Nowadays we see it as normal and healthy for men to groom and look after their skin and hair and nails. Beard oils are a flourishing industry and cosmetics on men raise few eyebrows.
Yet, there is a certain culture of gentleman’s grooming that is a thing of the past. I caught the last flickering of this as a child while watching my dad shave. The switchblade was decades in the past, but he still used a brush to apply his shaving cream and he must have been one of the last men to still use safety blades, before disposable cassette-like razor blades came in.
Shaving used to be a ritual. To work up the lather and apply it, took a few minutes. Yet, it never looked like it was an effort or burden to him. Quite the opposite. It looked like it was a moment of meditation and relaxation before the pawpaw of everyday daily life hit the fan.
The wonderful Compactom gentleman’s wardrobe featured in our shop today, is like a story about how men used to dress, with all the paraphernalia that went with it.
I mean, ties, a piece of attire that is slowly dying out, was a whole culture. Suspenders, otherwise known as braces, was a common thing, for pants, and even for socks. Suspenders were especially useful once one’s girth grew to a point where a belt around the waste became uncomfortable. Those were also the days when suits were cut for your particular shape and size. A suit bought from the shelf used to be seen as very middle class. This wardrobe has a special bracket for ties and one for braces.
Talking about suits. People in middle class jobs such as teachers, magistrates, salesmen and shopkeepers wore suits in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Many men were required to wear suits. Some even wore three-piece suits! We discarded that culture, maybe because of the weather in South Africa, but in many ways a suit was a practical and even economical piece of attire. A suit lasted a decade, and with the inner lining of the blazer, it was wonderfully comfortable to wear. And it could be brushed down in between dry-cleaning every six months, with a special brush that you kept in one of the compartments of your gentleman’s wardrobe,
The wardrobe also has a dedicated place just for your handkerchiefs. I remember as a boy that your Oupa would inspect you and asked where your handkerchief was. A man had to be always in possession of a clean handkerchief. What happened to that? Do you know someone who still carries one? Not to mention cuff links. My dad was not upper-class or even English, and he had several pairs. Maybe that would’ve been stowed in the “Requisites” compartment. “A man is required to wear cuff links in order to make a proper impression on a lady.” Or something like that.
I also remember that in my dad’s wardrobe he had one of those devices that helped to slip your foot into a shoe without ruining it – I believe it is called a shoehorn! There was even a time when men wore detachable collars, and the ones that were starched stiff were called "dress collars". I do not know if that would have worked for me. It is much easier to slap on a hoody and roam into the world with a three-day old stubble on the chin. Yet, I cannot help but to wonder if that moment of quietness, of meditation, when you went through this ritual of grooming and dressing in the morning, if that is not one of the things that we discarded that ended up having a negative impact on our mental wellbeing...