A brief history of Brylcreem

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From Teddy Boys to Mad Men, the slick-backed quiff has come in and out of fashion for decades, and a humble cream from Birmingham has helped keep each hair firmly in place

What’s the story?

Keeping quiffs neatly in place since 1928, Brylcreem is an iconic product of men’s hair styling. Founded in Birmingham by County Chemicals, it was created as hair cream that was originally only sold to barbers. Men flocked to Brylcreem in droves to recreate that clean, smart hairstyle that was the fashion at the time. And that not-a-hair-out-of-place look remained the fashion for another couple of decades – rather handy for Brylcreem. In fact, a brief history of Brylcreem is like a brief history of men’s haircuts. During World War II, members of the RAF were known as Brylcreem Boys thanks to their tidily done dos. The 1950s saw an even further increase with Brylcreem becoming the most dominant product in men’s hairstyling. Brylcreem must have been thanking their lucky stars that the super-styled Teddy Boy look was so popular. Slick hairstyles, as sported in Mad Men, lasted until the early 60s when Brylcreem’s luck began to run out.

Uh oh. What happened?

Well it’s down in part to The Beatles and other such popular music groups of the time who wore their hair much longer and much less-perfectly styled. With this, the demand for styling creams fell and so did Brylcreem’s profits. Despite efforts to convince the masses that Brylcreem could still be used on these styles, sales declined and continued to do so into the 70s. Big hair equalled big problems for Brylcreem. The 80s and 90s saw a slight renaissance when the brand tried to reinvent itself for the youth market. In 1997, David Beckham became the face of Brylcreem and showed that it wasn’t just for those neat hairstyles of a different era.

And now?

The original cream is still available in the same packaging it’s been in since the 60s (£3.29, brylcreem.com) plus a few other waxes and gels too. People may still think of it as a product of a certain time but it has truly embraced the 21st century with social media campaigns and sharp adverts to appeal to the 16-30 market. A good example of this would be their 2007 Effortless campaign where the public were invited to send in clips of effortless little tricks around the house, and the accompanying musician recruited from MySpace. The result is well worth a watch.

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