When it comes to feeling comfortable about ‘grooming’ – a word thrust upon men by an often-frivolous industry and disliked by many guys - it comes down to the balance required to happily mix masculinity and maintenance. And it’s all about how we blokes perceive ourselves.
A recent interview in the US edition of GQ with style icon Giorgio Armani tackled just this. Armani, who has spread his wings from men’s fashion into underwear and skincare, notes that between fashion and grooming, there’s a difference in how comfortable we feel looking at sexy images of men. Armani’s new underwear was launched with shameless pictures of a scantily clad David Beckham, and while the global arbiter of taste knew that would fly, his skincare range is presented more conservatively, reflecting that in grooming there remains much more caution among guys.
Which is not to say we haven’t come a long way in the past decade. While streaking our hair, tanning or waxing body parts was once a bit of a guilty pleasure, these days they’re virtually stigma free. That said, I still don’t tell my mates I get my back waxed each year, and feel more than perfunctory removal of pubic hair is a bit much for guys, even though I expect it as the norm among women.
Discreetly or not, guys these days will happily go out and buy Jean Paul Gaultier Kohl Pen & Concealer to mask the odd unsightly blemish, where once there was no such men’s product on the market. I used to sneak a dab of my sister’s Elizabeth Arden make-up base for a particularly fearsome late-1980s zit, but today my girlfriend’s bathroom shelves are safe.
So it is in 2008, we blokes happily purchase designer deodorant, invigorating bodywash, select from massive ranges of slickly packaged man-specific hair pomades, sprays and waxes (try American Crew and Fudge for starters). We also generally have a fragrance of choice. I swear by Issey Miyake Blue Pour Homme, a woody oriental. Even under-eye creams like Dermalogica’s Total Eye-Care SPF15 and anti-aging treatments are now ok by us (Nivea For Men’s new DNAge Anti-Age Moisturiser is uber-affordable and non-greasy which is a safe bet for most fellas).
Still likely to call our manhood into question, however, are purchases of treatments like a face scrub. It’s changing though. Michael Klim’s new Milk Facescrub is cool enough for most guys. He’s a sportsman after all. But we’re not so good with trips to a beautician or day-spa for any type of general pampering or hair removal, especially eyebrow plucking, even if the former PM did eventually succumb to his image consultants. Say you want to book your bloke in for something, do your research first and try to find a happily unisex or man-friendly space. Mankind in Surry Hills, Sydney, does a good job of toning down the camp-factor.
Speaking of toning, body toning that is, men today are subject to similar image concerns women have faced for decades. Yes, the average man (whoever he is) is now just as likely to succumb to the Hollywood image-machine too. With the mainstream adopting higher standards of body image, the grooming industry keeps on growing. Shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy reflected that men are learning it's easier than they thought to ditch the slobby persona. Young men, bombarded with visuals of ripped PlayStation physiques and Olympian bodies, understand that fitness and grooming rituals are key to the whole ‘get the girl’ package. And they want in.
The rise of the so-called metrosexual - a man with the grooming inclinations and fashion awareness of a woman - was really a case of modern androgyny. Even men who dress in traditionally masculine ways often have grooming habits that would’ve been considered distinctly feminine as recently as the 1990s. For many, a daily moisturiser regime (try Natio for Men SPF30+ Face Moisturiser) or insuring the future with expensive but effective anti-aging creams such as Biotherm Homme Age Refirm has become routine.
The concept of maleness has changed to include a man who embraces romance and sexuality and can talk about fine wine and feelings. He’s a man for whom luxury purchases declare independence. That could mean a Vespa, eye-catching boots, or a bottle of KenzoPower, perhaps the best fragrance released for guys this year.
Hell, who knows? With the phenomenal pace of change in male grooming habits over recent years, we might soon be ‘borrowing’ our girlfriends’ lipstick. Although I suspect mascara might come first. But can someone please find a better word for all of this? Grooming? It sounds fit for a horse.
Australian Men’s Health