Grooming for Boomer Men: Not Your Father’s Personal Care

After the War, people were anxious to pick their lives up from where they left off. For a large number of middle-aged American men, that meant heading back to the “sensible,” slicked, parted-to-one-side hair of the late thirties and early forties, and the “correct” scents for a man. Old Spice (around since 1937), epitomized tradition with its nautical-themed packaging, Mennen Skin Bracer, and Aqua Velva after shave (first marketed as a mouthwash in 1929!) which many GIs became familiar with during the War as a substitute for alcohol, were among the dominant products in the marketplace. For younger men looking to start their new lives and families, however, a wave of modernism was rushing in. New styles in every aspect of life — from cars to homes; furniture to fashion — dictated the Man of the Future as the 1950s approached. The stirrings of cultural experimentation frayed the edges of the rock-solid world of their parents as these new families looked to find their own way in the suburbs. They produced the first baby boomers who reached their mid-teens in the latter half of the 1950s. While they took on the products of their fathers, these new fathers wanted to use them in their own styles.

As their children — the first male baby boomers — grew, the pop culture of movie and music stars like James Dean and Elvis helped define the contemporary man. Now, while slicking back their hair with the same products their fathers used, men wore their hair either longer or shorter. In either case, men’s hair sported a new, no-part look in styles like the pompadour or flat-top. Companies could breathe a sigh of relief as hair-care brands that had been accepted for decades were now embraced by this newly-minted generation.

Among them were Vitalis, Wildroot and Brylcreem. Each had been around for decades, appearing between 1910 and 1929. Brylcreem, originally a pomade (a mixture of water, mineral oil and beeswax), became one of the top hair creams for men in the 1950s, possibly due to a successful marketing program and catchy jingle that most boomers will recall by heart to this day.

While they sing “a little dab’ll do ya,” it sure looks like a whole lot more product made it into this actor’s hair. And where was the poor woman expected to wipe her hand after running her fingers through his hair?

Manly men marketing a manly product in a straightforward, manly way. Who didn’t trust the Lone Ranger and his stereotyped sidekick, Tonto?

As the fifties grew into the sixties, Eisenhower status quo grew into Kennedy cool. For one thing, men’s hair was even more upfront as they stopped wearing hats as a required piece of apparel. They wanted more natural hair, worn longer or shorter, and the scents that women could not resist. The companies of traditional brands could sense a change in the wind, and tailored their marketing to this new generation. Now, while still using the approach of how their products would attract the opposite sex, they showed young actors in contemporary fantasy scenes with contemporary music.

Any resemblance to Jan & Dean or the Beach Boys was purely intentional.

Before the Summer of Love influenced the course of popular culture in 1967, other companies saw an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon of this growing demographic. Using humor, along with tried-and-true sex appeal, they targeted their message directly at the man who wanted a new product for a new age.

A textbook case of how marketing can take a new brand and propel it to the forefront of popular culture. They sold the stuff inexpensively everywhere, including in those ubiquitous gift sets at the drug store.

Others joined suit, including the popular Jade East. They took the same path as Hai Karate, marketing to the younger set with an inexpensive price tag and wide availability. Many a teacher, boomer brother or father of boomer children received a gift set containing one of these featured scents from the 1960s.

Sex still sells here, but subtlety was not part of the script. Special thanks to Shindig and Hullabaloo, without which these dancers would not have the same impact.

English Leather and others also entered the arena. Again, the idea was to keep the price low and sex appeal quotient high. Another of these inexpensive colognes/after shaves to make the scene was Canoe. It had a mix of Old Spice traditional nautical packaging with modern, young lifestyle advertising. Now men had more choices — and an affordable price point — with which to display their manliness for their mate in their grooming products.

In an effort to differentiate their products and stick in the minds of their target audience, each company created great taglines that remain memorable in annals of advertising history:

Wildroot: “He uses a whistle, a wink and Wildroot: it gets her every time.”
“A little dab’ll do ya. She’ll love to run her fingers through your hair.”
“Does wonders for your hair… and you, too.”
Mennen Skin Bracer:
“Wherever you’ll find men… you’ll find Mennen.”
Aqua Velva:
” There’s something about an Aqua Velva man.”
Hai Karate:
“Be careful how you use it.”
Jade East:
“If she doesn’t give it to you, get it yourself.”
“Do you Canoe?” and “Canoe Canoe?”
English Leather:
“All my men wear English leather… or they wear nothing at all.”

Mister Boomer never liked the smell of hair products or after shave and cologne. He wasn’t big on using them at all, but in his early school days, his parents dictated what should be used. His father used both Aqua Velva and Mennen, but Mister B wasn’t shaving yet. In the case of his 1960s school days, it was Vitalis and Brylcreem for Mister B and his older boomer brother. In his early teens, an aunt bought him a bottle of English Leather as a birthday present. In an effort to try and fit in, Mister B confesses to dabbing a drop on each side of his neck for his earliest dating experiences. The bottle lasted more than a decade.

By contrast, Brother Boomer, Mister B’s older sibling, was a true aromatic man of his age. By his earliest high school dating years, he practically bathed in Hai Karate or Jade East. A short time later, he switched to Canoe. Mister B thinks his girlfriend at the time made that choice for him.

What smelled like boomer spirit for you, boomer boys and girls?

One thought on “Grooming for Boomer Men: Not Your Father’s Personal Care”

  1. Once in a while I wore English Leather. Later I would wear Polo but frankly it would take me years to go thru a bottle of these. As for my hair, again I preferred the natural look (literally).

Comments are closed.