It started on a dare.
David Ware walked into a salon full of women and got his first professional manicure and pedicure.
It was nearly 20 years ago, and Ware, a 6-foot, 2-inch, 240-pound former Marine, has been doing it every two weeks since.
Ware, 55, president of Tennessee Galvanizing in Jasper, Tenn., says his date dared him to do it. And he’s forever grateful.
“As long as I can afford it, I will never cut my own fingernails or toenails,” he says. “I did my own nails before, but nothing like the professionals do. I especially like getting all the dead skin off my soles.”
Ware may have been a trailblazer, but these days he’s not alone. Increasingly, men are frequenting salons that were once exclusive to women to get manicures, pedicures and even skin treatments.
The National Retail Federation reports that the men’s grooming industry is expected to grow nearly 40 percent worldwide, to $28 billion, in 2014.
“I think male vanity has lived in many different forms, but it may be entering its most superficial era ever,” Ben Silver, an executive producer of “Mansome,” a 2012 documentary about 21st-century masculinity, told Boston.com. “It was once tied with Darwinist elements such as procreating. Now it’s about six-pack abs and fake tans.”
Ware says that only on a few occasions has he gone for skin treatments, but he’s a regular customer when it comes to nails.
“I used to get good-natured flack, but not anymore,” he says of his mani/pedi appointments. “I think some guys may not do it because it’s a macho thing or maybe they just have never thought about having it done because it isn’t part of our culture for men to do such things. They’re worried about what others might think. I don’t care what they think.”
Aesthetician Lee Chang, co-owner of Judy’s Nails & Skin Care on Gunbarrel Road, says the salon’s male clientele has grown in recent years and the recent move from East Ridge to East Brainerd produced a dramatic rise.
“I guess it’s because of the demographics of East Brainerd that we’re seeing more men clients [wanting manicures, pedicures and skin treatments],” says Chang, who has been in the business almost 20 years.
The men are all ages and range from a dentist to a police officer to a journeyman.
“Most are professional men who want their hands to look good,” he says.
First-timers are often a little shy, he says. “But after their first experience, they definitely want to do it again. We have a few men who come in exclusively for regular facials.”
While nails are done in a spacious room that accommodates all customers, male and female, the facials are done in private rooms.
Ware says he doesn’t mind sitting in an open space surrounded by other clients.
“In Chattanooga, I’m usually the only male getting a manicure or pedicure at a salon,” he says. “But when I travel, I often see other men getting treatments.”
Chattanooga attorney Charles Curtis, 47, says he gets regular manicures and pedicures because a spinal condition makes it hard for him to reach his feet to trim his toenails.
“I literally have a hard time sitting and drawing my legs up and cannot see what I’m doing when I try to clip my nails,” Curtis says. “So, while I’m there [at the salon], I might as well get the hands done, too. I have only seen another male there one time, and it does make you self-conscious.”
Wendi Smith, a nail technician at Bliss Nail Boutique in Chattanooga, says she has seen a steady increase in men clients since she began her career about 20 years ago.
“I only had two or three men clients for about the first seven years of being a nail tech,” she says. “I think men considered having nails done as having nails polished and not the actual grooming process of nail shape, length and cuticle care.”
That’s no longer the case, she says, now that male celebrities and executives have made male nail services more mainstream.
“I do have men from all walks of life who now receive nail services — from a former chief of police to construction workers to stay-at-home dads,” Smith says. “The only difference between women and men’s nail services is if there are enhancements (tips) applied and polish. The grooming process is the same. Self-maintenance is necessary to keep nails and cuticles healthy, but most men rely solely on me to do the necessary work. I frequently use a chamois buffer for shine on men’s nails opposed to clear polish, and they usually come every two to three weeks.”
Smith says a basic manicure for men includes nail shaping, buffing, cuticle care and massage.
“To the skeptical male who isn’t sure about nail services for themselves, I always reassure them that it’s for their personal care and not to worry about anyone else’s opinions,” she says.
Stylist Danny Stevenson, owner of Danny Stevenson Salon on Broad Street, says there are several reasons white- and blue-collar males are opting for salon treatments today.
“Professional guys do it to look good for work because people do notice their hands,” he says. “But a lot of my blue-collar friends love it, too. Men find it relaxing, and some do it because their wives want them to do because they don’t want to do it for them, especially their feet. Once you get men in the salons, they’re hooked.”
Stevenson says men are taking better care of themselves today.
“Men used to go to barbershops, but since the 1970s, men have been going to salons and wanting the full complete treatments, even with hair color and highlights. Most of my men clients — with or without orders from their wives or girlfriends — want to be ‘manscaped.’”
Such manscaping can include trimming beards and plucking unruly ear hair, nose hair and eyebrows.
A Men’s Grooming Consumer Report released last year by the NPD Group, a market research company, shows that about 9 in 10 men (ages 18+) are using some sort of grooming product, which can include facial and body skin care, shaving, hair care and fragrance. The men’s facial skin-care market grew 11 percent in dollar sales in 2011, compared to 2010, according to the report.
First Things First vice president and chief development officer Eddie Grant, who’s in his early 40s, says he now uses skin-care products on a regular basis.
“When I turned 40, I realized that I needed to take better care of myself. I increased my strength training, vitamin intake, reducing risk factors like too much sun, lack of sleep, etc.,” he says.
He also began forking over big dollars for La Mer skin-care products at the Buckhead Neiman Marcus in Atlanta.
At LaMer.com, products range in cost from a 3.4-ounce mist for $60 to the 1.7-ounce concentrate, a product that complements skin’s “natural healing process,” for $410.
“I’m a La Mer fanatic,” Grant says. “The price is a bit steep obviously, but I look at it as an investment — a quality product that energizes on the cellular level, that gives a younger feel and look.”
Grant says he doesn’t get professional manicures and pedicures, only skin treatments. “Selective vanity, I guess.”
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at email@example.com or 423-757-6396.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...