Brylcreem and Wildroot
barber shop

     Tonic Time

 In a modern barber shop, you take the chair, and -- buzz, buzz -- the sound of clippers. In an old shop, you sit in the chair and -- blurp, blurp -- the sound of tonic. The moment of truth for a modern guy comes when he first takes the chair, and begins to sweat, hoping he knows enough barber code to get a good haircut.

       In an old shop, you weren't worried about the haircut. The barber was a pro. You leaned back in the chair, relaxed and watched the game. The moment of truth came later, after the clipper and razor. "This is the time," a period barber manual explains, "to suggest a shampoo, hair tonic, or any other hair and scalp service."

       At the end of the haircut, the barber would pose the question, "Comb it wet or dry?" The right answer was "wet," for a couple of reasons. One, the barber would like to give you a tonic -- and maybe convince you to buy a bottle for home use. "Buy your home needs from your barber -- he has the best," advised a sign on the wall; and two, he cut your hair to be slicked down.

       So the clipper part was almost just a technicality between the two tonics. The haircut might vary, but the pre and post actions were the same. If you were already slicked up, he might skip the grease and go right to the rake, combing and recombing to find the natural part.


        Brylcreem was the word on the street, popular since the 'twenties, and now found in the back pocket of every long-haired greaser. But barbers preferred Wildroot Cream-Oil, Charlie, and a little dab didn't do you, you got a generous dollop, with a second helping if your dad had just marched you in to get a "man's haircut."

       In the 'sixties, Gillette invented "the dry look," and proclaimed, "The wet head is dead." Now when the barber asked, "Comb it wet or dry?" "dry" came to mean hairspray, previously the province of bouffants, and "wet," plain water. Vitalis had already launched a fierce campaign against "greasy kid's stuff," AKA Brylcreem, "The best-selling hairdressing in the world." But even Vitalis, with it's "greaseless grooming discovery, V7," lost out to  H2O and Aqua Net in the rage for the dry look.

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