The Pomade Guide

Pomade Guide & Hair Product Test: Sweet Georgia Brown, Murray’s & Royal Crown

Clothing aside, very little influences your outward appearance as much as you hair style. While there was limited variety of men’s hair cuts 100 years ago, the modern man has the freedom to style his hair in any way he likes. All kinds of new hair styles evolved and with them, even more hair products. In this article, I want to focus on a vintage product that is not really popular anymore, although it has a niche following and is still available at most convenient stores in the US: Pomade.

Brilliantine

Brilliantine

History of Pomade

Lately, it seems as if Pomade is often associated with the Rock’n Roll era of the 1950′s. Rat Packers used it in the old fashioned way, but many young style icons used it to create revolutionary new hair styles and youth further utilized to express their rebellious thoughts . Styles such as the Pompadour, Flat Top or Duck Tail were only possible with the support of shiny pomade, and consequently, certain pomades reached near-cult status. Even in the 1960′s, men used it, and with the current Mad Men fascination, people also realize that men like Don Draper  would have worn pomade (although in the show, they use a mix Redken hair gel and TRI Professional Haircare spray).

Rudolph Valentino with Slick Back Pomade Hair Style

Rudolph Valentino with Slick Back Pomade Hair Style

However, by the 1960s, pomade had already developed into a hair product staple for most men. During the first half of the 20th century, there was not much else besides hair oil and Brilliantine. Film idols such as Rudolph Valentino, Ramón Novarro and later Cary Grant helped to idolize the shiny but cleanly combed, classic look of their hair, which could be easily achieved with this inexpensive hair product.

But even back, pomade was used. In the 18th century, it was considered to be rather exclusive and as such, it was accessible only to the gentry. The term pomade is derived from the French pommade, which is an adaptation of the Italian pomo (apple) and the latin pomum (fruit). Originally, this substance used to be some kind of ointment that was derived from apples, animal fats, and herbs. It was not until the late 18th century that people used it for cosmetic purposes in their hair.

Despite its long standing upper-class heritage, pomade has lost its luster for most men today. In Europe, it is only available at specialty stores, and even in the US it is usually hidden on the bottom shelf, gathering dust. You can find at least one kind of pomade at every supermarket or even online.

Sweet Georgia Brown, Murray’s Superior Hair Dressing Pomade & Royal Crown

Royal Crown, Sweet Georgia Brown & Murray's

Royal Crown, Sweet Georgia Brown & Murray’s

Three of the most widely available pomades are Sweet Georgia Brown, Murray’s Superior Hair Dressing Pomade & Royal Crown. In the following, I would like to share the ingredients and the characteristics of these three products.

Ingredients

Unlike modern day hair gels, pomade consists of refreshingly few, basic ingredients: fat and scent.

Today, most pomades are based on paraffin – a byproduct of oil refinement – and when it is further refined, one ends up with a colorless, unscented product such as Vaseline. Before that, people used animal fats from bears or pigs to make pomade. The only animal fats that are widely used in cosmetics anymore are bee’s wax and wool wax – a byproduct of wool production.

The base materials are then enhanced with natural or synthetic fragrances, as well as olive oil and coconut fat. On the one hand, the fat defines the hardness of the pomade and on the other hand, it provides a certain shine. Apart from that, many claim that it revitalizes their scalp and dry hair.

Cary Grant with Pomade Hair Style

Cary Grant with Pomade Hair Style

The Pomade Effect

Once the product is applied, your hair will have a silky, sophisticated shine that makes you look quite debonair. Since Pomade harden, your hair will remain soft and loose enough to run a comb through. Also, it will not dry your hair out unlike modern day gels, which often contain alcohol.

Sweet Georgia Brown

Ever since 1934, this pomade has been produced according to the same recipe and it is probably one of most well known pomades from the era. The ingredients are very simple: yellow Vaseline and perfume. Mostly loved for its bitter-sweet scent, it may not be to everyone’s taste, especially since it lasts for quite a while.

It is easily applied to one’s hair and provides decent results for men with thin hair, whereas it cannot tame thicker hair very well because it is too soft. Hence, the manufacturer created a water-based, purple version of Sweet Georgia Brown. Both come in tins and the classic version hasn’t been changed from the original tin design from the 30s – what products can you think of that have not changed their design in the last 80 years?

You can buy it for about $7.

