March 23, 2023

The Well-Groomed Gentleman

The modern man of 2023 is putting some work—and time, and money—into his look
By Craig Manning | Feb. 4, 2023

The stereotype used to be that men could roll out of bed and be ready to head out the door in five minutes flat. But according to a new survey, the times they are a-changin’. And by “the times,” we mean the number of minutes it takes the average dude to get all gussied up for a night out on the town.

Indeed, here’s a curveball: According to grooming advice website Tools of Men, the average Michigan man spends 28 minutes getting ready for a night out. That information comes from a nationwide survey—cleverly dubbed “Manscaping Minutes”—that the Tools of Men team executed this past November. One in five Michigan dudes also said they pluck their eyebrows, and 10 percent said they “would be prepared to go into debt buying grooming products.”

While we don’t condone plunging yourself into dire financial straits to buy fancy razors or beard balm, we also can’t help but feel a little excited that old stereotypes and gender norms are being put to rest. There’s certainly nothing wrong with guys wanting to look their best, and if the Tools of Men survey is any indication, a fair amount of work can go into that presentation.

To find out whether the survey findings hold water here in northern Michigan, Northern Express touched base with a pair of dude-focused local businesses to find out what it takes to keep the modern man looking his best. Here’s what we learned.

Fades Are the Fad

Every era has its iconic men’s hairstyles. In the ’90s, grunge cuts and bowl cuts ruled the day. In the 2000s, shaggy, swoopy haircuts were everywhere. These days, the fade is the fad.

A “fade” is an aggressive taper technique, where the hair on the sides and back of the head is cut short but with a taper (or fade) up into significantly longer hair on top.

According to Jackie McNally—a manager at Jude’s Barbershop in Traverse City—the fade is the cut that most guys are asking for these days. While a fade can be tapered to just about any length of hair on top, McNally says the sweet spot tends to be “short faded sides” tapering to 2-3 inches of length on top.

McNally also says fancier and more specialized fades are on the rise. One example is the foil shaver fade, which uses a special type of electric razor to deliver an extremely close shave. Foil shaver fades are characterized by longer hair on top that fades not just to shorter hair, but to bald clean-shaven sides.

Also popular are burst fades and designs, which create more ambitious aesthetics with how the hair is tapered. The burst fade tapers the hair in a semicircular shape behind the ear and is especially popular for mohawk hairstyles on top. A design fade, meanwhile, does precisely what the description says, shaving eye-catching design elements—from stars to swooshy lines—into the tapered hair on the side or back of the head.

The rise of the fade as a prominent hairstyle means that some recent men’s hair fads are on the decline, and McNally says the big casualty is the mullet. That “business in the front, party in the back” hairstyle gained popularity in the ’80s and fell out of favor in the ensuing decades, but it’s come back in recent years thanks in part to the success of Morgan Wallen, the controversial country star whose mullet has become a signature look. Now, McNally says mullets are on the way out again. Ah, the circle of life…

Haircuts Are Happening More Frequently
Maybe it’s because men are becoming more cognizant of their look, or maybe it’s because hairstyles like the fade demand more frequent attention and maintenance than the popular hairstyles of yesteryear. Whatever the reason, McNally says many dudes have gone from viewing haircuts as a “just a few times a year” kind of thing to a regular part of their routine. “They are coming in more frequently, rebooking before they leave, and purchasing products to maintain the look until their next visit,” she explains.

The “rebooking before they leave” model may sound more like a doctor’s office than a barbershop, but it speaks to the increasing vigilance with which modern men think about their grooming and appearance. Thomas Martin, co-founder and co-owner of Jude’s Barbershop, says the business has adapted to the increased demand by making it easier for customers to make appointments.

“Our customers love being able to make an online appointment whenever they want,” Martin explains. “Not having to call or rely on someone to do it for them is really important to guys now.”

In particular, Martin says it’s been beneficial to have a system that lets guys schedule haircuts whenever it occurs to them to do so, rather than having to wait for business hours. “We can see what time of day the appointment was made, and there are appointments being made in the entire 24-hour cycle,” Martin adds.

The Art of Shaving Is Back

The other big shift on the haircut and hairstyling front is that more men are relying on their barbershops and salons to assist with other grooming tasks. Beard care, in particular, has become almost as important to many guys as a snazzy haircut.

Jude’s Barbershop offers services like the “Damn Good Beard Trim” and the “Jude’s Beard Shaping & Conditioning,” both of which Martin says have become extremely popular in recent years. And the auxiliary services that men are asking for from their barbers go even further. “Ear and nose/nostril waxing is very popular and addictive,” Martin tells the Express. “Once you’ve had it done once, you'll want it every time you get a haircut.”

Not so long ago, shaving was a task that many men viewed with little to no affection; it was, at best, a necessary evil. But for Mike Curths—who owns the Traverse City-based lifestyle store Men’s Emporium—shaving has always been more of an art (or even a hobby) than an unsavory task. And in recent years, as more high-end shaving and beard sculpting products have hit the market, Curths says the general opinion on facial hair care has come to align more with the viewpoint he’s always held.

The problem with shaving for many men, Curths maintains, is that they haven’t had the right equipment. The widespread availability of multi-blade razors, cheap shaving creams, and other low-quality facial hair products, he says, has doomed many men to chronic razor burn, ingrown hairs, regular cuts or nicks to the face, and sloppy shaves.

In fact, when Curths launched Men’s Emporium in December 2019, he was at least partially inspired by the realization that all local stores had stopped carrying his choice brand of mustache wax. “People in town stopped selling it because they were going for all the cheap hipster brands that were hitting the market,” he laughs. “I got kind of pissed off and thought, ‘Well, I’m retired, why don’t I just start my own little shaving company?’”

Men’s Emporium ultimately manifested as more than just a shaving company, carrying classic barware and vintage clothes, hats, shoes, and ties (among other products). But shaving and grooming also remain major staples for the shop and are top draws among the majority of the clientele that walks through the door.

One trend Curths has noticed in particular is a growing interest in “wet shaving.”

“That’s really come on big in the last five years or so,” he explains. “Basically, wet shaving uses a special shave soap designed strictly for your face and brush. You put the soap on the brush and then brush it onto your face—it doesn’t come out of a can like cheese—and then you use a safety razor or a straight razor to shave. It takes a little longer, but it gives you a much cleaner and smoother shave.”

Men’s Emporium carries an array of specialty high-end shaving products and tools, including safety razors and straight razors, beard butters, oils, waxes, washes, conditioners, and other beard and mustache care products. Many of those products are from the Michigan-based Detroit Grooming Co., which even has its own Traverse City product line.

For his part, Curths thinks the popularity of these types of wares speak to the same takeaways the Tools of Men survey uncovered: that men simply care more about grooming than they did 5-10 years ago.

“A lot of what’s happening in men’s grooming, I think it shows that men are starting to feel better about themselves and take more time on how they look,” Curths concludes. “And it’s not just about the end result, either. I also carry accessories like the stand that holds your razor and your brush. A lot of men are proud of this stuff and want to display it. It’s like when you’d walk into your grandpa’s house; you can tell it’s serious stuff.”


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