A lady's 'toilette' can be a painstakingly careful and often laborious process, sometimes requiring hours to apply, powder, straighten, cover, reapply, curl, spray, pluck... there is a whole oeuvre of YouTube videos dedicated to its technicalities and nuances.
We are confronted daily with not only the requisite 'women's essential cosmetics' but also with a vast and growing collection of 'essentials' for men. The pressure felt by men as well as women to groom themselves until they resemble a glowing billboard has never been more strongly felt. Let's be clear: men care as much about appearances as women do and have always done so. But this more recent preoccupation has not taken on quite such a high-maintenance form since the 18th century.
Let’s start with the 60s. The swinging flower power locks and somewhat unkempt hippy guise jarred with the advent of the extreme beehive, with icons such as Audrey Hepburn and Dusty Springfield making this a big look. Although men also indulged in the flower power look, there are far fewer beehives. Rather, men tended to stick to a slicker Elvis quiff or don full-on afros, no doubt inspired and encouraged by the Civil Rights movement. Afro hair moved happily into the 70s with the likes of The Jackson 5 and Jimi Hendrix upholding this bold look.
Sometime in the 80s mankind discovered The Mullet - the curious hairdo that encouraged short sides and an often quite extensive back-ponytail. It gives the impression that the male in question has cut his hair himself and cannot quite reach the back with the scissors... Into the 1990s we find a lot of grungy rock hair – it becomes acceptable to amble about in five days' worth of natural grease and Nirvana gig spittle. Of course the 'rugged' or relaxed 'wind swept' look might seem like a natural occurrence, and no doubt if you're hanging out on the Cornish cliffs this might be the case. However, men also start to discover that gels and creams and textural products do some of this work for you, in a slightly more controlled environment. That shaggy hipster look may have a designer label, and don't you forget it...
In one of Austen’s novel Emma, the female protagonist is for a time besotted with the attractive and apparently vain Mr Frank Churchill. Now, Frank could give a tip or two to any Vidal Sassoon salon today. A whim takes him one breakfast, and he treks to London simply to get his coiffure tended to. Emma is not impressed by this apparent show of self-love despite her own vanity, calling it "foppery and nonsense" and an "extravagance". Hairstyles for men during the Regency period that Austen was writing in were often quite romantic, relaxed and 'natural' in appearance. Yet with Frank we find an 18th century hangover, with elaborate wigs, powdered hair, beautifully crafted peacock-y hats and bright colours being the stock fare of all refined and wealthy gentlemen.
Although we aren't exactly seeing a return to the 18th century, there is no doubt that it is becoming more and more acceptable - if not, at times, seemingly 'essential' - for men to attend to their own toilette. With most high street cosmetic brands offering a men's collection, and mainstream male fashion becoming ever more prominent, could we be witnessing a fashion and make-up male-female equilibrium?The Body Shop now offers a range of male products, even extending their popular female 'White Musk' range into the mens' with their promise of a 'modern, masculine, and sensual scent'. For hair, men still pay a bit less to get their locks chopped, but not always significantly less. Iconic hair salon Toni and Guy might have a few more images of women’s haircuts - the fashion world is still predominantly dependent on the female model - but there is no shortage of trendy male haircuts.
Also recall the infamous Chanel No.5 campaign last Christmas, with Adonis like Brad Pitt not only paid over £4 million to model, but also act 'casual', filmed with a beard and an apparently 'relaxed' look. This was all pretty radical, considering that the man was modelling for a women's scent. However, the ad was a total disaster, hated and ridiculed... could this have had something to do with Brad not tending enough to his upkeep? Probably not – he rambled dully on in the ad about nothing in particular, besmirching the perfume that was famously worn by Marilyn Monroe in bed. However, maybe a better haircut would have drawn attention away from the bad acting.
Not only are men seeing themselves modelling for women's fashion, as in the case of Chanel, but the popularity of sports and the obsession with a 'perfect body' are ever heightening. Brands such as Nike now represent both designer chic as well as high performance promise, encouraging and pressuring men to combine fashion and sport. Whether playing tennis, hanging out on the beach, or punting along Oxford's idyllic canals, the appropriate male attire is not only popularly available, but a bit of a 'must have'. The quantity of advertising that is targeted at women is perhaps as yet unrivalled by that which preys on men, but this is fast changing.