Murray’s Superior Hair Dressing Pomade

Vintage Looking Pomade Tins

Vintage Looking Pomade Tins

Murray’s is probably the most well known and most widely available pomade on the market today. Since 1925, Murray’s from Wyoming has been distributing various hair products and their classic Murray’s Superior pomade has the very same ingredients as the first recipe: Vaseline, mineral oil, perfume. It is one of the hardest pomades available and as such, it is used by film crews in Hollywood quite regularly. However, just because the pros know how to handle it, does not mean that it is for everyone. Pomade novices especially should try softer alternatives in the beginning, because this one is assuredly more difficult to use. Once you know how to apply it to your hair, your style will last throughout the day, and once again you will still be able to comb through it. With its soft vanilla smell and matte shine, it is particularly suitable for men who have thicker hair and want to have dapper looking hair all day and night. It comes in its signature orange tin.

It costs about $6 for three 3oz tins.

Murray's Superior Hard Pomade

Murray’s Superior Hard Pomade

Murray’s Super Light

Moreover, Murray’s produces the Superior Light pomade, which is much more shiny and soft that the original. Advanced users sometimes mix the different pomades in order to achieve just the right look with a medium shine and some hold. It is made out of Vaseline, Lanolin and Aloe as well as a bit of coconut oil, which makes for a pleasant scent.

It runs about $2.40 per tin.

Royal Crown Pomade

Royal Crown Pomade

Royal Crown

The Royal Crown pomade has been made by J. Strickland & Co. in Memphis, Tennessee since 1938. Unlike the other pomades, it contains some olive oil along with Vaseline and perfume. It has a dominant shine and provides light to medium hold while smelling a bit like honey and marigold.

Apart from this authentic version, there is also a Royal Crown Pomade for Men that is a littler harder. Both come in tins of course!

About $6 for a 5oz tin.

How to Choose Pomade

Ramon Novarro Hair Style

Ramon Novarro Hair Style

If you decide to give pomade a try, you should start with a medium soft to soft version because it is easily applicable to one’s hair and enables you to learn how to handle pomade without getting frustrated. It is much different than modern products, and a little patience and practice is required. Compared to other hair products, pomade lasts a very long time because you only need a tiny bit for each application. In case you prefer more hold, mix in some harder pomade as you get more comfortable with it.

Generally, it is advisable to buy a number of different kinds and decide what you like best. Since most tins cost just a few bucks, it is hardly a big investment. If you have thicker hair, go for a harder pomade and if you like it shiny, opt for a pomade that contains more oil.

Application

Sweet Georgia Brown - Scented Pomade

Sweet Georgia Brown – Scented Pomade

Before you apply pomade, make sure to get fully dressed, because the product can easily transfer to your clothes; the product doesn’t “dry” and therefore it”s always good to do your hair last.

Especially with hard pomade, you may want to heat them up beforehand – either with a hair dryer or in warm water, but not in the microwave. You can also rub it in your hands to get it up to temp. Start with just a bit of pomade on your finger and remember – less is more!

Now glide with your hand through your hair and style it as you like. If it gets too cold, use the hair dryer to heat it up again, but be careful with harder pomade. They are sticky and you do not want to get it all over your bathroom -or your wife’s hair dryer, take it from me. It is a stubborn substance that is difficult to remove from other surfaces.

At the end of the evening, you should definitely wash out the pomade since it will coat your bed linens otherwise. Especially the hard pomades can be very difficult to wash out. Prepare for numerous intense hair wash cycles. Instead of regular shampoo, there is also a Dax pomade shampoo which supposedly helps to get out pomade more easily.

Disadvantages of Pomade

Even though the pomade look can be very classy and elegant, it has two major drawbacks:

1. Washing Your Hair

Depending on the pomade you use, it will be nearly impossible to wash it all out, as Gentleman’s Gazette CEO Sven Raphael Schneider can attest to. He had to use dish soap and oil repeatedly to get rid of it. So no matter how healthy it might be for your hair, washing it out is likely to negate many of the positive effects. As a consequence of the stickiness, be prepared to find pomade everywhere you put your head – inside your hat, on pillow cases, the car seat – you’d be surprised what your head touches over the course of the day. It will also be difficult to keep your bathroom clean, as the tins themselves are easily covered in pomade.

Pomade Acne

Pomade Acne

2. Pomade Acne

The second issue is the so-called Pomade Acne. Not everyone who wears pomade will get it, but there are a lot of people out there who will get it if they use pomade consistently. Sven Raphael Schneider had the misfortune to react poorly to the wax on his forehead, and it took almost 3 months after he had stopped using pomade for the zits to disappear, and  for others it could even be more drastic.

Different Kind of Pomade Acne

Different Kind of Pomade Acne

On the other hand, there may be people who will have no issues with it what so ever.

Conclusion

Pomade can definitely be an excellent and authentic means of achieving a very classy and debonair hair style. Moreover, it is inexpensive and good for your scalp and hair. However, your pillow cases and your face may suffer from it, and it doesn’t seem to be popular with other members of a pomade wearer’s household. Apparently, there are no scientific studies about pomade acne and so at the end of the day, everyone has to decide on their own whether they want to give pomade a try. In writing this article, it was important for me to provide you with all the information so you can make an educated decision.

