Friday, March 21, 2008

Greasy kids’ stuff

Influenced by pop stars like Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard, boys of my generation, who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, liked to spot ‘karli pok’ hairstyles. The hair is neatly combed into a curry puff shape and kept in place by hair cream. Often our hair was so greasy that ‘even a fly cannot land on it’.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Just look at the 1960s photo (right) of my friend Brian Mitchell and his 2 buddies. Don’t you just envy their cool ‘karli pok’ hairstyles.

Initially, the most popular brand of hair cream was Brylcreem. Practically every guy used it. It was white in colour and quite soft. You used your finger to dig out some from a circular container, dab it on your other palm, rub your palms together and then massage it onto your hair.

Later another brand came along. It was a Japanese brand known as Tancho. It was marketed aggressively and became quite popular. It was green in colour and much thicker than Brylcreem; a bit like the Tiger Balm ointment. It had a very nice fragrance.

The final product that came along and attempted to replace such hair creams was the Vitalis hair lotion. Greasy kids’ stuff was their tag line. I think it was quite effective and many of us switched to it.

Judging by the greasy look that young men spot nowadays, it looks like the fashion has gone 1 full circle. The ‘greasy kid’s stuff seems to be back in fashion.

But it no longer makes any difference for guys our generation ..... because we don’t have much turf to work on anyway (:


Anonymous said...

Chun See
U forgot there was Yardley of London (before Brylcreem) the thick green coloured stuff?

Then Vitalis came out Alberto VO5 like a cannister spray.

You forgot the Indian Mama barber? He poured plenty of whisky colored looking hair oil and then gave a good hard rub and chop your neck for that nice massage?

BTW there is this Indian mama barber at corner of Woo Man Chu Road and Upper East Coast Road. His saloon windown never change from the 1960s. George Yeo "guting" his rambut there - saw him a couple of times. he liked the man whack his back after hair-cut.

U know the cure for baldness? Patronise "lady baber" instead. Have u tried and feel the difference? Seems they dont "guting" rambut like the Malay or Indian barber.

Anonymous said...

actually by late 1960s, no need for hair oil or styling cream. Why? Long hair in fashion like Beatle hairstyle. No need to visit barber, no need hair cream. so easy to manage.

The day my friends ROD, they went to buy a wig.

Anonymous said...

Just taken a look at a pic of three of my friends taken in the early 1960s at RAF Changi Officers Club and I reckon two of them are definitely 'karli pok' and Brylcreem users. I don't know if you want that pic uploaded Chun See but let me know how to add it in to these comments and I will send it!

Zen said...

Recently my daughter asked what I wanted for my birthday and I told her to buy me a few CDs containing Rock N Roll songs. To me other types of music seems to lack the 'Ommph'factor. She seemed surprised forgeting that I grew up with a heavy dosage of Elvis songs style(drain-pipe trousers), gyrating waist-leg movements and above all deeply affected by his music. All this cannot be compared to my secondary school mate, an Indian boy named Guna who sat next to me. This fellow was a terribly bright student, first to hand out any homework assignment and excelled in maths & science, but he was incorrigibly mischievious belting out Elvis Jailhouse Rock whenever the teacher was not around, banging his steel desk rhythmically like Elvis doing his round in 'Blue Hawaii'. In short he added spice to my school life which could otherwise be boring especially in a boy school.

Lam Chun See said...

I think I have a picture of the Yardley that Peter mentioned but being poor kampong boys, we never used it. I will upload photo tomorrow. A bit late now.

Brian, I wanted to upload your photo too but was not sure if you'd mind. Anyway, that can also wait until tomorrow.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter's memory is really good. Now I recall seeing that Alberto VO5 advert. But I thot that was a ladies' product?

Anonymous said...

There was also another hair cream brand, white cream in a bottle. Rather odd shape bottle. I think the name was "Vaseline". Same time as Yardley.

When I was young, I loved to get the shaving done by Indian baber. After hair-cut, he used his long blade - that was sharpened on a kind of black leather belt tied to a table - and worked around the neck region. Shiok feeling! Why? Because when the barber applied the hair tonic, got a burning sensation on the skin.

One time during the ra of the beatles, I tried to grow a side-burn. Geroge harrison was one of the Beatles who spotted a side-burn. I listened to all kinds of "advices". Some said, you shave at least 3 times a day. Some said apply brandy on the spot you want to grow the side burn. Unfortunately none worked.

Zen said...

Being a fickle-minded fellow, I had tried practically out all the creams listed in this story - greasy or non greasy minus the mama type. I only went to an Indian barber once and came out quite disappointed with the style of cutting as compared to the Malay hair grooming skill. However I did enjoy the mama barber twist-jerk-head-jaw manipulation skillfully done in a single swift motion by the barber after each grooming session. The clicking sound of the neck made me felt 'shioked' as though all the accumulated stress in the neck was released. Sometime I tried to do this chiropatic trick myself in front of the mirror but without much success. My classmates warned me not to be too adventurous in manipulation of one's head which could lead to serious consequences to the nerves system. I took heed of their caution.

