This post originally appeared April 13, 2018, on the Chile Today Hot Tamale! website. (www.chiletodayhottamale.net)
I’m on my third tube of Brylcreem. No, I’m not on my third tube this year, nor my third tube this decade. I am on my third tube of a lifetime.
Originally, I needed no hair cream at all. For at least the first 10 years of my life, my hair style was the typical hair style of a 1950s male child. Some call it a buzz cut. I called it what everyone else called it: a GI haircut. Once a week my father would take me to the barber shop, and we would both get a haircut. His cost 75 cents; mine, 50 cents. The barber would run his electric clippers over my scalp, and voila, mission accomplished. It saved me the trouble of carrying a comb, and I’m sure we must have saved a ton of money on shampoo.
But you can’t keep a fashion plate down, so before too many more years had passed, I acquired a flat top hair style. This was a sign of maturity, as it was a more grown-up hair style than the GI. (I knew several men in the community who styled their hair this way, including, for awhile, my father.) The flat top did not require hair cream: it required wax. So, quite patiently, I used butch wax to train my hair to stand on end.
The flat top phase didn’t last that long. During the mid 1960s I began the transition to slightly longer hair, and the ivy league hair style. It requires a transition period to move away from the flat top. It takes awhile to train your hair to stand on end, but it also takes awhile to train it to go back to its normal position, next to the scalp. At this point in life I was introduced to Brylcreem.
The television commercials for Brylcreem were brilliant. “A little dab’ll do ya” and “they love to run their fingers through your hair” are lines from the catchy tune used to promote the stuff. In fact, it didn’t take very much Brylcreem to impart enough discipline to the hair to maintain something akin to order. As for the “they love to run their fingers through you hair” bit, well, the less said, the better. A pimply-faced teen will not find true love through the judicious application of a tube of Brylcreem.
I liked the stuff because it didn’t make my hair look greasy, and it smelled great. The current incarnation of Brylcreem has no smell about it, but the 1960s version smelled almost good enough to eat. Of course, we knew not to eat it. It may be that today the makers of Brylcreem decided against a candy-like odor for fear that some kids would change their food preference from Tide pods. Who knows?
I used Brylcreem daily until the early 1970s. During the 70s, big hair was in, and I went big (see photo, 1976). In the 70s men didn’t want so much to tame their hair as to live in peaceful coexistence with it. Hair cream was out.
Around the end of the 1970s, two things happened that drastically altered my personal hair style. First, C-SPAN began its life as a cable broadcaster, providing live coverage of the US House of Representatives; and second, politicians appearing on C-SPAN discovered the blow dryer. I liked the look, and promptly began the use of a blow dryer. I needed no hair cream, except on those days when I overdid it with the dryer. When that happened, the old tube of Brylcreem came out of the drawer to save the day.
During the 1990s I traveled extensively for my job, and found it convenient to give up the hair dryer. I would generally comb my hair while wet, and hope for the best. The only time I would use Brylcreem was when my hair became too long, and thus unruly. I used it as a band-aid until I could get a proper haircut.
And that has been my use of Brylcreem up until today: I would use it to get me by until the next haircut. Today, however, I made a change.
My hair was a bit too long, so I stopped by the barber shop I use when in Beaufort, SC, and had my ears lowered. Afterwards, I returned home and showered to remove those little bits of hair that cause me to scratch like a cat with fleas. And then, with a freshly cut head of hair, I did something unusual: I grabbed the tube of Brylcreem. I didn’t use much. After all, a little dab’ll do ya.
I now suspect that Kathy will love to run her fingers through my hair!