- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

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 fairer sex.
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 their toes.
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 wedding.
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 "beauty treatments."
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 cultures.
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 dandies.
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.


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