Elders will tell you about its greasiness, the fragrance and its overall generous usage by gentlemen of the past. Like Old Spice aftershave and Bay Rum, Brylcreem is just one of those personal grooming artifacts that’s synonymous with a bygone era.
Nevertheless, with “Mad Men” haircuts and attire making a comeback, this old product is starting to fill up drug store shelves again. However, these aforementioned shelves look different on both sides of the proverbial pond.
In Britain, we have the big red pots with a lion crest. In the United States, the product resembles a tube of toothpaste.
What is this madness? Are they the same product but with different packaging? If not, which is better? These are questions that even the wonders of the internet were unable to answer for me and so I was compelled to open an investigation.
A Little Brylcreem HistoryBrylcreem was conceived as a pomade in 1928 by County Chemicals in Birmingham, England. An emulsion of water and mineral oil stabilised with beeswax, it replicated the effect of hair cream that was only sold to barbers, whilst incorporating the resemblance of brillantine.
Men flocked to Brylcreem in droves to recreate the iconic glossy hold that would become the fashion for decades. During the Second World War, members of the RAF were known as Brylcreem Boys for their overindulgence in hair cream and the 1950s witnessed Brylcreem become the most dominant product in men’s hair grooming.
In Britain, Brylcreem advertising campaigns often incorporated contemporary sports stars as their heralded “Brylcreem Boys,” such as Cricketer Denis Compton throughout the late Forties and early Fifties. In the United States, it was advertised on television accompanied by the catchy jingle “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya!” When the dry look became popular in the Seventies, the tagline was changed from “They’ll love to run their fingers through your hair” to “They’ll love the natural look it gives your hair.”
Unfortunately, Brylcreem’s success began to wane in the following half of the twentieth century. Much like the once-compulsory wearing of hats, The Beatles and other popular music of the Sixties would have a significant impact on men’s fashion with their longer, unkempt hairstyles. The pomade fell out of fashion, accordingly.
An excellent 1965 American Brylcreem Commercial featuring the iconic jingle.
Brylcreem At The Dawn Of The 21st Century
The brand was sold from owner to owner like a hot potato throughout the following decades, causing the name to eventually split across borders. It wouldn’t be until 1997 that Brylcreem began to witness a slight resurgence when a young up-and-coming David Beckham was dubbed Britain’s new “Brylcreem Boy” and a new range of different styling products was introduced.
However, it wasn’t until recent years, with the introduction of popular television shows such as AMC’s Mad Men and vintage-scene revivalist movements creeping into the mainstream, that Brylcreem saw a true renaissance. Today, there are a multitude of hairstyles from different periods such as pompadours and the classic shine that are being appropriated by young men around the world.
Today, Combe Incorporated markets Brylcreem in the US, whilst Unilever administers the rest of the world. Although the products carry the same name and fulfil the same function, there are a variety of key differences. Unfortunately, records on the history of Brylcreem is somewhat limited through mainstream sources. Moreover, both Combe and Unilever were reluctant to provide any supplementary information on the product when contacted. Nevertheless, that does not change the fact that both are excellent products worthy of review.
Ultimate Brylcreem Review
The bright red Brylcreem pot with the lion crest is an iconic artefact from 1960s Britain, so much so that it hasn’t changed since. However, despite being of a similar heritage, the American Brylcreem tube has undergone a redesign since the Combe takeover: a modernised font and removal of the crown logo. Although both pot and tube were originally available in both countries, it appears only one has survived in each. In either case, the products have retained a sense of nostalgia that legitimises the products as pedigrees of gentlemen’s hairdressing.
In terms of practicality, the British Brylcreem’s pot makes for a robust and stable container, whereas the American tube easily tips over. However, whilst the pot isn’t a practical travelling companion, the American tube slips into any small bag without much inconvenience.
Another benefit to the tube is the cleanliness and control in delivering the product into your palm, which allows you to take only the right amount without contaminating the rest. Moreover, the pot can attract dust and loose hairs when opened, as well as causing the product to expire sooner than if it were in a tube.
Composition & Shine
The American Brylcreem is a loose almost aqueous cream with traces of an oily residue. Conversely, the British Brylcreem has a thicker creamy texture that reacts like soft butter when manipulated between the fingers. It also contains little grease and feels cleaner in the hands and scalp.
Although both provide an excellent sheen, the aforementioned oily residue in the American Brylcreem delivers a far deeper long-lasting shine. However, the oil can leave deposits on material, hats and even bare hands whilst the British variant is relatively clean to touch.
Hold & Longevity
It should be noted that, although Brylcreem styles and nourishes the hair and provides an excellent shine, it tends to require some attention throughout the day.
Brylcreem will not provide the same hold as pomades, which can be advantageous for more sensitive scalps and roots. Although the UK variant has an overall stronger hold, it has a tendency to dull quicker than its American counterpart. Consequently, the British Brylcreem may be more likely to require topping up during the day, whilst the American variant is potent enough to be simply combed back to life.
Due to the UK Brylcreem coming in a pot, topping up can be an impractical affair. However, many aficionadi of the product have recommended Vitalis Hair Tonic to be an excellent accompaniment for restyling, which is also deliciously laced with a classic Barbershop smell. Regardless, it goes without saying that a pocket comb is an essential accessory when using Brylcreem.
Fragrance & Conditioning
Although the Brylcreem fragrance is synonymous with the era, the two variations are surprisingly unalike. Whilst the US Brylcreem has a bold, citrusy scent, the British version is sugary sweet. Although both are quite pleasant, the American version has a more compelling fragrance than its British counterpart.
Both Brylcreems claim the ability to condition hair, whilst the British variant goes so far as to boast that their product is enriched with protein. Although the benefits of the added protein seem rather obscure, both products appear to have a remarkable nourishing effect.
“The purest most beneficial tonic hair dressing you can buy.”
When washed out, the hair is left with a full and healthy feeling. However, if the product is left in for more than a day, it can have an adverse effect by causing a build-up of grease, which is especially prevalent in the American variation. Nevertheless, as long as the hair is regularly washed, Brylcreem is generally a healthy compliment to a personal grooming routine.
Pricing & Value For Money
As their availability varies from country to country, it’s difficult to properly assess their value for money from a particular location. For instance, the British Brylcreem is much cheaper in the UK whilst the case is the opposite in the USA.
Nevertheless, Amazon.com stocks both in large quantities at fair prices. The best deal can be found when purchasing three tubes of USA Brylcreem, which provides you with over 15 Oz (445 ml) for just over $16.
Meanwhile, a 250 ml (8.45 Oz) tub of the UK Brylcreem can be purchased on Amazon for as little as $6.34. As you can see, the price difference is minor even if the UK variant is just a touch cheaper by volume.
Final Assessment Of The Two Brylcreems
Both incarnations of Brylcreem are a testament to a bygone era. Although they vary on minor points, they are of equal quality and each have their unique benefits. Whilst the American version provides a rich shine, British Brylcreem is more malleable and will retain a slightly stronger hold. Whilst it’s true that the American Brylcreem has an alluring zesty fragrance and a richer shine, British Brylcreem’s versatile and greaseless composition has its own strengths.Although at a push, I will personally be more likely to reach for the American product, I tend to alternate between the two throughout the week. Objectively, there is no superior product beyond personal preference and due to their low cost and accessibility thanks to the internet, both can be obtained for the same value.