11 Retro Grooming Products That Kept Dads Looking Dapper

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Once upon a time, the old man (and his old man) were dashing young rakes who got all dressed up and spit-shined before going out on the town. These were a few of the vintage grooming products that he used to look and smell his best.

1. Brylcreem

The secret to achieving shiny patent leather hair à la Clark Gable or Tyrone Power was Brylcreem. Apparently, nothing drove women wild back then like a head that Exxon could use to pump 20 barrels of oil a day. The company's slogan was "a little dab will do ya," but judging from the way their hair stayed plastered in place, it appears that most men were overdoing the dabs.

2. Vitalis

Even after Clark, Tyrone, Cary, et al. had been replaced onscreen by Marlon Brando and James Dean, Brylcreem was still embraced by younger men who constantly combed the stuff through their ducktails. (Those Fonzie-types weren't called "greasers" because they ate a lot of deep-fried food.) When Brylcreem started to get identified with teenage hoods, the makers of Vitalis water-based hair tonic had a brainstorm and launched an advertising campaign disparaging grown men who still used that "greasy kid stuff." The phrase went viral and was even the topic of a 1962 novelty tune by Janie Grant.

3. Groom & Clean

Another water-based pomade, Groom & Clean's main selling point was that, with regular use, you could just run a wet comb through your hair to remove unsightly oil and dandruff. Because God forbid you should try shampooing more than once a week.

4. Afro Sheen

Men who wanted to blow out their hair to Clarence Williams III-size proportions turned to Johnson Products' Afro Sheen Blowout Kit. The kit was so popular it helped cement Johnson Products as one of the country's biggest African American-owned businesses, and it was the first African American-owned company to be traded publicly on the stock exchange.

5. Dry Control by Vitalis

Once men started growing their hair longer and feathering it, they needed something manly to protect it from the elements. Plain ol' Aquanet would have done the trick, but professional athletes don't want to go around smelling like a beauty parlor, do they? Gillette introduced The Dry Look in the early 1970s, and once it proved to be successful, Vitalis followed suit with Dry Control. Legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan, quarterback Bob Griese, and NBA Hall of Famer Pete Maravich all appeared in TV commercials for the product, thus providing it with some definite testosterone credentials.

6. Wildroot Cream Oil Hair Tonic

In the 1920s, the makers of Wildroot advertised it as a treatment for "falling hair"—that is, it would help to prevent baldness. Once the Federal Trade Commission started getting picky about such claims, Wildroot was promoted as a tonic in the same vein as Brylcreem. The secret ingredient was lanolin, which certainly held one's hair in place; it also tended to cause acne-like eruptions around the hairline among the more sensitive-skinned folks.

7. Aqua Velva

When Aqua Velva aftershave originally hit store shelves in 1937, it was the color of straw and had a fairly high alcohol content. In fact, during World War II, military base exchanges couldn't restock the product fast enough. But soldiers and seamen weren't buying Aqua Velva for its skin-bracing effect—they were drinking the stuff! It was cheaper and more readily available than liquor. The Ice Blue variety was a result of the WWII abuse—the government asked maker J.B. Williams to add something to their product to discourage anyone from drinking it, and the bittering agent the company used turned the product bright blue without changing the fragrance. But military types weren't dissuaded: They simply poured the product through a slice of bread before drinking to remove the bitterness, essentially filtering it. Civilian males, meanwhile, started buying up the product because of that cool blue color.

8. Hai Karate

Hai Karate aftershave launched in 1967 in an effort to capitalize on the burgeoning martial arts craze. Thanks to his role as Kato on TV's The Green Hornet, Bruce Lee had become a name in the U.S. and chop-socky movies were gaining a cult following. Hai Karate's success was mainly due to an imaginative advertising campaign, wherein any male who used the tantalizing fragrance (which actually had a sort of sickening patchouli incense-type smell) would immediately attract so many sex-crazed women that he'd have to resort to taekwondo to fend them off.

9. Lectric Shave

Aftershaves tend to get all the attention, but Williams Lectric Shave is a before shave product. Electric shavers were quick and efficient, but they just didn't give the close cut of a traditional razor. Enter Lectric Shave, which contained enough alcohol to close the facial pores and lift the whiskers away from the skin a tad, as well as some isopropyl myristate, which acts as a non-greasy emollient that helps the skin retain moisture.

10. Bay Rum

Once upon a time every barbershop reeked of Bay Rum when you first stepped inside. It was the stuff the barber slapped on a man's face after giving him a good old-fashioned straight-razor shave. According to the label, it "invigorated and stimulated" the skin, which is marketing-speak for "it stings like a sonuvagun!" But it did smell good—so good in fact, that there are Bay Rum DIY guides out there.

11. Noxzema Medicated Shaving Cream

Sure, many men still regularly use this product each morning, but how many of them visualize former Miss Sweden Gunilla Knutsson seductively encouraging them to "Take it off. Take it allll off" while they scrape the stubble away? Shaving in the 1960s was a much sexier affair.

