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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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?
Murray’s Superior Hair Dressing Pomade
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 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.
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!
How to Choose Pomade
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.
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.
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.
On the other hand, there may be people who will have no issues with it what so ever.
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.