Becoming our Grandfathers: 4 “new” trends that are over a century old

After decades of chasing convenience, speed, and quantity (over quality) our tastes moving in the opposite direction.  People are slowing down and seeking quality in the things they eat, drink, buy and experience.  Interestingly, some of the new trends aren’t new at all.  They were things our grandfathers did without a second thought.  Here are four of these “grandfatherly” trends from the perspective of someone in his mid-thirties.

Note: this post is intended for adults.

Pipe Smoking

It’s hard to catch a whiff of pipe smoke without someone smiling and saying “that reminds me of my grandpa.” Smoking was ubiquitous two generations ago and a pipes were everywhere.  But pipe smoking began a steep decline in the 1960’s and has existed ever since as the practice of older men and niche hobbyists.

Part of the change was counter-cultural.  Young men viewed pipe-smoking as something for their fathers’ generation so they switched to cigarettes.  Another major cause was the inconvenience of pipe smoking.  It involves packing, lighting, tamping, relighting, more tamping, controlled breathing, picking, scraping, etc.

But pipe smoking is experiencing a resurgence – even among a younger, trendier generation.  People are learning what our grandfathers knew all along – smoking a pipe is a slow, meditative experience.  The value is in the practice itself – not from the nicotine (unlike cigarettes, pipe smoke is not inhaled.).  The ritualism and attention to detail blocks out the distractions of everyday life.  Its nearly impossible to get consumed by a cellphone while smoking – we just don’t have enough hands.  Instead you get to enjoy the company of the people you are with.  Or better yet, you can be left alone with your own thoughts – a practice that is becoming increasingly rare.

Earlier generations got a benefit from pipe smoking that has been under-appreciated – the value of ritual, meditation and slowing down to enjoy the moment.

Bourbon Drinking

Our tastes in alcohol are also shifting to reflect what earlier generations drank.  As tastes evolve, people are increasingly seeking quality over quantity – flavor over volume.  One drink that is rising in popularity was extremely popular with earlier generations – American whiskey (or my personal preference, Kentucky Bourbon.)

American whiskey was king in the US in the 1950’s and 60’s, and it was probably the choice drink for most of our grandfathers.  But whiskey’s popularity began its decline in the 1970’s as people began to favor its flavorless, odorless cousin – vodka.  Whiskey is best enjoyed slow and straight, but vodka gave drinkers the ability to mix endless sugary cocktails that could be downed quickly and without any thought.

We are rediscovering what used to be common knowledge – that sipping can be better than gulping, that moderation increases enjoyment, and that intentionally slowing down can make everything a little more rewarding.  Sales of spirits are on the rise, but sales of American whiskey are increasing at twice the rate of spirits in general.  In fact, in 2017 Kentucky produced more bourbon than in any year since 1967 (around 1.9 million barrels.)

Barber Shops

Two generations ago virtually every town had a barbershop and virtually every man in town went there.  It was more than just a place to get a haircut and a shave – it was a social club exclusively for men.  But hair styles got longer in the 1970’s and 80’s and men increasingly abandoned barber shops for beauty salons and fast, cheap chains.

In the 1990s and 2000’s, nearly one in four barbershops in the US closed.  But the decline came to an abrupt halt in 2013 when the number of barbershops increased, and new barbers have been flooding into the profession ever since.  In fact, barbering is one of the fastest growing professions in the United States, with some estimates of 10% annual growth.

Men are reconnecting with the spirit and style of the barbershop that our grandfathers enjoyed.  Barbers are skilled craftsmen (it takes 1,800 hours to become a barber in Ohio!) and men are rediscovering the art of a good haircut.  Younger men no longer view the barbershop as a place for an older generation, but rather a place to be around their peers.  The barbershop is returning to the exclusive social club that our grandfathers frequented.

Wet Shaving

Our grandfathers didn’t have much choice beyond traditional wet shaving.  Faster, more convenient options simply hadn’t been invented yet.  Aerosol cream wasn’t invented until 1950 and the first cartridge razor came on the market in the early 1970’s.  But before then, men took the time to build a lather, change to a fresh blade, and give themselves a proper wet shave.

Wet shaving was abandoned in the post-WWII to make life more convenient.  Men began to view their 15-minute shaving ritual as wasted time rather than an enjoyable morning ritual.  The quality of their shaves diminished but they liked having a few minutes back in their day.

Like all of the other examples in this post, wet shaving nearly disappeared, but it is making a strong comeback.  There is a vibrant community who discuss on Badger & Blade, read blogs like mine and Sharpologist, and share their experiences on Twitter (#wetshaving).  Some people are true hobbyists who like to try all the new products they can, while others find their groove with one razor/soap and just enjoy a better shave.

Turning our Backs on Convenience

There are a lot of reasons why our tastes and preferences change over time, but chief among them has been convenience.  For decades we have tried to master our time by compressing it and minimizing it at every turn.  Efficiency has done a lot of good for our society and dramatically increased our standard of living.  But many people are realizing that efficiency has consequences if we can’t slow down and enjoy the ride.

I imagine my grandfathers got some joy from the calm of their pipes, the taste of their bourbon, the community of their barbershop and the quality of their shave.  When I remind myself to slow down and enjoy the moment – I get joy from those things too.

Further Reading

The purpose of this blog is to share how wet shaving can help men get better shaves and clearer skin.  Here are some additional posts you may find interesting:

Intro to Wet Shaving – A primer on how DE shaving helps give better shaves and clearer skin

Shaving Technique – A “how-to” guide for shaving with a safety razor

DE Shaving Cost Comparison – Analysis comparing the cost of DE shaving vs cartridge shaving (spoiler: DE razors are cheaper than dirt!)

Gear for Beginners – The low-cost tools that introduced me to DE shaving

Razor Aggressiveness Basics – An explanation of what makes a razor “mild” with recommendations for beginning DE shavers

5 thoughts on “Becoming our Grandfathers: 4 “new” trends that are over a century old

  1. Gotta laugh. In the last year or so I’ve: started drinking whiskey and bourbon; smoking cigars and collecting and smoking tobacco pipes; returned to a barber that gives a straight-razor shave; and am beginning to learn about straight-razor shaving of myself. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Quality, reflection, taking time between the bites of food to really think about the flavor–can’t do that with “fast food,” either.

    L-RD Bless, Keep, Shine. . .

    1. Wow, what a parallel! Thank you for sharing. And great point about “slow food”. I think you are exactly right that we are slowing down…in a good way.

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