This story was updated in 2019.

5 Hilarious Discoveries from the 2019 Ig Nobel Prize Winners

andriano_cz/iStock via Getty Images
andriano_cz/iStock via Getty Images

Each September, the Ig Nobel Prizes (a play on the word ignoble) are given out to scientists who have wowed the world with their eccentric, imaginative achievements. Though the experiments are usually scientifically sound and the results are sometimes truly illuminating, that doesn’t make them any less hilarious. From postal workers’ scrotal temperatures to cube-shaped poop, here are our top five takeaways from this year’s award-winning studies.

1. Left and right scrota often differ in temperature, whether you’re naked or not.

Roger Mieusset and Bourras Bengoudifa were awarded the anatomy prize for testing the scrotum temperatures in clothed and naked men in various positions. They found that in some postal workers, bus drivers, and other clothed civilians, the left scrotum is warmer than the right, while in some naked civilians, the opposite is true. They suggest that this discrepancy may contribute to asymmetry in the shape and size of male external genitalia.

2. 5-year-old children produce about half a liter of saliva per day.

Shigeru Watanabe and his team nabbed the chemistry prize for tracking the eating and sleeping habits of 15 boys and 15 girls to discover that, regardless of gender, they each produce about 500 milliliters of spit per day. Children have lower salivary flow rates than adults, and they also sleep longer (we produce virtually no saliva when we sleep), so it seems like they may generate much less saliva than adults. However, since children also spend more time eating than adults (when the most saliva is produced), the average daily levels are about even—at least, according to one of Watanabe’s previous studies on adult saliva.

3. Scratching an ankle itch feels even better than scratching other itches.

Ghada A. bin Saif, A.D.P. Papoiu, and their colleagues used cowhage (a plant known to make people itchy) to induce itches on the forearms, ankles, and backs of 18 participants, whom they then asked to rate both the intensity of the itch and the pleasure derived from scratching it. Subjects felt ankle and back itches more intensely than those on their forearms, and they also rated ankle and back scratches higher on the pleasure scale. While pleasure levels dropped off for back and forearm itches as they were scratched, the same wasn’t true for ankle itches—participants still rated pleasurability higher even while the itchy feeling subsided. Perhaps because there’s no peace quite like that of scratching a good itch, the scientists won the Ig Nobel peace prize for their work.

4. Elastic intestines help wombats create their famous cubed poop.

In the final 8 percent of a wombat’s intestine, feces transform from a liquid-like state into a series of small, solid cubes. Patricia Yang, David Hu, and their team inflated the intestines of two dead wombats with long balloons to discover that this formation is caused by the elastic quality of the intestinal wall, which stretches at certain angles to form cubes. For solving the mystery, Yang and Hu took home the physics award for the second time—they also won in 2015 for testing the theory that all mammals can empty their bladders in about 21 seconds.

5. Romanian money grows bacteria better than other money.

Habip Gedik and father-and-son pair Timothy and Andreas Voss earned the economics prize by growing drug-resistant bacteria on the euro, U.S. dollar, Canadian dollar, Croatian luna, Romanian leu, Moroccan dirham, and Indian rupee. The Romanian leu was the only one to yield all three types of bacteria tested—Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci. The Croatian luna produced none, and the other banknotes each produced one. The results suggest that the Romanian leu was most susceptible to bacteria growth because it was the only banknote in the experiment made from polymers rather than textile-based fibers.

Visit Any National Park for Free on September 28—or Volunteer to Help Maintain Them

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Nick Hanauer/iStock via Getty Images

By the end of September—which always seems especially busy, even if you’re not a student anymore—you might be ready for a small break from the hustle and bustle. On Saturday, September 28, you can bask in the tranquility of any national park for free, as part of National Public Lands Day.

According to the National Park Service, the holiday has been held on the fourth Saturday of every September since 1994, and it’s also the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort. It’s up to you whether you’d like to partake in the service side or simply go for a stroll, but there is an added incentive to volunteer: You’ll get a one-day park pass that you can use for free park entry on a different day. Opportunities for volunteering include trail restoration, invasive plant removal, park cleanups, and more; you can see the details and filter by park, state, and/or type of event here.

If you’re not sure how you should celebrate National Public Lands Day, the National Park Service has created a handy flowchart to help you choose the best course of action for you—which might be as simple as sharing your favorite outdoor activity on social media with the hashtag #NPLD.

National public lands day celebration flowchart
National Park Service

There are more than 400 areas run by the National Park Service across the U.S., and many of them aren’t parks in the traditional sense of the word; the Statue of Liberty, Alcatraz Island, and countless other monuments and historical sites are also run by the NPS. Wondering if there might be one closer than you thought? Explore parks in your area on this interactive map.

For those of you who can’t take advantage of the free admission on September 28, the National Park Service will also waive all entrance fees for Veteran’s Day on November 11.

And, if you’re wishing a free-admission day existed for museums, you’re in luck—more than 1500 museums will be free to visit on Museum Day, which happens to be this Saturday.

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