Good luck, if you decide to forge ahead, but if an unusual breakout should occur, stop immediately and throw away your set of pillow cases and everything else that had contact with the pomade.

21 replies
  1. Peter
    Peter says:

    What are the best pomades to use on fine hair? I have very fine hair but lots of it and find some pomades weigh it down and make it clump. Also what is the best way to comb it to achieve the 40′s look? Fine tooth comb or military brush?

  2. Mark
    Mark says:

    You might want to try a light hair cream, such as Tabac, if you find pomades to be too heavy. Combined with a military brush, it does the job well for me.

  3. Sven Raphael Schneider
    Sven Raphael Schneider says:

    Thanks Peter and Mark. Every hair is different. For me, Pomade did not work at all and even Murray’s did not provide enough hold because my hair is very thick and sturdy.
    Peter, try a lighter hair cream as Mark suggested and compare the difference with the combs. Maybe you can even find a double tooth comb. In my experience, local suppliers to salons have often a huge selection and good prices.

    • Moritz Kickhöfen
      Moritz Kickhöfen says:

      Hello Mark, thank you for your comment.

      As far as I know, the production of Vitalis was discontinued, but some remainders are still available. I know a online shop in germany still selling it.
      Vitalis is a hair tonic and may give you the hold of a soft pomade at most. However, considering the ingredients, I’m not sure if it really is healthy for the hair.

  4. Jonathan Belmares
    Jonathan Belmares says:

    Pomade acne interesting, i’ve used quite a few different products on my hair including brillatine tp start with, it dose take a lot of practice before you get the aplication right. Axe also makes some different more modern pomades they are harder kinds with either shine or matte finish. I have also used murray’s hair glo with coconut oil gives nice shine and smells nice. I trick i find since i have thick hair also is to have you hair damp preferably with warm or hot water before you start applying it helps to distribute the product.

    • Moritz Kickhöfen
      Moritz Kickhöfen says:

      It definitely takes some time until you find the perfect product for your hair. With the variety of products available, everyone can make a find sooner or later.

      In my beginnings of using pomade, I also tried to damp the hair with a hot towel or water to ease applying the pomade, but in my opinion, it is more practical just to warm up the pomade itself. I couldn’t see any differences.

  5. Gabriel alonso
    Gabriel alonso says:

    When washing; shampoo your hair dry, rinse and then shampoo again under water. This usually removes most of the oils in most stubborn hair products.

  6. Moritz Kickhöfen
    Moritz Kickhöfen says:

    Hello Gabriel!

    Thank you for your advice, I never heard about this method. Does it work also with the more harder pomades?

  7. Bevi Harwood
    Bevi Harwood says:

    I recently begun using Imperial Barber Products’ Classic Pomade. It made from castor bean oil, its clear, its water based so it washes out really really easily, holds extremely tight, applies really easily, lasts all day and all night, has a nice subtle smell, $20 for a glass jar, nice shine.

  8. Sven Raphael Schneider
    Sven Raphael Schneider says:

    Great discussion going on here with interesting tips, such as applying Shampoo first. Also, the water based Imperial Barber Products Pomade sounds interesting although I doubt it will work with my thick sturdy hair…

  9. Marcus Jochum
    Marcus Jochum says:

    Very interesting article and discussion indeed. Here in Germany I find it quite hard to get pomade, but my cousin (Rockabilly guy, wearing a pomp every day) pointed me to “Swiss-O-Par Kokos-Haarwachs” (coconut hair wax), which is IMHO equivalent to pomade, costs about nothing, available in every local “DM”-drugstore, and smells very pleasant. Warm it with a hairdryer, apply to wet hair, that’s it. Con’s are that in hot summer time, or when you sweat because you’re dancing, it can melt and somehow “mix” with your sweat, which can result in a quite smeary affair… (on the other hand, taking out a nice old-fashioned cloth handkerchief and wiping your forehead does look cool again ;) ). Additionally, I personally had trouble washing the stuff out with my normal shampoo, but that could just be fixed with a different shampoo or application technique (I will try the dry-application).

  10. Moritz Kickhöfen
    Moritz Kickhöfen says:

    Hello Marcus, thank you for your post.

    As I live in Germany too, I know about the problem finding pomade in local stores. Sometimes Barber Shops have some, so it might be worth to ask here and there. At http://www.pomade-shop.eu/ , a store located in munich, you find a big variety of pomades and other old style hairproducts, most of them imported from the USA. I heard about ”Swiss-O-Par-Hairwax” someday, but never tried it. Thank you for this info!

