11 Retro Grooming Products That Kept Dads Looking Dapper
Once upon a time, the old man (and his old man) were dashing young rakes who got all dressed up and spit-shined before going out on the town. These were a few of the vintage grooming products that he used 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 ducktails. (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. The kit was so popular it helped cement Johnson Products as one of the country's biggest African American-owned businesses, and it was the first African American-owned company to be traded publicly on the stock exchange.
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. Legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan, quarterback Bob Griese, and NBA Hall of Famer 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 exchanges couldn't restock the product fast enough. But soldiers and seamen weren't buying Aqua Velva for its skin-bracing effect—they were drinking the stuff! It was cheaper and more readily available than liquor. The Ice Blue variety was a result of the WWII abuse—the government asked maker J.B. Williams to add something to their product to discourage anyone from drinking it, and 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, essentially filtering it. Civilian males, meanwhile, started buying up the product because of that cool blue color.
8. Hai Karate
Hai Karate aftershave 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 had a sort of sickening patchouli incense-type smell) would immediately attract so many sex-crazed women that he'd have to resort to taekwondo to fend them off.
9. Lectric Shave
Aftershaves tend to get all the attention, 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, which acts as a non-greasy emollient that helps the skin retain moisture.
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—so good in fact, that there are Bay Rum DIY guides out there.
11. Noxzema Medicated Shaving Cream
Sure, many men still regularly use this product each 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 the stubble away? Shaving in the 1960s was a much sexier affair.
This story was updated in 2019.