Lam Chun See said...

Once I saw a doctor for this problem called 'nipped nerve'. I got it from (don't laugh) walking into a glass door.

The doctor warned me NEVER to let the Indian barber do that head jerking thing becos it can result in very serious injury.

Unk Dicko said...

Hi C See,
Thanks for the memories!
I used all the creams you mentioned and later Vitalis. Personally, I like Vitalis best because of the fragrance...reminds me so much of the sun and the sea. can really hold the hair in place esp Vitalis super hold.
About barbers,I tried all...Chinese ah Pek, Indian mamak, Malay and lady. Each has his own good points. Ah Pek v good at giving "Mao " look and gentlemen haircut which came with very nice ear cleaning. But very poor for American GI crew -cut. For this GI cut...only the Malay barbers can produce the real thingy....really, super good.
The Mamak...I go when I want to feel" SHIOK". 5 very shiok reasons...why. 1) He shaves very well with his old time long knife.2)He applied the "special' astringent after shaving and haircut...makes the skin tingles!!
3) He used a warm face wipe off making me feel refreshed. 4) He twisted my head and neck like a dead chicken. I could hear the " breaking sounds" click-clack.
But boy, I always felt so good.
5) He karated my back from neck to waist. Never did I complain.
I miss all the above all these years. But the lady...never again! That was all in the 50's to 70's.

Anonymous said...

I always patronise man barbers until my wife sugegsted that I should go to a lady barber because they know hair-cutting techniqeus better than "Sri Dewa" Malay barber. Off I went to see Janson. My first mistake was to address them as female barbers, a term they felt derogatory. It should always be "hair-stylists". Expensive I would say - $8/- haircut now $15/-.

Instead of using a "clip clip" manual cutter to remove my hair, they used a pair of scissors and a comb. Their hair-cutting approach was to cut by layers. They also wash and blow-dry your hair. Sometimes you are not sure whether the "hair washer" (not the same as hair stylist) was trying to be fresh with the male customer. Why? For the reason you should try first and tell the others the reason. Maybe you guys should visit "Saloon 916" at Upper East Coast Road, opposite Lemon Grass Restaurant to find out why.

Anyway after some time, I decided to go back to my own Malay barber. Anyway there

Lam Chun See said...

The barbers of yesteryears were such an interesting breed they deserve a separate post/article don't you think. Meantime, you may want to read what my brother Chun Chew (Zen) has written last year about our first kampong barber. Newer readers of GMY may not have read it so I will re-date it to bring it forward so that it is easier for your guys to read it below.

yg said...

talking about barbers of yesteryears reminded me of an experience i had when i was in primary school. my mother had asked me to have my hair cut very short.

i went to this malay barber who operated his barber stand under a big tree near the former rangoon road primary school. i paid fifty cents for the haircut. i did not know how to convey to him what i had wanted. i needed a crew cut. instead, i told him 'kaseh botak'

had to be one of the easiest styles of haircut for the barber to execute. in fact, there was no style and not much technique involved. the barber just razed the hair off the head. it was over in no time. i was in a daze because i had not expected the result.

when i got home, i became the laughing stock of the whole kampong. i tried to hide the 'bare'look by wearing a large handkerchief, knotted at the four corners, on my head. it did not help much, but at least i did not feel 'naked'.

i had to go to school in my new look and had to bear the brunt of tauntings and jokes for nearly a month.

Zen said...

Since I tried many hair grooming creams I would like give person views on them. Brycreem - greasy, Tancho- greasy, good hair control, but I preferred the greaseless Tancho in a 'stick form, Vitalis -liquid form, good hair control, easy to apply, greaseless with a nice fragrance, yardley (green pleasing colour) nice lavender aroma but expensive especially to school boys with shallow pockets. Recently I even tried Gatsby gel (usually for youngsters) but found it not suitable for me. After a big merry-go-round I now settle down with Sankyo lotion, the very Japanese grooming aid I feared most in the sixties, because Japanese goods had a very poor reputation at that time. Now the opposite is true. Anyway it is not a big deal snymore as there are not much hairs in my head to worry about.

Aiyah Nonya said...

I remember my Grandfather and Father using Brylcream. Don't see it around town anymore.
And you are right. TRhey are real greasy. :)

Anonymous said...

I am not sure whether this was the correct way to use the hair cream. I recall seeing many men when styling/combing their hair, they dip the comb into the jar of Berylcreem and then "wipe" it on their head. Once that is done, they start the combing process. Because of this technique, a layer of hair cream and loose hair are left on the comb. Every few days, one had to wash the comb to remove the layer of oil.

