A Brief Refresher on Where and When Public Grooming Is OK, Which is Nowhere and Never

When in doubt, don't

September 1, 2021 9:24 am
A young man in an undershirt shaving his face with a razor inside a busy airport terminal
Please don't shave in the airport.
InsideHook / Getty Images

Disturbing footage from last week that appears to show Rudy Giuliani inexplicably shaving his face above a plate of food while dining in the Delta Lounge at JFK airport has raised many questions — questions like, “Why?” and “Does Rudy Giuliani live in the airport now?” Some questions don’t have answers, and if they do, those answers are between Rudy Giuliani and god. Fortunately, other questions raised by this unsettling faux pas have more readily available answers, specifically questions surrounding when and where it is okay to practice various kinds of public grooming.

The short answer, of course, is nowhere and never, especially if there’s food around — especially if you are currently eating that food and performing whatever grooming ritual in which you are unwisely engaging directly above it, thus presumably getting the debris from that grooming ritual in the food you’re consuming, à la Giuliani.

While I can’t think of any logical explanation that would render Giuliani’s public shaving behavior anywhere near socially permissible, I am aware that none of us is immune to the occasional grooming emergency which may, under certain circumstances, need to be addressed in public. I’m generally inclined towards a total prohibition on all forms of public grooming — when in doubt, don’t. Then again, who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, realized we forgot to put on mascara before leaving the house, or felt the need for to reapply deodorant after sweating on a subway platform on the way to a date? In case of the rare but dire grooming emergency, let’s review some of the most common grooming practices some of us may find ourselves tempted to bust out in public spaces, and if, when and where those practices may be considered permissible.

Nail Clipping

Nope. Definitely not. Under no circumstances should you ever be clipping any of your nails in any public space — not even a public bathroom, in my opinion. All this times-1,000 if it’s your toenails. In fact, any behavior that involves taking your shoes off in a public space should be punishable by law.


A good rule of thumb is any behavior that involves your DNA (hair, nails, etc.) ending up on the floor of a public space is to be avoided at all costs. This also applies to eyebrow plucking and any of various other forms of hair removal. That said, I’m aware that certain dress codes or social situations require a clean-shaven face, which means a forgetful or particularly busy man may find it necessary to squeeze in a public shave on the way to work or an important dinner. As a woman, I’m not entirely clear on men’s restroom etiquette, but I’d imagine that an emergency shave probably isn’t the worst thing you could do in a public bathroom. Certainly better there than in an airport lounge where people are eating, yourself included.

Putting on makeup

A casual mascara swipe or lipstick touch up? Fine. But if you’re putting on a full face or using any powder-based products, I’d take that operation to the restroom. Bitches will still give you side eye for taking up mirror/sink space, but they’re just jealous that you’re hot. Also, pulling off a flawless liquid eyeliner application on public transportation is nothing short of a flex, and should be respected as such.

Doing your hair

Putting it in a ponytail or even a quick comb? Totally fine, but anything involving styling tools or products (especially aerosols) should happen in the bathroom. Again, you’re still gonna get side-eye, but sometimes that’s just the price of beauty.

Painting your nails

People will hate the smell, and also you’re just going to screw them up, I guarantee it. Not worth it.

Brushing your teeth

Oral health is important, and plenty of normal if kind of nerdy and/or arrogant people brush their teeth in public restrooms at their place of work every day. That said, there are plenty of others who argue that brushing one’s teeth in the bathroom actually seems less hygienic than oral health fanatics seem to think it is.

Regardless, this is definitely another behavior that is strictly for the restroom, if it must happen at all. If there’s not a sink around, I can only imagine public teeth brushing would involve spitting into a bottle of some sort, which is a no.

Putting on perfume/cologne

As a fragrance enthusiast, I never feel fully dressed without my signature scent, which means that I’ve definitely been tempted to sneak a spray or two on the train if I realized I forgot to put it on before leaving the house. That said, many people are very sensitive to fragrance and consider it a faux pas to even be wearing a scent other people can smell in public, let alone applying it. Personally, I think these people are boring and over-dramatic. Still, avoiding any unnecessary fragrance spraying in public (particularly in close quarters like trains and other forms of public transportation) is probably the respectful thing to do. You could probably get away with a discreet roller-ball swipe, though.

Putting on deodorant

I feel pretty willing to give this one an almost universal free pass. Should you whip out your trusty Speed Stick during dinner? Maybe not, but I think a reasonably swift and discreet reapplication on the train, while waiting for a flight or even at your desk is generally permissible. If you can excuse yourself to the restroom, I’d say do it, but it’s not mandatory. Most of us are sympathetic to the plight of the sweaty-pitted, and anyone who happens to observe your public pit maintenance would probably much rather watch you put on deodorant than smell your un-deodorized underarms. (A 2018 poll of my own admittedly meager Twitter following can confirm.)

While there are circumstances in which certain kinds of public grooming may be more permissible than others, please keep in mind that any of these behaviors are rendered immeasurably more egregious if they happen anywhere near food. And when in doubt, remember: the golden rule when it comes to public grooming is don’t.

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