Not enough man-stuff in Pretty Iconic? Bro-stalgic Michael Hogan is here to redress the balance.
It’s unlikely to have escaped your attention but Sali has a new book out called Pretty Iconic (£26 from all good booksellers, the ideal gift etc, etc) in which she celebrates beauty products that changed the world. Yes, there’s some man-stuff in it – the likes of Old Spice, Noxzema, Brylcreem, Denim, Gillette Sensor razors and so on – but it’s mainly, you know, women’s things. Understandably, what with her being an actual woman. So I thought I’d do a miniature men’s addendum, covering a few things Sali didn’t have room for…
“Are you wearing Lynx?” “Well-smelt. Voodoo.” “Java.” So goes Alan Partridge’s first meeting with his new best mate Dan Dan The Kitchen Man. Named, for no apparent reason, after a pointy-eared wild cat, the butchly black-packaged “anti-perspirant bodyspray” launched in 1983 was actually aimed at a much younger demographic than middle-aged Alan and Dan – namely, teenage lads. It was basically Impulse for boys, coming in such 80s band-sounding fragrances as Musk, Spice, Amber, Oriental, Marine, Apollo, Gravity and Phoenix. It’s still going strong 33 years later, with an accompanying range of shower gels, shampoos and hair gloop, cannily marketed with megabantz ad campaigns.
This mysterious white stick, found knocking about the back of the bathroom cabinet beside your dad’s crusty shaving brush and Old Spice splash-on, was sheer witchcraft. If you cut yourself with a Bic razor while amateurishly hacking at your bumfluff ‘tache, you swiped it across the wound to stop the bleeding. It seriously stung. Eye-wateringly, girlish-yelpingly so. It worked, though – probably by being so painful, it scared the blood into turning back. Technically an “antihaemorrhagic”, it saved you going out with tiny scraps of loo roll stick to your face like a loser. But it’s probably illegal now.
If you were cursed with dandruff in the 80s – as every adolescent boy seemed to be, in one of the less glamorous rites of passage – this chemical-smelling Unilever shampoo was your bezzie. All Clear was slightly more glamorous than fusty old Head & Shoulders or Vosene, by virtue of its cooler ads and none-more-80s logo which featured “trendy” fonts and “snazzy” pinstripes.
Body Shop Japanese washing grains
Hidden among the Body Shop’s dewberry, patchouli and white musk was this minimalistically package canister of glorified grit. An exfoliant before its time, it contained adzuki beans (how exotic!) and promised to make your skin geisha-soft – but was more commonly used for aggressively attempting to sand blackheads off self-conscious teenage conks. Follow with elderflower toner, cucumber moisturiser and a moody entry in your diary.
Toothpaste. But on spots.
Upsides: dried them out, made them smell faintly minty, cheaper than Oxy or Clearasil. Downsides: stung to buggery, dyed spots bleach white. Or stripey, if you foolishly used Aquafresh or Signal.
‘When my man puts on Blue Stratos, there ain’t nothing he can’t do.” Stacked next to Denim, Old Spice and Brut on the “cheap aftershave for dads” shelf, Blue Stratos smelt soapy, citrussy and faintly nautical. It was invariably advertised by suave, moustachioed Burt Reynolds lookalikes and promised to provide “Cool, quiet confidence”. Frankly, who didn’t want that?
It’s now mainly for baby’s dimply bottoms but once upon a time, every fella used talcum powder – usually arriving in gift Christmas sets, alongside aftershave or soap-on-a-rope. We duly sprinkled it all over in the hope that it would keep us dry, fresh and chalkily sexy. Billowing, cough-inducing clouds of the stuff filled bathrooms and turned pubes Santa white. Phwoar.
Brylcreem is the most iconic. Brilliantine is the vintage one. Black & White “pluko hair dressing pomade” has its advocates. But when it comes to gents’ hair gunk, nothing beats Dax – partly because it was packaged so coolly. This greasy American wax came in retro shoe polish-esque tins that looked great in barber’s shop windows, with two flavours: red tin for “Wave & Groom”, blue for “Short & Neat”. Nice weather for Dax, as the ad slogan should have gone but didn’t.
*To the tune of It’s All Over Now by The Rolling Stones* “Insignia’s got everything, shampoo to shower gel / Deodorant and aftershave, one all-over smell / Yes, it’s new Insignia and it’s all over now.” Thus went the ear-wormy jingle to 80s “all-over body programme” Insignia, which had a logo like an regional railway provider. Insignia’s selling point was that you didn’t have to mix whiffs and could have one matching fragrance, from balls to bonce (talc to hairgel). That fragrance just happened to smell like industrial hand sanitiser.