Simon Cowell stepped out this week with his shirt as usual unbuttoned almost to his navel, he showed off something which made millions of men up and down the country wince. His chest had clearly been waxed quite radically, baring the top third of his torso, while the backs of his hands had also undergone the same beauty treatment. Male grooming at its ‘finest’.
While women might have shuddered in sympathy at the pain he had likely been through, many men recoiled for another reason entirely. The X Factor mogul may have many of the trappings of the alpha male, he is rich and successful, and often photographed in the company of beautiful women – but the feeling persists among millions of males that men just shouldn’t go to such lengths for their appearance.
The 50-year-old has certainly broken the old school rules on what you should expect from men on the cosmetics front. Toothpaste, soap, deodorant and maybe some shampoo, the traditionalists would say. Even aftershave and hair gel in the past would have been considered a little vain.
But the times are certainly a-changing, with moisturisers, hand creams and hair conditioner appearing in growing numbers of men’s Christmas stockings. Even hair straighteners are said to have a home in some lad’s pads in the New Town and the Shore.
It isn’t just the fashion-conscious “metrosexuals” who are getting closer to their feminine side, but apparently blokes who love going to the pub and the football too. Liz Mitchell, cosmetic sales manager for Jenners, says younger men generally have a different approach to grooming from the previous generations.
“Men are far more aware of what is available,” she said. “In the past they might have sent their wife or girlfriend to do their shopping, but that isn’t the case any more. There’s less embarrassment too. Men don’t mind coming in and asking questions and listening to advice on their skin.”
The increasing devotion of some men to their appearance goes way beyond moisturiser and skin care. Caroline McCracken, who owns West End beauty salon Elements, has seen a vast change in numbers coming through the doors for treatments such as eyebrow tidying, eyelash tinting and facials. “Ten years ago you might have got the odd bloke in for a back massage, but that would be it,” she says.
Now hundreds are coming through the door every year, with Ms McCracken saying it is as much about feeling good as looking good. “Yes, there’s less embarrassment about this kind of thing now,” she adds. “But people are under more stress, I see guys who just want a facial so they can have their face rubbed for an hour to relax them. “Sometimes you’ll do these treatments and the guy will come back a month later having not put a single dollop of cream on his face. It is mainly the younger generation who come in, and then with guys in their 30s and 40s it’s about looking a bit younger. “I think most women want a man who does look after himself and looks his best, without being too vain.”
The influence of “metrosexual” males in the media spotlight, like David Beckham and even Simon Cowell, has been a big factor, says Jackie Glen, managing director of The Dermal Clinic, which has ten branches across Edinburgh.
“There is so much more awareness now of the male image, it isn’t just ladies who look after themselves,” she says. “It goes way beyond moisturiser, we’re seeing a lot of guys come in for Botox especially.
“It’s all kinds of people who come as well, some very manly men want to boost their appearance. I think they want to make the best of what they have got.”
Beauty product companies have been targeting the male market since the shift in interest levels first became perceptible at the turn of the millennium. Now it is huge business.
“The male beauty industry is no longer a niche market, with sales of male beauty products accounting for nearly £700 million of spending in the UK last year,” says publicist Sarah Howden, who has worked with brands including Giorgio Armani Cosmetics and Kiehl’s.
“The cosmetics industry has helped fuel this demand, with brands such as Clinique and Clarins launching men’s skin care ranges. It’s safe to say that simple soap and water is a thing of the past.”
For men – and women – who are despairing about the passing of “real blokes” there is hope. Fashion writer and Evening News columnist Lynne McCrossan, 26, is one woman who is not a fan of today’s metrosexual male.
“I’m more of the Roy Keane persuasion,” she says. “I like men to be men, and leave all the pampering and treatments to girls. They’ve been that way for thousands of years and I don’t see why it has to change now.”