Are Your Feet Sandal-Ready?

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Are Your Feet Sandal-Ready?

Words by Mr Richard Benson | Photography by Mr Edward King | Styling by Ms Sophie Hardcastle

8 June 2016

As summer arrives, we shed our socks and investigate the rise of the mani-pedi.

When American scriptwriter and entrepreneur Mr Michael Elliott opened Hammer & Nails, the men-only salon on LA’s Melrose Avenue, in November 2013, he could not have predicted the impact it would have.

Although it wasn’t the world’s first salon to specialise in men-only nail care – that accolade almost certainly belongs to Men’s Nail Unique in Osaka, Japan, which opened in 2007 – Hammer & Nails’ high-profile location earned it global media coverage, much of it rather sneery. But as US basketball players such as Messrs LeBron James and Kobe Bryant began Instagraming images of their salon visits, it soon began to rise up the style agenda. And, in these cases, it wasn’t their hands but their feet on show.

In May last year, Mr Shaquille O’Neal’s terrifying close-up of his gnarly big toenail being tended went viral, and suddenly it seemed that half the world’s male sports stars – Mr David Beckham included, of course – were heralding the health benefits of getting one’s feet done. The mani-pedi, like “man flu” and more recently “mansplaining”, had gone mainstream. By spring 2016, Hammer & Nails – which has a “man-cave” design complete with dark leather chairs, distressed walls and beer and scotch available – was overwhelmed with bookings for mani-pedi packages.

In London, New York and other cities in the US, dozens of nail salons for men have opened. Mr Andy Penniceard, the owner of Privet, the man-friendly “body-topiary” salon in London’s Notting Hill, says that when his business opened two years ago “pedicures were stigmatised as feminine, and rarely requested by men. By this summer, it had become a regular thing.”

“Two years ago, pedicures were stigmatised as feminine. That has all changed”

Sometimes wives will book their husbands in, he says, but often men make the decision themselves, motivated by the start of the sandal-wearing season. It marks the apotheosis of the boom in male grooming over the past 10 years. Metrosexuals first embraced moisturisers and skincare products, and strove to keep their hair and beards properly trimmed. Then came the vogue for major physique maintenance with low-processed carb diets and gym regimes, and the trimming of body hair. Once the nicely tanned mankle became a thing, the feet were the final frontier in need of a makeover.

Statistics seem to support the reports from salons. The few serious grooming surveys tend to count manicures and pedicures as a single category, but Mintel’s current figures show that 25 per cent of American 18- to 34-year-olds have visited a salon to have one or the other, and anecdotal evidence suggests a) at least one mani-pedi is booked for every two manicures, and b) the UK is more or less in step with the US. When crunched, those figures suggest around one in eight men under 35 have had their their toes seen to at least once.

Mr John Allan, founder of the John Allan’s men’s grooming chain, which has four sites in Manhattan, attributes the craze for foot care to both an understanding of the health benefits, and a shift in the grooming industry’s priorities. “Men whose feet are exposed to harsh conditions, such as runners, seem to have created an uptick in the benefits of pedicures,” he says. “But the industry making men the focus, not the afterthought, was also pivotal. And the real tipping point came when the media made it acceptable for men to take care of themselves with treatments like pedicures, without any stereotyping.”

“The industry making men the focus, not the afterthought, was pivotal”

But are mani-pedis really necessary? Well, a pair of hirsute, corny, gnarly-nailed feet can certainly feel like a liability. My friend John, who played professional football in his twenties, is good-looking and confident, but like many footballers, has hobbit feet with blackened nails, scars and badly bent toes. “I have literally had girls scream when they see them,” he told me. “I learned to keep them out of sight whenever possible. I can’t say for certain they’ve lost me a girlfriend, but I suspect they might have.”

When I went to Privet to try their 50-minute mani-pedi, it felt strange at first, and oddly intimate; after all, foot fetishists will rarely have had another adult clean and cut their toenails. After a while it was great, though. The treatment involved washing, massaging, nail-trimming, cuticle-tidying, exfoliating, waxing, dead-skin emery boarding, and then moisturing. By the end of it, I felt as if I was walking in slippers, and I realised how bad my Birkenstocked feet had previously looked. It felt relaxing and it felt self-indulgent. But most of all, it felt like what was good for the soles was also good for the soul.

How to take care of your feet

01. Wash your feet every day. Most of us neglect this simple step, and hardly ever wash them at all. Dry them carefully, especially between the toes.

02. Moisturise them using a good everyday moisturiser, such as Baxter Of California Hand And Body Moisturizer.

03. Trim toenails regularly. Begin by clipping down the corners at a 45-degree angle, and then move to the centre to prevent ingrowing.

04. Use an emery board to sand down hard, dead skin after soaking.

05. Smooth corns and callouses slowly and gently; never hack away at the skin.

happy feet