Set the clock back and step into a man's barbershop before the unisex revolution of the '60s, and you might get more than a haircut. Back in that day, you could also request a straight-razor shave and even a manicure. (For proof, rent the original Ocean's 11 and watch Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack receive the treatment in one of the opening scenes.) Once upon an American time, male grooming carried with it a series of daily rituals as involved and particular as anything performed on a woman; many of them, however, were lost when Vidal Sassoon opened up his hair salons and devised a one-size-fits-all system that pushed such treatments to the side.
Now, marketers are heralding the arrival of the "metrosexual," a term coined by gay British journalist Mark Simpson in 1994 to denote a breed of straight males blessed with a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy kind of obsession with appearance and hygiene. Simpson himself has expressed great ambivalence about the commercialism unloosed by the word he minted, but the male-grooming tide has been turning for quite some time: Men now account for 29 percent of the spa-going populace, according to Forbes magazine (up from five percent in 2002), and male-minded skin- and hair-care products by the likes of John Allan's and Sharps now flood the market.
Kathy Nelsen, spa director for Kabuki Hot Springs and Spa, believes some of the choices being made by metrosexual men are healthy. "Certainly, this is not brand-new. I think there is a whole experience of spa-going men in the last 10, 20 years, and part of that is the gyms are no longer gyms for the Jack La Lannes," she says. "The gyms are places that lots of people go to be more in touch with their body. A lot of the yoga schools that I've gone to over the last 10 years, the classes have been all women. But there are more and more men coming to [them] as well. I think that men are really beginning to experience their bodies in a way that is more holistic."
The latest outpost in town for males wondering how to be down is Nickel (place the accent on the second syllable, so you don't get a funny look from the receptionist), a men's-only spa chain and skin/hair care line founded in Paris by Philippe Dumont. For starters, Nickel S.F.'s owner, Eric Ruimy, recommends a Super Moisturizing Facial, a one-hour, deep-tissue massage, "and then, for the braver souls, do a pedicure [or] manicure." From there, patrons can work up to specific treatments such as "love handle wraps" and, for the truly adventurous, Brazilian body waxes. (This involves removing all hair -- save for a small patch above your penis -- from the crotch, inner thighs, and ass. As any supermodel will tell you, it's definitely as painful as it sounds.)
After stepping out of the spa, guys hoping to keep the glow going through the week have a variety of skin-, face-, and hair-care products to choose from. Lee Turner, assistant manager of Rolo on Market Square, advises, "Go by your skin type, first of all -- normal, dry, or oily -- and then from there just get a smaller-size face wash and moisturizer. I would first take samples based on your skin type. But each of the lines has a cleanser for normal, average skin types that's very non-abrasive, generally pretty safe for the most part."
Turner says that many product lines offer free samples for testing -- ranging from Sharps, which offers a straightforward "no-muss/no-fuss" approach, to higher-maintenance beauty products by Ole Hendriksen. There are also high-end shaving products from Nickel and Art of Shaving that break down the task of shaving into stages of preparative and post-razor ritual. Those who want to dive into full-fledged narcissism might look at eye gels, olive-oil hair wraps, and Human Growth Hormone treatments that will have you actively defending George Hamilton at your next social function.
Most straight men have struggled through a good portion of the 20th century without concerning themselves with radiant skin or bikini lines. But Nickel's Ruimy insists that the well-being that flows forth from a well-manicured male carries advantages. "Let's put it into men's terminology: How often do you change the oil in your car?" he asks. "Don't you think that changing the oil and getting that rusty oil out of your engine makes your engine feel better? Well, this is exactly what it does to your body. You get that blood moving. You get that blood circulating in parts of your back that have never been massaged, that never have gotten that stress massaged away ....
"And that's really what it's all about. It's just taking time for yourself."