Whether you’re expressing your individuality or simply practicing good hygiene, there’s one thing most men can agree on—personal grooming never goes out of style. When it was my turn to begin shaving, it took years of enduring nicks and crooked sideburns to develop a signature regimen. Although I earned a badge of honor in razor burn, when it was time to learn the do’s and don’ts, I didn’t have an older male around to show me the ropes. The experience not only left me feeling a bit swindled, but also wondering how other young men learned their grooming techniques, especially if they never had the standard “talk with pa”? I decided to seek out answers from several well-groomed friends and colleagues.
When I was growing up I was mostly left to my own devices and identifying what I thought was ‘cool,’” says Michael Gilman, grooming advice expert and president of The Grooming Lounge. “I don’t even remember where I learned to shave—in fact, it wasn’t until we started The Grooming Lounge site and stores that I gained insight to shaving properly and eliminate shaving irritation.”
Sharing another experience on his grooming upbringing is Marke Bieschke, a culture journalist and publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. “My father took inordinate pride in his appearance. I have super Norman Rockwell memories of him teaching me how to shave and the smells of his shaving cream and cologne,” Bieschke recalls. “Though I also have to credit my mother for introducing me to hair gel, mousse, and even several makeup techniques. I was allowed to indulge a lot in grooming experimentation, as long as I looked coherent in the end.”
Often we forget the life lessons taught to us in elementary school. But Tim Kreider, cartoonist and contributor for The New York Times recollects his fifth-grade teacher gave a shaving lesson in class, “ostensibly as part of a speech unit, but it was also something he knew we prepubescent males would soon have to learn. It was a while before I would need the information, though, so by the time I needed to shave I’d pretty much forgotten his pointers.” Whether grooming styles and traits stem from the home or a crash course in elementary school, greater awareness has evolved with today’s modern man. Gilman notes, “it’s starting much earlier over the past 20 years, and I think the reason lies in increased acceptance (it’s become less taboo) along with the amplified showcasing in the media and movies. The coverage has set some ‘style goals’ for males.” However, it seems breaking down the barriers for guys to feel comfortable sharing tips and techniques is still not quite up to speed with today’s abundance of well-coiffed marketing. “Aside from the occasional ‘cool haircut’ or ‘I like the beard,’ it’s just not conversations men have openly unless it’s within the proper confines with experts in the field. They tend to chat more freely on the topic online or with their barber,” says Gilman.
Stuart Schuffman, known as Broke-Ass Stuart for his guides to living cheaply in San Francisco and New York City and host/co-creator of Young, Broke & Beautiful on the IFC network, shares, “I occasionally have grooming tip conversations amongst friends here and there, especially my gay friends, but it’s not that common. I think part of that is because some straight men have a much lower barrier in terms of how groomed they have to be to land an attractive woman.”
It also seems possible with the assortment of innovative and multifunctional grooming products available today; it could spark more conversations between males to share techniques. “I think there was a genuine flare-up of information exchanging when artisan beard oils and products became increasingly popular,” says Bieschke. “I’ve been a beard guy for about 20 years now, and it was a relief to suddenly have new options on the market. When my beard network lit up with all these product recommendations, it somehow felt more like a community, or even better—groommunity?”
Some men may feel like Kreider, who sums up grooming rituals up to a much more carefree ‘you get what you give’ mantra: “Men should probably try to think of grooming/clothing as like sports: like any other game, it’s composed of completely arbitrary, made-up rules, the first and most basic of which is that the game matters, which you just have to accept and believe if you care about winning it. On the other hand, the only way not to turn into a sore winner/loser about it is to keep in the back of your mind, as a sort of ballast, the knowledge that it’s trivial and not important at all.”
If I ever felt swindled about missing out on grooming tips in my youth, I can make up for it now with the abundance of information available now through social media and sites like The Art of Manliness. As we graduate from Shaving 101, to mastering degrees in grey hair (or loss thereof), my panel of experts has carefully curated a few rules of thumb every guy should know:
- “Don’t clean your face with the same bar of soap you just cleaned your rear end with. Also, bald is always better than balding. If your hair is 90% gone, just take it all off.”—Michael Gilman, The Grooming Lounge
- “Don’t try too hard. You want to have a look—not A LOOK.”—Marke Bieschke, The San Francisco Guardian
- “Pay attention to what the gay guys are doing. Whatever they are rocking now will be what the hip straight guys are rocking in two years.”—Broke Ass Stuart
- “Just brush your teeth, shave every day and quit worrying about a lot of complicated expensive extremities (let alone body-building, hair-replacement, and penis-enlargement scams).”—Tim Kreider, The New York Times
From self-taught survivors, to those who’ve received wisdom passed down from tradition, we’ve all earned a badge of honor in taking care of ourselves as we see fit. It’s something that will always tie us together, whether you willingly participate in the ‘groomunity’ or not.
Looking to amp up your grooming ritual? Visit Hudson Made’s grooming collection.
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Dale Pimentel is a fashion copywriter at Levi.com, and a residing native of San Francisco. He grew up as a hip-hop/backup dancer, with a degree in SF nightlife, and has more sneakers than one could fit in a NY-sized studio.