(This is a very belated continuation of an earlier weekly feature, the archives of which can be found here. If we can get our act together, this will normally appear every Sunday.)
Grooming is as essential as, or even more essential than, a well-planned wardrobe to being elegant and well-dressed. It's impossible to be truly well-turned out if your fingernails are dirty (or untrimmed); if you look unclean or unshaven; if your clothing is wrinkled or soiled. An impeccably cut suit will not disguise your lack of deodorant, or sleep-matted hair.
We all know the very basics: a good bath or shower; a thorough face wash; brushing of teeth and mouthwash; application of deodorant; these go without saying. But here are a few products and practices which you may have overlooked, in the order in which we implement them in our daily routine.
- Lube it up and take it off. Your stubble, that is. We estimate that about only 2% of the actual male population genuinely looks sexy, ruggedly handsome, or mysterious with day- or days-old scruff. Most of us just look like unshaven clots. Here's how we do it: first, apply a hot washcloth to the face to open up the pores. Then, apply a thin yet substantial layer of shaving oil (we vouch for Anthony's Pre-Shave Oil). This last step is essential, as it ensures a smooth shave and drastically reduces your chances for nicks or scratches. Apply shaving cream over the oil. Shave with the grain of your beard. Rinse with warm water, then apply a hot washcloth again. Reapply shaving oil and shaving cream, then shave again (this time with a feather-light touch), against the grain of your beard. Rinse again with warm water, then cold to close the pores. Also: remember that your stubble grows back. We shave once in the morning, and once again in the evening if we're going out for dinner, a party, etc.
- Lend a helping hand. Remember to examine your hands before you leave the house: as corny as it sounds, rough, chapped or ill-cared-for hands are thoroughly unpleasant to look at, and certainly no pleasure to shake hands with. This means trimmed, clipped fingernails (if you do indulge in the luxury of a manicure, and you are a man, we beseech you: skip the clear polish and just get them buffed) and moisturized skin. We heartily endorse the good old-fashioned, inexpensive, readily-available Neutrogena Norweigan Formula Hand Cream. It forms a practically seal-tight protective layer of moisture, yet doesn't feel greasy or sticky - far more effective, and far less expensive, than any of the hoity-toity concoctions we've tried over the years. And while we don't thoroughly approve of the practice of wearing flip-flops or sandals on the city streets, the habit has become so ubiquitous that we're somewhat resigned to it and simply ask that if you must show your feet to the world, then please take the same care in their appearance and maintenance.
- Donna Mills was right - the eyes have it. Bloodshot, tired-looking eyes give you the appearance of a mug shot. Make Visine part of your daily morning ritual. And although two or three years ago, we wouldn't have even thought about eye cream, time waits for no man, and it is now a necessity. Fresh's Lotus Eye Gel is cooling, calming and refreshing, and the only application with which we've had marked, almost-instantaneous results.
- Grease is not the word! No one likes to look at a greasy visage. After moisturizing, we apply a very thin layer of Cosmedicine's Medi-Matte formula to our T-zone, which keeps us looking shine-free for the better part of the day. We also always have a fresh cotton handkerchief tucked in our breast pocket to pat our brow with as needed, especially during the brutal New York City summers.
- Use common sense when applying your scent. Your arrival shouldn't be heralded by your smell. Also, dispense with the atomizer and use the splash bottle of your cologne: rubbing it directly onto the skin is more effective, and won't tempt you to over-spritz yourself. We apply some to our chest, just above our Secret Gentleman Place, and behind our knees and elbows, but not to the neck or throat. This way, our delightful aroma is only detectable at very close range. We also recommend switching your fragrances with the seasons; in the warmer months, we prefer a more bracing, citrus-y scent, while the cooler weather finds us embracing muskier, spicier scents.
- You never know how many frogs and princes you might meet today. Don't forget an application of lip balm. Cracked, chapped lips are revolting and, we suspect, unsanitary. For years, we swore by Prada Beauty's lip balm capsules, which last for hours and don't look glossy; but honestly, a few swipes of plain Chap Stick does the job just as well.
- Stay band box fresh and snappy. Your outfit should not only be laundry-day clean and fresh, but also scrupulously pressed. We realize that this can sound either expensive or time consuming, or both, but we must insist upon it. Who would honestly want to admit to wearing dirty clothes? And while wrinkles on your face may show character and experience, wrinkles on your outfit just show laziness and sloppiness.
- Sparkle, Neely, sparkle! This includes your footwear, too. Besides taking care of your shoes (invest in good cedar trees, ideally purchased at the same time as your shoes, in the same last) when they're not in use, you should always have a fresh shine on them in order to put your best foot forward. A classic shoeshine runs around $3 plus tip, which we think pays major dividends; or you can invest in a good polishing set and DIY. Just as cheap footwear will sink an otherwise well-constructed outfit, the most expensive bespoke shoes will look cheap if not properly cared for, and be a disgraceful waste of money besides.
So, there you have it: our personal best practices for facing the world with grace and confidence. Just remember that the main objective in being well-groomed is appearing fresh, neat, clean. "Grooming," particularly for men, takes on a slightly negative conotation when one overdoes it. (Put down the eyebrow tweezer and self-tanner immediately!) Being well-groomed should never be confused with being overtly plucked, waxed or made up.
One final note: we feel that grooming and another G word, graciousness, go hand in hand. Looking one's best is poor compensation for a sour or surly disposition. And, frankly, we're well aware that when we're not in the best of moods, it shows on our face and in our attitude - which means that we're far from looking our best, after all.