It’s Almost 2023. Why Is It So Hard to Find Men’s Hair Products?

Pomade is not taboo fetish paraphernalia and should no longer be treated as such

November 14, 2022 9:35 am
Men's hairstyles on a blue background. Why are men's hair products so hard to find?

Like many men who came of age in an era of reality TV, Hot Topic and pop-punk, I quickly discovered a need to tousle my hair with the chemical aid of pomade. Nick Lachey, Aaron Carter, Justin Timberlake — those guys cut an enviable silhouette, one that was not possible to create with my lime-green bottle of L’Oreal. If my mane is not treated with product, it slinks over my scalp in a distinctly Dahmer-esque clump. It possesses no body, no airiness and no flair. But, as I learned in high school, a morning dab of cosmetic paste solves all of those problems. Smear it over your palms, run them through the top of your head, and you’re good to go. I am not beholden to any one pomade brand — I use American Crew, Old Spice, even Axe fairly interchangeably. Generally I stick to a medium hold with low shine; not quite the concrete firmness of gel, but nothing too flimsy or gelatinous either. I am far from alone. Reportedly good 80 percent of men use some sort of hair product as they leave the shower. My bathroom tableau could never rival the veritable banquet of toners and eye shadows that line my girlfriend’s vanity, but we all do our best to look good, in hopes that we may feel good as well.

So why is it that whenever I run out of pomade (call it about once a month or so), I’m forced to take a Frodo-like journey into oblivion in order to restock my wares? Why are male hair products in such ridiculously short supply at convenience stops, bodegas, grocery outlets and department stores? Why is my local Duane Reade completely tiled with arcane women’s beauty products, stuff that they’re surely only going to use three or four times per year, but the men’s section is limited to the saddest selection of meager shampoos and conditioners you’ve ever seen in your life? Men’s pomade should be among the most ubiquitous consumer products in America — as easy to get your hands on as toilet paper — and yet, whenever my tub runs dry, I’m forced to turn to either Amazon, or a soul-killing trip to CVS, to keep my scalp in order. There’s no way it should be this much of a chore!

I know pomade availability is not in the top 100,000, or perhaps even the top million, issues facing this great nation of ours. But if you are a man who uses product, I know that you’ve wandered the hygiene section of your local supermarket, bleary-eyed, confused as to why the store seems to stock about 40 different varieties of flavored seltzer, but offers no quarter for any man who wants their hair to look a little less mottled at tomorrow morning’s Zoom check-in. I live in Brooklyn, which means that my corner deli has saved my ass countless times when I’ve found myself in a bind. I have relied on the man behind the counter to hook me up with batteries, contact solution, playing cards, alka seltzer and condoms at a moment’s notice, sometimes all at once. But if I need a dab of Old Spice on a Monday afternoon? I am totally out of luck. I refuse to believe that I’m the only man who’s been forced to leverage their partner’s hairspray due to the realities of this pomade desert.  

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I have no idea why these stores don’t stock pomade. It certainly isn’t a legal issue; as far as I’m aware, American Crew is not a controlled substance. My best guess is that men’s hair products are still considered to be a niche speciality or novelty — akin to cologne — and therefore they’re reserved for the muskiest corners of your local mall, presumed to be purchased by a specific demographic of genteel fancy lads. That isn’t the case, and it hasn’t been so for quite some time. Again, 80 percent of us grease up our hair in the morning! But consumer trends move at glacial speeds. So, for now, we’re stuck placing boutique orders for fresh rounds of pomade on Prime delivery, as if we’re chasing down fetish paraphernalia that no mom-and-pop shop would dare sell. (Grill gadgets, Batman back issues, veal chops and so on.)

But we all must believe in a better world in 2022. Yes, some of our problems are huge and intractable. It remains an open question how we will ever be able to reverse the encroaching catastrophe of climate change or create a more equitable housing market, or, hell, save American democracy as a whole. But on this day, as the dust settles from the midterm elections, I ask for one modest acquiescence from our elected leaders: Please, for the love of god, make it easier for me to find pomade in the wild. Let me pick some up while I’m getting a quart of milk and a roll of paper towels. Good-hearted young men are struggling out here. All we want is for our mane to be a bit more voluminous on demand. Have we not suffered enough? There’s no way Lindsey Graham’s hair looks like that when he rolls out of bed. I’m telling you, they’re holding out on us.

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