The History of Hair Pomade: A Cultural and Styling Evolution

Pomade is a word that evokes images of impeccably groomed men from bygone eras, boasting slick, shiny hair. This grooming essential has enjoyed a prominent place in the hair care industry for centuries, with its history as fascinating and enduring as the looks it creates.

Let's take a sleek and shiny journey through the history of pomade, from its ancient beginnings to the modern-day versions gracing the shelves of our local barber shops and boutiques.

The Early Days of Pomade: A Glimpse into Ancient Beginnings and Aristocratic Tastes

Pomade has enjoyed a long and storied history, with its earliest roots reaching as far back as the Roman Empire. The Roman elite, in their constant quest for elegance and sophistication, began using animal fats to keep their hair perfectly styled and polished. This rudimentary form of pomade reflected the luxury and indulgence that characterized the era.

As the centuries passed, this early form of pomade continued to evolve, with animal fats remaining a popular and widely-used ingredient. The transition from ancient Rome to the European aristocracy of the 18th century saw pomade become an indispensable part of the grooming routine for well-heeled gentlemen. Bear fat, a particularly luxurious ingredient, was used as the base for most pomades at this time. This fatty substance, prized for its greasiness, was ideal for maintaining the elaborate hairstyles and wigs that were so fashionable in the courts of Europe.

During the 18th century, pomade was used by both men and women to style their hair and ensure their elaborate updos and towering wigs remained firmly in place. In addition to bear fat, pomades of this era often included perfumed oils, such as lavender or bergamot, to provide a pleasant fragrance that would mask any undesirable odors.

The cultural significance of pomade during this period cannot be understated. It was an essential tool for personal grooming and a symbol of wealth and social standing. Those who could afford the finest pomades were often perceived as members of the upper echelons of society, while those who could not were considered less refined.

The use of pomade also had practical applications beyond mere appearances. In an era before modern hygiene practices, pomade served as a means of keeping lice and other pests at bay. By slicking down the hair with pomade, individuals could make it more difficult for these pests to take up residence in their coiffures.

The 19th and 20th Centuries: Pomade's Golden Age and the Rise of Iconic Hairstyles

The 19th century heralded a new era in the history of pomade, one that would see this grooming product reach new heights of popularity and innovation. As the use of animal fats gradually fell out of favor, new and improved ingredients began to take their place. Beeswax, petroleum jelly, and lard became the base components for many pomades, offering a better hold, consistency, and ease of use than their predecessors.

Introducing these new formulations made pomade an even more appealing choice for men looking to maintain their dapper appearance. This growing popularity coincided with the advent of several iconic hairstyles that would come to define the 20th century.

One such hairstyle, the pompadour, rose to prominence in the early 1900s. Named after Madame de Pompadour, a mistress of King Louis XV, this distinctive style involves sweeping the hair upwards and away from the face, creating a voluminous, sculpted look. The pompadour quickly became a symbol of elegance and sophistication, favored by both men and women alike.

Pearson Scott Foresman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Pearson Scott Foresman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The 1950s saw the emergence of another iconic hairstyle – the ducktail, also known as the "duck's arse." This rebellious style features hair combed towards the center at the back of the head, creating a ridge that resembles a duck's rear end. The ducktail became particularly popular among young men, who embraced the edgy, counterculture appeal of the look.

Rockbillyboogie, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rockbillyboogie, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Throughout the 20th century, pomade became synonymous with well-groomed men of various eras, from the suave sophistication of the 1920s to the rebellious rockabilly style of the 1950s and the slicked-back, clean-cut appearance of the early 1960s.

During this golden age of pomade, companies thrived as they introduced a plethora of new products to cater to the diverse preferences of their customers. These products spanned the gamut from lighter formulas for those seeking a more natural look to heavier pomades that delivered maximum hold and shine.

While pomade has long been associated with men's grooming, women of the 20th century also embraced the product for its ability to keep their hairstyles in place and add a touch of glamour. Pomade's versatility, combined with the rise of iconic hairstyles and the evolving tastes of consumers, firmly cemented its place as a staple in the world of hair care and styling during this pivotal period.

A Brief Dip in Popularity: Pomade's Struggle with Counterculture and Its Triumphant Comeback

The latter half of the 20th century marked a challenging period for pomade as it faced a dip in popularity. With the rise of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s, societal norms and fashion trends began to shift dramatically. Men started to reject the carefully styled, polished appearances of previous decades in favor of more natural, unkempt hairstyles. Long, flowing locks and shaggy, tousled looks became the order of the day, pushing pomade out of the spotlight.

Men with shaggy hair enjoy the sunshine and music at Woodstock, a famous music festival that took place in August 1969.
Photo: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During this time, the hair care industry witnessed a surge in demand for products that catered to these new hairstyles. Hair gels, mousses, and sprays took center stage, offering a more modern, versatile approach to hair styling that aligned with the zeitgeist of the counterculture movement.

