Salons cater to men
SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES http://www.washtimes.com/culture/
Pressing 45-pound iron plates on a bench and sculpting pectorals
and triceps is the average American male’s idea of getting “buff.” It
does not mean burnishing his fingernails to a glassy sheen.
But that may be changing as men take a few grooming cues from the
The beauty parlor is an oasis where a woman can relax and escape
the pressures of life or simply improve her appearance. A high-end
salon can pamper her with a facial, waxing, hair and nail treatments,
a glass of wine and a massage.
American men traditionally have shunned extravagant (read:
“girly”) salons, with French-sounding names, pastel walls, magazines
that smell like perfume and people walking around with cotton between
Men felt more welcome at places with poles spinning outside,
combs immersed in mysterious blue liquid, and magazines with titles
beginning with “Sports” or ending in “boy,” and where the barber
— not a “stylist” — went by a name like Spiro.
But why did guys’ barbershops need to be so spartan, so stuck in
the 1950s? Their wives and girlfriends seemed to live to spend half a
day at the salon. Surely they knew something guys didn’t.
At least that’s what Michael Gilman believed. In March, he and a
friend, Pirooz Sarshar, opened the Grooming Lounge in the District, a
kind of souped-up barbershop offering haircuts, shaves, manicures,
massages and even waxing services for men.
Most important, Mr. Gilman wanted to create a “club-type
atmosphere where guys could feel secure in themselves.”
On one Friday afternoon, the Grooming Lounge was doing a brisk
business. The small waiting room was encased by dark-stained wood
walls; plush leather couches and chairs were filled with
thirtysomething men dressed smartly in business-casual attire. The
lawyers, bankers and lobbyists nursed Heinekens while reading
newspapers and the latest Esquire with Pierce Brosnan as James Bond on
the cover. Smokey Robinson classics flowed from the sound system.
The idea for a men’s salon came to Mr. Gilman out of personal
necessity. Over lunch with his fiancee, Mr. Gilman was told his hands
and nails looked terrible and that he should get a manicure before the
He went to a salon where he was “surrounded by about 30 women and
felt like an idiot.” But he liked the manicure, and he figured other
guys might like them, too — provided they were in a setting that
felt more like the ESPN Zone than Salon Jean Michel.
Men spend $3.5 billion on grooming products per year, the October
issue of American Salon magazine reports. A 2001 survey from
MarketResearch.com shows men spend about the same amount of daily time
grooming themselves (51 minutes) as women (55 minutes).
But in order to get Joe Six-pack to try grooming services and
supplies, providers are quick to counter the stigma associated with
The Grooming Lounge offers several packages, all with properly
macho names: “The Senator” (shave, haircut, manicure and shoeshine) or
“The Commander in Chief” (a manicure and foot treatment).
Refreshments, including beer, are served.
American Male, another grooming services and supplies provider
catering to men, with locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, eases
men’s inhibitions by terming manicures and pedicures as “hand
detailing” and “foot detailing.”
Author and culture critic Virginia Postrel says the trend is both
economic and cultural. “For people in the beauty business, getting men
is the best way to expand the market,” she says.
“They may be unlikely to sell them polish or other cosmetics, but
there’s no reason men shouldn’t care about their skin as much as
women,” she says. “So why not sell them skin care products?”
She is completing a book titled “Look and Feel: How Style Became
Substance,” which examines the economic and cultural trends in
American life, the rise of the importance of aesthetics and the way
“we communicate through the senses.”
Male grooming fits this “new aesthetic.”
“The most dramatic indicators of the new aesthetic age relate not
to product design or environments,” she writes, “but to personal
appearance — the crossroads of individual expression, social
expectations and universal aesthetic standards.”
Mrs. Postrel says the once-dominant, “WASPy idea that men paying
attention to their appearance is somehow unmanly” is diminishing in
the United States. Part of this has to do with “the browning of
America,” or the increased influence of black, Hispanic and Asian
Another factor may be a British invasion of sorts. Male-grooming
Web sites and salons that have popped up in Britain in recent years
— including Jason Shankey (jasonshankey.co.uk/) and Mankind
(mankindonline.co.uk/ default.asp) — target a new generation of
Mr. Gilman went to London before opening the Grooming Lounge to
study traditional techniques that fostered the notion and reality of
the proper British gentleman.
Austin Silver, who covers men’s fashion for AskMen.com, says such
attention to appearance won’t make men any less manly.
“We love looking good, but it’s still a secret we like to keep,”
Mr. Silver wrote on the site. “Admitting this truth will take years of
evolution; I’m talking eons — not decades. But one day, we will
all swing open the door of our personal closets and admit to using
Lubriderm Moisturizing Lotion.”
Maybe not eons. Mr. Gilman plans to open a new shop in 2003 in
Philadelphia or San Francisco.
Sounds good to me. I quit going to barber shops a couple of
decades ago because the idiots who worked there, in every barber
shop in my town, invariably cut it exactly how they wanted and
ignored what I had asked them to do. The barber shops of the 50s
were regimentation that would have made a marine drill sergeant
pleased with the way men were treated. Young men all got “crew
cuts” to be “good little soldiers.” The “long hair” revolution
of the duck tail or Beetles style freaked the “crew cut”
I don’t care for women’s or “unisex” shops either. Far too many
women customers. In the 1800s men used to hang out in the barber
shops, get beards trimmed, have a bath, get rubbed down by a
female attendant, and have an enjoyable time. That men’s club
atmosphere was gone by the middle of the feminist century, along
with most other places where men could hang out with other men.
It would be great if some clubs could be opened. All we have now
are women’s health and fitness spas, etc. A men’s club, spa, and
fitness place that featured baths, washes, hair styles, etc.,
would be a great place to go for men.