    Hot weather indeed can be a problem, especially with soft or medium pomade, liquifying under direct sunlight or even at high air temperatures. In this case, I just use less pomade, because the hold won’t last long anyway. However, with harder ones, I never had a problem.

  11. Gabriel alonso
    Gabriel alonso says:

    Im Quite certain it will work. I find it works really well with hard waxes or hair products containing clay. Give it a try, should work quite well.

  12. Dave
    Dave says:

    I’ve used pomade for years to maintain my undercut/long on top style (similar to what Michael Pitt had on Boardwalk Empire, but always combed straight back, a la Mr. Valentino above. I have very thick, straight hair that wants to fall down all the time and for the last few years I’ve used a combination of Murray’s and Murray’s light that keeps it in place with great success. I used to use Dixie Peach, which was a perfect weight and smelled like Jasmine, but it is no longer on the market ( a far inferior product still exists with the same name but it’s entirely different.)
    Also, one trick to simultaneously beating the “pomade acne” and keeping your hair in place is to rub the pomade in like shampoo, starting at the top of your head and moving forward, but not quite rubbing it into the base of the hair at the very front. This method bonds the hair together well for good hold and styling ability, while keeping your forehead grease-free. If I can figure out a way to post a pic I will.
    One last tip, I put the pomade in my hand first, then run it under hot water while rubbing it around in my hands like shave cream. This loosens it up considerably more than just heating the can, making it MUCH easier to rub it through your hair.

  13. Moritz Kickhöfen
    Moritz Kickhöfen says:

    Interesting post, Dave, thank you!
    If you mix Murray’s and the ”light” version, maybe you would be also satisfied with the Black&White Pomade, which has medium hardeness.

    Regarding the pomade acne, I’m not quite sure if you can totally prevent it this way. I think, changing the product may be the better choice then.
    I once tried using a new pomade and suddenly started loosing hair. After getting back to my standard one, it also suddenly stopped. No one else I know using this pomade had a problem with hair loss. It likely was one of the ingredients causing the problem.

  14. Marcus Jochum
    Marcus Jochum says:

    Moritz, thanks for the website, I have already forwarded it to some people (maybe for a grouped purchase, because Munich is a bit far off for me ;) ) and will buy a copy of that 50′s haircut how-to booklet (although I’d actually look for one about the 20′s-40′s).

    Concerning the “losing-hair-with-pomade” problem … I was afraid of that too, but maybe I have a certain bias to overrate such things. As for my own little balding problem, and for others as a tip: that Swiss-O-Par stuff does seem to not interfere with Rogaine (minoxidil), although I can not offer any scientific proof of that (I still loose lots of hairs, but it’s less than without).
    I personally guess that not the actual usage of pomade, but the frequent washing with (maybe) quite “agressive” shampoos might pose a problem for your scalp and thus hair.

  15. JerryS
    JerryS says:

    I’ve used Murray’s regularly for several years. I have had no problems with it that I can remember. I use a hair dryer to soften it and wear latex gloves when applying it. I made a special shampoo with half regular shampoo and half dishwashing soap and I do have a dedicated pillowcase for when I wear it. It’s the best pomade for those with thick hair like myself. The texture is waxy rather than greasy like Brylcreem and others and can easily be reset with a hot blast from a hair dryer and brush.
    I highly recommend it above all others.

    • Moritz Kickhöfen
      Moritz Kickhöfen says:

      Thank you Jerry,

      I agree with you. I also prefer the Murrays Pomade, despite the disadvantage the product is hardly removable with one or two times of hairwashing.
      Applying the pomade with latex gloves however don’t sound really comfortable to me. I guess you only use them to avoid covering your hands with the pomade?

  16. Richard
    Richard says:

    You should try Dapperman pomade (www.dappermanvintage.com) it has a fairly medium hold (if you have medium to thick hair) great shine and washes out easily with just water!

    It’s also completely natural, no petroleum products which are bad for your hair and skin, (it causes pomade acne because it clogs up your pores, leaving your skin unable to breathe) it only contains;

    natural oil waxes
    Natural wax jelly blend
    organic oils
    Essential fragrance oils

    It’s definitely the best pomade I’ve ever tried and I wouldn’t even consider trying anything else. (I do use a bit of brylcreem from time to time though.)

  17. Moritz Kickhöfen
    Moritz Kickhöfen says:

    Richard, thank you for your comment.

    I never heard about this pomade. Obviously, the name was derived from the famous ”O Brother Where Art thou?” film-pomade ”Dapper Dan”.
    The composition sounds interesting. The choice of pomades without petroleum products is not that wide. I will give it a try any time soon.

Comments are closed.