That fashion is cyclical is known, but examples that prove it amuse me all the same. I’m a watch wearer – in fact, that’s the only jewel I wear – so a go-to example of this has been the way leather straps and metal straps took turns being fashionable on wristwatches. Another wave I’ve seen come and go is anti-fits and skinny jeans. Yet another, from the world of cosmetics, is gloss and matte. But the most glaring, in your face, actually on your face, example is beards. And it’s a great case study on the way consumerism follows changing social mores.
A generation ago, men were expected to turn up clean-shaven to formal meetings like job interviews and such. In fact, being unshaven was alarming not just because one looked unkempt, but because it often meant one was going through a rough patch in life. At his worst, Dilip Kumar’s Devdas sprouted a beard.
But today, as I look around me, I see that almost every young man sports a beard and is no less ‘ready’ for an official event or meeting than his clean-shaven counterpart from three decades ago was. I don’t know if I can attribute this trend to the popularity of Virat Kohli, but I suspect he has something to do with it. Speaking of whom, I’m reminded of a year old LinkedIn post by someone about the uncanny irony in a photo of the victorious Indian cricket team, beards and all, posing below a huge sign erected by the series sponsor… Gillette.
With these burgeoning beards has come a slew of grooming products like beard oil, beard wax, beard wash, crèmes and combs. Yet, this is only half the tale. While facial hair has become fashionable, body hair, a sign of masculinity in the ’90s and early 2000s has become a peeve. I recall a nasty joke from my school days about the amount of body hair Anil Kapoor had - Question: What brand of shampoo should he endorse? Answer: Head & Chest. It was a pun on Head & Shoulders, of course.
In a recent advert for Veet’s body hair removal cream for men, Kartik Aaryan, embarrassed by his body hair, “finds his sexy” in a hairless chest. He sports a stubble – somewhere between the 5 o’clock shadow and a proper beard, I’ll say – though.
Let’s leave the era of chest shavers and beard oils for a moment and step into the past, when machismo was tied to a clean-shaven face. The copywriting from that time is so telling: In an old ad, Godrej lather shaving cream, with a little help from an edible Milind Soman, promised men “mardana josh”. Palmolive shaving cream was positioned as “jaanbaaz, kamyaab mardon ke liye”. Isn’t it fascinating, though, that Kapil Dev -like several other models in ads for shaving products from that zamaana- was shown shaving just his beard, not his mustache?
Similarly, Wiltedge blades were for “saaf, chikni daadhi”. Old Spice shaving cream was positioned as “the mark of a man”; in the commercial, a badass on a horse, with his mooch intact by the way, plays polo while an attractive woman flips her hair as she looks on admiringly. Topaz razors also claimed to turn men into lady magnets; the copy went thus: “jab bhi main baahar niklu shave banake, kai haseena raaste mein dekhe muskurakey…” More recently, Gillette has been the poster boy for the cause with its 'Women against lazy stubble' message.
We’ve entered 2020. As the new decade rolls along, what will become of masculinity in the context of beards and body hair? What will the mard of Indian ads look like in 2030?
Image taken from Kartik Aaryan's Instagram page. Credit: Filmfare photoshoot
All ad films referenced in the article:
Wiltedge ad starts at 1:09 in the video above