ISLAMABAD: Nails are buffed, blackheads scrubbed and coffee sipped to the sound of clipping scissors inside the "Men's" salon in the capital. The salon is full of a growing number of male patrons are set on revamping their style — buzzword “metrosexual”.
The country has long held strict notions of masculinity — derived from long martial traditions —where men are often expected to be austere and flamboyant styling is to be avoided.
Ngents: State-of-the-art men’s salon in Lahore
But savvy entrepreneurs in urban centres have latched on to a new metrosexual trend: male beauty salons.
While women in urban Pakistan have long enjoyed access to the care and range of beauticians, stylists and a bevvy of accessories and products, expensive facials and mani-pedis for men are becoming more common as disposable incomes in the nation's swelling middle class grow — the per capita income jumping by 6.4 per cent in 2017.
A vibrant social media culture has also fuelled the desire to be “selfie-ready” at any time. The trend is attributed to social media-friendly influencers such as actor-cum-models Adnan Malik and Osman Khalid Butt along with a host of Instagram-famous bloggers attracting hundreds of thousands of followers online with their fashion-conscious posts.
At Tauseeq Haider's "Men's" salon, customers usually fork out a minimum of Rs1,400 ($12.60) for a visit — a far cry from the Rs200 which traditional barber shops charge.
"Men have equal right to be groomed and times have changed. It's no more just getting your haircut," says Haider.
"Senior citizens, bureaucrats, they do not feel ashamed of saying that ‘I need a facial, massage, my nails need to be done, please suggest what should I get’," he adds.
In the rural areas, men have traditionally taken their fashion tips from Islamic dictates, with the Holy Quran specifying the length of the beard and moustache along with detailed hygiene guidelines.
But in the cities, Bollywood and Western entertainment have long driven fashion trends for conscientious groomers.
But times are changing fast in the rapidly developing nation, with social media setting and wrecking trends in urban centres at the speed of a swipe.
According to Lebanese salon owner Michael Kanaan, who has been based in Pakistan for more than a decade, rising wages and greater exposure to global culture is fanning the burgeoning demand.
"The Pakistan male is becoming more metrosexual. It is all due to the internet and the age of satellites and TVs," explains Kanaan.
Economist Minhajul Haque agrees, saying Pakistani men are also subjected to a new slew of online advertising campaigns that have reinforced the trend.
"There is this whole lot of clever marketing of male beauty products which is spurring demand," he explains. Adverts for beard oil are now not uncommon.
For 49-year-old Humayun Khan, spending seven times the daily wage of the poorest of poor in the country just to look good was ‘fine’. Moreso, his wife was supportive of the new passion.
"I... get my nails done, get my haircut, get my facial and I am done for the day and after two weeks I come again," he says.
"If I do not look good, my wife wouldn't like me," he laughs.
Stylist Ghulfam Ghori says men are also now more concerned with skincare, opting for blackhead removal, acne treatments and even the occasional brush with makeup before major events such as weddings.
"Men are very conscious about their skin now... and consider it essential to get facials. Previously it was not common, but now the trend is increasing among men to get themselves groomed," says Ghori.
Men beauty salons booming in Pakistan: report
But it's not just the salons that are cashing in on men's blossoming cosmopolitan predilections.
Zafar Bakhtawari, chairman of the D. Watson Group, one of Pakistan's biggest pharmacy chains, explains, “I can say there is a revolution coming up in Pakistan in the male psyche that they are becoming very much conscious about their beauty, about their face, about their hair, about their dress and it's a great revolution."
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2018.