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Insights to Men's Grooming

By: Tom Wilscam
Posted: February 21, 2014, from the March 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

Running Hommage—a purveyor of men’s luxury grooming products—for the last 10 years, I have had the opportunity to observe men’s grooming habits and the market itself on a global level, having served customers in more than 20 different countries. Men’s grooming is a broad category, so in order to condense it, I’d like to assume that men across the world who go beyond the absolute basics of the everyday shaving and washing of their face, hair and body are the arbiters of men’s grooming.

What I’ve learned is, it’s not whether a man shaves and washes—it’s how he shaves and washes. And perhaps more importantly, it’s about what grooming products and which best practices men use in the daily ritual of grooming.

European Traditions

Men’s grooming has always been global, but there is no question certain countries and cultures are more sophisticated in terms of grooming habits. A country that comes to mind with many grooming aficionados is England, and specifically London, where one can find the famous gentlemen’s shaving parlors such as Taylor of Old Bond Street, Geo F. Trumper’s, D.R. Harris, Truffit & Hill and Cyril R Salter. The barbers of England teach their clientele the traditions of shaving properly, traditions that have been passed down for generations.

Yet, the products from England that are applied to the face have, in many cases, also been passed down from generation to generation—without modifications and advances in modern skin care technology, active ingredients and so on. Perhaps English men have paid the price as a result and have not gotten the products best for their complexions.

All across Europe, in fact, grooming traditions come from years of experience. Italy is a country that has always taken pride in the profession of men’s barbering. Many Italians believe a proper haircut and shave for a man can only be achieved through years of practice. Similarly, France is known for its celebrity hairstylists, or coiffeurs, who deal with the complexities of a women’s haircut. They also can change a man’s life after providing a haircut that actually, for the first time, may have been molded specifically to a male client’s unique skull shape. The modern shaving brush can also be traced back to France circa 1750.

In Eastern Europe, you can find banyas, popular steam baths where many men spend time bathing or receiving a Venik treatment, in which a bundle of leafy birch or oak tree twigs are applied to the skin. During the treatment, essential oils are released that improve blood circulation, intensify capillary activities and prevent premature skin aging. A gentleman can also learn a lot from a Russian barber, many of whom dissect the face into multiple sections that are defined by which direction the facial hair grows. Learning which direction to shave according to a specific section of a man’s face is critical to reduce rashes and abrasions to the skin.

Newer Grooming Customs

Although the European traditions for men’s grooming go back generations, it’s really only recently that U.S. men have a more vested interest in proper grooming. Hundreds of men’s grooming products have been launched during the last 15 years, and a younger generation of affluent and aspirational gentlemen are educating themselves on grooming products, ingredients and best practices, widely available to everyone because of the Internet.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of men in the U.S. are still washing their face with something other than appropriate facial washes and not bothering to learn the proper products and steps that provide the best facial care.

And men in the States and Europe could learn a lot from the best practices found in Asian cultures.

Look East

Certain countries in Asia, in my opinion, lead the world in providing the most beneficial products, advantageous ingredients and best practices for men’s grooming.

Japan, for example, has always been extremely particular about cleanliness. I’ve heard of Japanese men who shower before entering a bathtub. And both Japanese men and women are very careful about spending too much time in the sun—which helps them maintain complexions and avoid some of the negative impacts, both short term and long term, that the sun has on skin. The country has some of the largest and most prevalent cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies in the world, and the affluent men of Japan use face and body cleansers, moisturizers and other skin care products regularly—and shaving is an essential part of the culture.

This attitude about grooming extends across Asia. Grooming for men is a daily ritual practiced in Korea, Singapore and in affluent circles in China. You can find more than 4,000 men’s clubs offering grooming services of all sorts in Shanghai alone. And many grooming treatments in Asian countries have a historical tradition as well.

A Growing Market

Grooming is a daily ritual and a big part of a man’s lifestyle in the Middle East, too. Manicures and pedicures, facials, eye treatments and regular shaves from expert barbers are the norm in this part of the world. And because most of a Middle Eastern man’s body is covered, men work hard to keep their face, hands and feet clean and manicured as a result.