The History of Men’s Grooming

Evan Kaminsky
Authored by
Evan Kaminsky

March 29, 2011
5:30 p.m.




I’m sure you all may think that men’s grooming is a new and modern idea that has only been contrived by Queer Eye, The Style Channel and gay-male- oriented spa’s and salons, in fact, men’s grooming dates back to ancient civilizations ( I know that I couldn’t deal with that funk if I lived back then…ewww!)

In the beginning of time, men had been applying mixtures of mud, minerals and even blood to decorate themselves. Throughout all of recorded history men have used scented oils as part of religious ceremonies and rituals. Of course, the invention of the disposable razor in the  1960’s wasn’t the first time men started to shave or remove hair from their bodies. Historians and Archeologists have pointed out that, Neanderthal men, around 100,000 B.C. were the first users of beauty aides, including filing their teeth and painting and tattooing their faces and bodies. The Modern Neanderthal would also pull hair from the head and body to alter their appearance and had even invented tweezers, (just like the Flintstones!)by using two shells to pluck hair.  Around 30.000 B.C., men started using flint razors to shave. They also used the flint to carve designs into their bodies, adding dyes to the cuts to create tattoos.

The first archeological proof of the use of tools and products were documented around 4000-3000 B.C. in ancient Egypt. Razors of copper were used to shave and both men and women used essential oils to soften the skin and assist in preventing aging. Oils were also used as deodorant, but more commonly, men and women would grind up carob and rub it into the skin, as well as apply incense and small balls of porridge under the arms. They would also gargle with milk and chew herbs to freshen breathe. Men used a bright green makeup paste made of minerals to their eyes. (Who knew that Bare Minerals was such an ancient company?) They also used Kohl as the first “Guy liner” to frame the eyes and darken the brows. Male vanity was evident at this time through the use of “hair growth recipes”, wigs, and even hair dye made from boiled animal blood. Little evidence shows the use of soaps among the masses, but the priests of the time valued cleanliness, bathing multiple times a day and shaving their whole bodies on a regular basis to keep lice and other parasites away.

In Asian history around 1500 B.C., men and women would apply rice powder to their faces to make them white. They would also pluck out their eyebrows and paint their teeth either black or gold. Modern men in Asia now use Henna to trace their veins and to also dye their hair.

It wasn’t until 1000-500 B.C. that the Greeks started to use altering the appearance became a fad for the upper class. Wigs were widely used as well as makeup made from chalk and lead kept in ornate boxes (tragic trannies even back then….). By 500 B.C. when Alexander the great rose to power, his vanity gave birth to what would be the modern salon. Alexander the great kept his hair short and was clean shaven for every battle and insisted that all of his men were clean-shaven as well so that the enemy couldn’t pull on their beards ( but I like my beard pulled…..Meh!). From this trend sprung the creation of the modern barber shop. A Greek business man introduced the barber shop concept to the Romans around 300 B.C. and men would line up at the “Tonsor” (barber) just to get a shave. The barber shop soon became the place to be seen, gossip, and discusses news and business. The Roman’s took the concept to a whole new level, spending hours getting mani’s, pedi’s, massages and haircuts, and applying cosmetics. (That brings new meaning to “When in Rome….”). These trends continued until the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, came into power, 138-76 B.C. Hadrian had horrible skin problems (the first Roman Pizza Face!) including pimples and warts, so to help conceal his skin condition, he grew a beard. As men do, the Romans followed the trends of their leaders, so they once again grew beards.

As time when on, the people of yesteryear continued the use of cosmetics and hair removal in various ways until in 1000 A.D., the Turks and Arabs were the first to prize soap (too bad the use wasn’t continued by modern cab drivers) and they introduced soap to what is now the United Kingdom.

In the middle ages, the use of cosmetics dwindled amongst men mostly due to the influence of the Church. Barbers of the time served as assistants to the priests, authorized to perform bloodletting services. This service linked barbers with the medical industry. The modern Barber Pole was once a symbol of these services. The red represented blood, blue the veins, and white the bandages. Barbers continued working in the medical industry until the 1800’s when British rulers dissolved the relationship (Sweeny Todd must not have gotten the memo).

The Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries marked a comeback for cosmetics. Mostly used among the upper class of France and Italy, they also discovered how to blend fragrances with alcohol to makeup perfume. By the 17th and 18th centuries, cosmetics were used by all classes to alter their appearance. The French were, of course, the most extravagant.

Then we come to America! Around the 1830’s Men began wearing hair pieces and hats to conceal baldness. Antiperspirants and deodorants came on the scene in the 1890’s, first with the use of the irritating ingredient aluminum chloride but was then replaced in the 1940’s with aluminum chlorohydrate. Also in the 1800’s, homemade shaving soaps and aftershave were made from cherry laurel water, stemming from the first safety razor patent in 1880 invented by the Kamfe brothers. But it was King Camp Gillette and William Nickerson, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineer design the first T-razor with disposable blades. In 1903, Gillette sold only 51 razors and 168 blades, but in 1904, after a marketing campaign he sold 90,000 razors and 123,000 blades. During WWI, Gillette pulled of the marketing ploy of the century, in which he made a deal with the military to include his razor as standard issue for every soldier.

In the 1920’s the first Barbering School was opened which brought resurgence. This time, emphasizing on professionalism, the stigma of the elder blood letters was corrected. In the 1930’s Men’s wives were the ones purchasing cosmetics for men since it didn’t seem masculine to purchase them themselves.

Since then, opinions have changed about what is masculine, metro, butch, etc. We are now living in a world where taking care of oneself, grooming, hygiene and the use of cosmetics isn’t tied to one gender or type. Men’s grooming services have once again made a comeback and are more accessible than ever. (Thankfully, cuz otherwise I’d be out of business!!)


Anonymous User
tatenda (Guest)
6 years, 4 months ago

thank you so much for the information it was so helpful. God bless you