this era that also brought with it the first changes in men's styling habits. Longer hair needed more care to look good, and because a lot of the styles that were popular in the late seventies and early eighties were "unisex" styles designed for both men and women, men began to use more products to control and groom their hair: mousses, creams, gels, sprays.
Men also found the need for styling appliances, e.g. blow dryers and flat irons, which allowed them to achieve the popular looks of the day. There was some "stigma" attached to using these tools and products: the idea that all the grooming and time spent on hair styling was somehow "girly". Yet, most men did it, and simply denied it if it was brought up.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, and we see the cyclical nature of cultural changes. Longer styles in men's hair reached a peak in the late 1980s and began to grow shorter again. The trend changed direction again after a few years and began to alternate - every few years longer, and then shorter. The "big picture" result is that the length of a man's hair became acceptable at whatever point he chose to wear it.
Even with the growing acceptance of the variety of men's styles and hair lengths, there was still the attitude that "making a fuss" over grooming one's hair was a less than manly trait. It was perhaps not as vilified as in previous decades, but it was still met with resistance by many people.
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