Men's hair products have changed over the years from the wet-head look to the dry look to the spiked look to the popular shaved heads of today. Back in the days of yesteryear a nice taper on the sides and a sharp, crisp part with a nice shine like Hollywood's leading men of old was the norm.
From the 1930's to the 1960s this was accomplished using “hair tonic ” or “hair oil” as it was sometimes called. In those days of the slicked back hair and the side-parted style, the hair was cut with a short to medium taper haircut, leaving just-enough hair length on the top for combing. On average, it was at about 3-inches in length on the top, with the sides tapered very short.
You had to use one of these products:
For nearly 90 years, Brylcreem has been a staple and according to the ads, “a little dab will do ya.” That's all you need to get soft, pliable hair with a sheen thanks to its mineral oil and beeswax. It also has a clean, manly smell.
Like all products it's not perfect. It can leave your hair feeling greasy on account of its oil base and you'll probably have to wash your hair every day or else you’ll get a super thick and gooey build up. And, it probably won't all come out without 2-3 washes. For some teens the oil can cause acne around the hairline. Also, if it's a hot day you could end up sweating the stuff all down you face. In the old days, Brylcreem was often referred to as “greasy kids’ stuff.
The answer to Brylcreem shortcomins was Vitalis Hair Tonic if you wanted shiny, but not greasy, hair. It dries out, so in order to maintain the shine, you have to use it several times a day. It dries out because of the high alcohol content which also leaves you with a slightly antiseptic smell.
Groom and Clean is water based so it doesn’t leave your hair feeling greasy, but it gives you all day hold with that slick vintage Hollywood look. It's water based so washes out easily. The ads claimed it also washed away dirt and dandruff and left your hair feeling nice and clean.
Since 1925, Murray’s Pomade has been popular for it's dual characteristics of shine and hold. The stuff was invented by a Chicago African-American barber, C.D. Murray, and was originally marketed to black men. Back in the day of the butch haircut white guys found it ideal for making their short hair stick straight up. It's thick and greasy and people often had little tricks to warm it up so it would go on better. The stuff is hard to get rid of once it gets in your hair though. The recommended way is to use liquid dish washing soap! It also has been known to cause acne along the hairline.
Finally, the stuff I used back in the 1950s, Wildroot Cream Oil. Infused with lanolin, it kept your hair slick and shiny. Best of all, it had a much thinner consistency than the other hair products and has a nice mild scent. On the downside, it is pretty oily and it, too, can sweat out. Also, there was the problem that it didn't soak in or cling to your hair, or whatever the other stuff did and sometimes after combing you hair there would be gobs of the white stuff in the teeth of the comb.
Elvis Presley's hair was actually sandy blond just like mine. But, unlike me, Elvis wanted black hair. When Elvis was in the Army, he couldn't dye it, but he did get highlights.
A guy named Larry Geller had a lot to do with Elvis' hair style. Geller opened up the first hair salon just for men in West Hollywood in 1964 and catered to the likes of Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson and Steve McQueen, but he gave up the business when he was offered the chance to become Elvis’ personal hairstylist for movies and concerts.
Elvis's hair got a lot of attention from Geller who would be on the movie sets and at concerts constantly adjusting Elvis's and making it sure it looked just right.
None of the above store bought hair stuff for Elvis though! Geller also used to experiment on Elvis's hair. He'd go to a health food store and get a mild shampoo, vitamin capsules, pure aloe vera and other herbs into it and mix them up. Elvis didn't mind all the experimenting, but did tell Geller to make sure he didn't use anything that would cause his hair to fall out.
The two had a daily routine that usually included a daily shampoo and a scalp massage then brushing for 50-60 strokes. Sometimes vitamin E and jojoba oil were used and then hairspray to keep everything in place. Hair spray brands had to be alternated to keep it from drying out too much. And, when the black needed touched up every 2-3 weeks, L’Oreal hair coloring was used.