Despite the waning interest in pomade, its decline would only be a temporary setback. As the 1980s and 1990s rolled around, pomade began to experience a resurgence in popularity. This revival can be attributed, in part, to a renewed appreciation for classic hairstyles and a growing desire for more tailored, sophisticated looks.

Masao Nakagami, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Masao Nakagami, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The 1980s saw the return of slicked-back hair and the pompadour, both of which required the use of pomade to achieve the desired hold and shine. Meanwhile, the 1990s ushered in a new wave of interest in retro and vintage styles, leading many men to revisit the grooming products of yesteryear, including pomade.

This resurgence in pomade's popularity was further fueled by the rise of independent barbershops that championed traditional grooming techniques and classic hairstyles. These barbershops played a significant role in reintroducing pomade to a new generation, who embraced the product for its ability to create sharp, polished looks that were both timeless and versatile.

Ultimately, the brief dip in pomade's popularity during the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s served as a mere bump in the road. The resilience and adaptability of this classic grooming product ensured that it would not only survive but also continue to thrive in the decades that followed.

The Modern Era: Pomade Reborn and Its Flourishing Diversity

In today's fast-paced and ever-evolving world, pomade remains a popular choice for both men and women in search of the perfect grooming product. With an incredibly diverse array of formulas and ingredients now available, pomade has become a versatile solution that caters to every hair type and desired look. From water-based products that deliver a lighter hold and rinse out effortlessly to oil-based pomades that provide maximum hold and shine, the modern pomade landscape offers an abundance of options to suit all tastes.

One significant development in the world of pomade is its adaptation to meet the growing consumer interest in environmentally friendly and cruelty-free products. As more people become increasingly conscious of their impact on the planet and the welfare of animals, many companies have stepped up to produce pomades that align with these values. These modern pomades are often free from animal-derived ingredients and are housed in eco-friendly packaging, making them an appealing choice for the discerning, conscientious customer.

But the innovation continues beyond there. The pomade market has also embraced the booming beard and mustache care industry. Recognizing the need for high-quality grooming products that cater to facial hair, many pomade companies have developed specialized products to help tame unruly whiskers, shape magnificent mustaches, and create a natural or ultra-slick finish, depending on the desired look.

In essence, the modern era of pomade is a testament to the product's enduring appeal and ability to adapt to its user's changing needs and preferences. By offering many choices that cater to a wide range of hair types, styles, and values, pomade has successfully reinvented itself for the contemporary market, ensuring its continued relevance and popularity in the world of grooming and personal care.

Pomade's journey from its humble beginnings to its current flourishing diversity is a fascinating example of a product that has stood the test of time. Through its adaptability and versatility, pomade has continued to meet the changing needs and preferences of its users, while also carving out a unique and enduring place in the world of grooming and personal care.

With its continued innovation and popularity, it is clear that pomade will remain a go-to choice for many individuals seeking a reliable and stylish grooming product for years to come.

History of Hair Pomade: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is pomade?

A: Pomade is a hair styling product that has a long-standing history, primarily used to achieve a variety of sleek, polished, and refined hairstyles. Typically, pomade offers a strong hold, while providing a shiny or matte finish depending on the formula. It is effective in controlling frizz, taming flyaways, and adding texture to hair. Pomades are commonly used for classic hairstyles such as pompadours, ducktails, and slicked-back looks, but can also be applied to modern hairdos that require definition and control. Available in various formulations, including water-based and oil-based options, pomades cater to different hair types, preferences, and styling requirements.

Q: Which ingredients were originally used in pomade?

A: Ancient pomades were made from animal fats, which were popular among Roman high society to preserve their sophisticated looks.

Q: Which well-known hairstyles emerged due to the use of pomade?

A: The pompadour and ducktail are two iconic hairdos that gained popularity with the assistance of pomade.

Q: What factors contributed to the reduced popularity of pomade in the 1960s and 1970s?

A: During the 1960s and 1970s, the emergence of counterculture and a preference for more natural, tousled hairstyles led to a decrease in pomade's popularity.

Q: In what ways has the contemporary era influenced the pomade market?

A: The current era has seen the introduction of a wide variety of pomade formulations and ingredients to accommodate different hair types and preferences, as well as an increased demand for eco-friendly and cruelty-free options. Furthermore, the beard and mustache care sector has prompted pomade manufacturers to create specialized products to address its specific needs.

Author Image

Michael Boyd

As one of the dedicated co-owners of Battle Born Grooming Co, Michael works tirelessly to deliver top-notch products to his clientele. With his fascination for hair, the ocean, and life in general, he has embarked on a remarkable journey that has brought him to his current position. Throughout this journey, Michael has realized the importance of integrating meditation and mindfulness into his daily life. Besides managing the business, he also harbors a deep love for animals and is an enthusiastic globetrotter.