Guys aren’t born with an instinctive knowledge of how to look the way they want to look. We don’t exit the womb with manscaping and moisturizing best practices etched in our brains — it’s something that’s (hopefully) picked up over time, from parents, from peers, even from porn. We were curious how that education has evolved, and where it stands today, so we checked in with a few grooming experts to help us understand how modern men decide what look is right for them, and how to achieve that wished-for appearance.
Back in the day, of course, most dudes took their cues from Dad. “First it was [moisturizer], what my father rubbed briskly between his palms,” remembered Tom Junod in a 1996 GQ piece entitled “My Father’s Fashion Tips.” “‘How about a bit of the Lube?’ he’d say when I walked into his bathroom. ‘If you want to stay young, you have to keep well lubricated.’ I was, like, 8-years-old.”
Writer Richard Armour recalled watching his father shave with a straight razor, pulling the skin taught in preparation of swiping from cheekbone to chin. “When he scraped around his Adam’s apple, with a good chance of cutting his throat, I had to turn away until I thought the danger was past.”
Granted, there were gaps in the paternal grooming curriculum. Dads tended to celebrate a son’s new beard by sharing a beer rather than warning him about the danger of shaving it against the grain. “Which is why guys all ran around with razor burn,” notes grooming expert Diana Schmidtke, whose celebrity clients include George Clooney, Ben Affleck and Wagner Moura (Pablo Escobar on Narcos.) As such, for years it tended to be the women in a young man’s life who influenced his grooming regimen the most; maybe he stole a dab of his mom’s conditioner or his sister’s acne medication in preparation for prom.
On eventually realizing that — let’s face it — the goal was to make himself more attractive to potential mates, that’s whose opinion the average guy began valuing the most. “It kind of shifted in the 1990s and 2000s,” Schmidtke says. “Girlfriends would say, ‘Babe, you need this eye cream. Babe, you need to moisturize. Let’s face mask together.” And he listened. The pivot from patriarchal to a more gender-balanced grooming mindset finally centered itself around an age-old, elemental query: What do women want?
“That’s always been the question,” explains anthropologist and cultural strategist Jamie Gordon. “That’s why porn somehow joined the conversation in the seventies and eighties — dudes (mistakenly) thought that was actually how women wanted them to look, because someone sold them that idea.” These days, Gordon says grooming trends are guided by a phenomenon she calls educated self-actualization, essentially a way for guys to express who they want to be through their appearance.
The educated part has led men to the Internet, which now almost exclusively educates them on how they’re supposed to look when naked. That’s where guys like Aaron Marino come in. Blogger, image consultant and co-founder of the StyleCon conference “for the modern man,” Marino’s instructional Youtube manscaping videos are referenced by men seeking answers to delicate questions they’re either too squeamish to ask Dad about, or too afraid he’ll actually give them an answer. In one video, for example, he offers a detailed tutorial on shaving your balls. “Testicle skin is the smartest skin on your body,” a bathrobe-clad, razor-clutching Marino explains to his channel subscribers — more than five million of them.
Inquiring young minds can now learn about sensitive grooming matters openly and honestly. “And anonymously,” adds Marino. “When I was growing up, I had to fumble through all this stuff by myself. How did I learn not to shave my butt crack hair with a razor? The hard way. It was incredibly uncomfortable.” Now if a guy wants to know how to shave his butt, he’ll Google it and probably find Marino’s Youtube video.
The more high-end grooming clientele is also taking direction from social media, according to John Allan, owner of a network of premier men’s grooming clubs bearing his name in New York, Beverly Hills, Chicago, Toronto and San Francisco. “These days, I don’t have to explain to my customers the importance of sunscreen or moisturizing. They’re asking me whether a pomade is wax-based or water-based. 15 years ago I’d never be asked that. You really gotta be on top of your game with these guys now.”
Today’s man knows he doesn’t need to rely on the status quo or bits of knowledge passed down from elders — it’s simply a matter of clicking through to the right Instagram feed or YouTube channel. “Facebook is significant too,” says Gordon. “Social movements like No Shave November allow guys to use their masculinity as a vehicle to connect to something bigger. Facebook gives them an opportunity to belong, but the inspiration for the actual look comes from broader popular culture — characters from movies, TV shows, bands and even religious figures like Jesus.”
Youtube is the one-stop-DIY-shop for educated self-actualization. Because if a guy takes the time to decide who or what it is he wants to be and emulate — from Drake to Draper to Jesus Christ — he wants to do it right. “It’s where guys are going for everything,” says Marino. “All day long. Not their buddies, friends, uncles or Dads. It’s Youtube. It’s where they’re learning how to tie a tie. It’s where they’re learning etiquette. And it’s where they learn how to actually groom themselves. They model their own grooming regimen after their favorite Youtubers — guys like me.”
Like everything else, the Internet is revolutionizing the way guys take care of themselves in the bathroom. Fax machines and porn magazines have become obsolete — now so too is Dad’s grooming advice. And once guys went online to learn how best to manage their undercarriages, they discovered a whole new set of (anonymous) grooming influencers to replace their girlfriend’s advice, too. No one can know exactly what the future will hold, but one thing’s certain: If it involves guys wondering if they should be trimming downstairs, they’ll be finding the answer online.