Dad’s (or Granddad’s, depending on your age) grooming routine didn’t always consist solely of soaking his dentures in Polident and occasionally trimming his ear hair. Believe it or not, he was once a dashing young rake who got all dressed up and spit-shined before going out on the town. How many of these products do you remember the ol’ man using to look and smell his best?
The secret to achieving shiny patent leather hair à la Clark Gable or Tyrone Power was Brylcreem. Apparently, nothing drove women wild back then like a head that Exxon could use to pump 20 barrels of oil a day. The company’s slogan was “a little dab will do ya,” but judging from the way their hair stayed plastered in place, it appears that most men were overdoing the dabs.
Even after Clark, Tyrone, Cary, et al. had been replaced onscreen by Marlon Brando and James Dean, Brylcreem was still embraced by younger men who constantly combed the stuff through their DA’s. (Those Fonzie-types weren’t called “greasers” because they ate a lot of deep-fried food.) When Brylcreem started to get identified with teenage hoods, the makers of Vitalis water-based hair tonic had a brainstorm and launched an advertising campaign disparaging grown men who still used that “greasy kid stuff.” The phrase went viral and was even the topic of a 1962 novelty tune by Janie Grant.
3. Groom & Clean
Another water-based pomade, Groom & Clean’s main selling point was that, with regular use, you could just run a wet comb through your hair to remove unsightly oil and dandruff. Because God forbid you should try shampooing more than once a week.
4. Afro Sheen
Men who wanted to blow out their hair to Clarence Williams III-size proportions turned to Johnson Products’ Afro Sheen Blowout Kit. President Barack Obama revealed at a Democratic fundraiser last year that he sported a ‘fro back in 1978, but that it was never as “good” as Dante de Blasio’s, the son of NYC’s mayor.
5. Dry Control by Vitalis
Once men started growing their hair longer and feathering it, they needed something manly to protect it from the elements. Plain ol’ Aquanet would have done the trick, but professional athletes don’t want to go around smelling like a beauty parlor, do they? Gillette introduced The Dry Look in the early 1970s, and once it proved to be successful, Vitalis followed suit with Dry Control. Pete Rose, Bob Griese, and Pete Maravich all appeared in TV commercials for the product, thus providing it with some definite testosterone credentials.
6. Wildroot Cream Oil Hair Tonic
In the 1920s, the makers of Wildroot advertised it as a treatment for “falling hair”—that is, it would help to prevent baldness. Once the Federal Trade Commission started getting picky about such claims, Wildroot was promoted as a tonic in the same vein as Brylcreem. The secret ingredient was lanolin, which certainly held one’s hair in place; it also tended to cause acne-like eruptions around the hairline among the more sensitive-skinned folks.
7. Aqua Velva
When Aqua Velva aftershave originally hit store shelves in 1937, it was the color of straw and had a fairly high alcohol content. In fact, during World War II, military base PXs couldn’t restock the product fast enough. Soldiers and seamen weren’t buying AV for its skin-bracing effect; they were drinking the stuff! It was cheaper and more readily available than liquor. The Ice Blue variety that our Dads started wearing was a result of WWII abuse—the government asked JB Williams to add something to their product to discourage our fighting men from downing it. The bittering agent the company used turned the product bright blue without changing the fragrance. But military types weren't dissuaded: They simply poured the product through a slice of bread before drinking to remove the bitterness. Civilian males, meanwhile, started buying up the product because of that cool blue color.
8. Hai Karate
Hai Karate aftershave was launched in 1967 in an effort to capitalize on the burgeoning martial arts craze. Thanks to his role as Kato on TV’s The Green Hornet, Bruce Lee had become a “name” in the U.S. and chop-socky movies were gaining a cult following. Hai Karate’s success was mainly due to an imaginative advertising campaign, wherein any male who used the tantalizing fragrance (which actually was a sort of sickening patchouli incense-type smell) would immediately attract so many sex-crazed females that he’d have to resort to tae kwon do to fend them off.
9. Lectric Shave
We’ve discussed aftershaves, but Williams’ Lectric Shave is a before shave product. Electric shavers were quick and efficient, but they just didn’t give the close cut of a traditional razor. Enter Lectric Shave, which contained enough alcohol to close the facial pores and lift the whiskers away from the skin a tad as well as some isopropyl myristate for a bit of lubrication.
10. Bay Rum
Once upon a time every barbershop reeked of Bay Rum when you first stepped inside. It was the stuff the barber slapped on a man’s face after giving him a good old-fashioned straight-razor shave. According to the label, it “invigorated and stimulated” the skin, which is marketing-speak for “it stings like a sonuvagun!” But it did smell good.
11. Noxzema Medicated Shaving Cream
Sure, a lot of men still use this regularly every morning. But how many of them visualize former Miss Sweden Gunilla Knutsson seductively encouraging them to “Take it off. Take it allll off” while they scrape their faces? Shaving in the 1960s was a much sexier affair.