Then when Vitalis came into the market with the liquid version of the hair oil, the palms were use instead. men saw that this was a clean way of hair styling.

On another subject, I wonder the different ways of washing one's hair.

As a child of the 50s, I never seen hair shampoo before. If there was one, it was for ladies, a brand from Unilever. So boys had to use the same body soap bar to wash their hair. Of course today our children have the luxury of shampoon for dry hair, for oil scalp, etc, vitamine-fortified or egg, and "conditioners". For me it was LUX soap all the way until I got married.

The only time I ever used non-soap bar was when I patronise the Mama Barber. I am not sure what he used but there was plenty of white foam.

Anonymous said...

I still remember the smell of both the green and white Brylcreem.. used by my uncles and dad. Strange, I also remember the green yardley bottle..(Im in my 20s). Now, you have to do a post on women's beauty products! The first thing that comes to my mind is the small box of powder in a square shape. It has a picture of a pretty chinese lady on it. :) Funny how simple the beauty products were back then.

Zen said...

I think greasy creams are unable to make a significant come-back even if it has become fashionable to do so. My reason is that a greasy head of hairs would certainly trap dust from the air. One could imagine a sweaty head with sticky hairs would likely give out an unpleasant smell at the same time making shampooing difficult. Who would like to touch a greasy head of hairs and have ones hand stained? that is why most people like to pat a baby's head - greaseless soft hairs.

Anonymous said...

One can still buy Brylcreem now, athough the packaging has changed somewhat (no longer in the red & white packaging). I will try to take a photo of if if I happen to see it again.

Incidentally, Febreeze, the modern-day product to remove smells from fabric or upholstery has the smell of Brylcreem!


Victor said...

As a kid, I normally used water to groom my hair. Sometimes even used saliva as it was very convenient.

Notice that the containers were mostly made of breakable material - Yardley (and Vitalis?) bottles were made of glass while Tancho's white container was also made of glass.

I think the reason is that plastic had not been invented yet.

Unknown said...

Chun See,

Great memories. I used all the products you mentioned here and that gives you an indication of my age. But I may surprise you.

Also, how about an expose on stuff like Tabac, old spice, 4711?

Would be nice

Anonymous said...

Tabac was for talcum powder. Before Tabac Johnson Baby Powder was popular.

Old Spice = after-shave lotion

Eau De Cologne 4711 for freshing up the neck. Cant remember who made it. I used to "kapo" my mother's bottle when I went on dates.

There was also one "lipstead" deodorant for the armpit. Cant remember which brand. We used this in Sec 1 becos after recess our bodies very smelly. Also because of armpit hair, this made it worse.

Lam Chun See said...

Tabac, Old Spice and 4711 I think are for adults'. As kids we only hear the ads and certainly cannot afford; esp. Tabac was (relatively) quite expensive.

Anonymous said...

i agree with Chun See's observations. We were kids then and oftern heard over the radio the advertisements promoting men's products. Sometimes if our parents used them, we "kapo" them.

I remember what my mother used to have on her dressing table but these were not for males to use. The only pleasure I got was to open them up, check it out and close the cover. I guess curiosity.

So I remember things like Max Factor (powder puff inside the round plastic box), red lip stick (in golden colored bullet-like packaging), mirror inside the Max Factor powder case. Eye-liners think for the big time tai-tais. Hazeline Snow in a Tiger Balm bottle packaging. i saw what my mother did and copied her. Boy o boy! Pimples broke out on my face. I was so stupid, I used water and soap to wash off when things ran out of control. I should have used a cleanser to remove.

I think only when the skinny girl called Twiggy introduced a new product for teenaged girls, then school girls staretd to use those new products.

I see nowdays see young males going for facial treatment, use all kinds of lotion to keep face young and healthy, nail treatment, etc.

Anonymous said...

If u had been following this TV football program called "Nokia Football Crazy", there is an advert about someone having a dizzy feeling. There is one scene of a Mama barber shop. Thta barber shop is called "New Century" at the corner of Woo Man Chu Road and Upper East Coast Road. They have been in business since the 1950s.

Next week I will bring a freind from England for a hair-cut. He wants to try out the "whack whack" massage and also the neck twisting. he says, England never got this kind of thing and he misses them because hwas in Singapore during the 1960s and used to patronise this Mama barber.

Anonymous said...

In the 60s if I remember correctly a lot of teenagers, myself included, tended to sport Tony Curtis haircut as it was then very fasionable.
The use of the liquid "Vitalis" always resulted in the growth of dandruff on my head.

Anonymous said...

hi, i think you people have missed out another haircream. its called ayer mata ujong. its got a picture of a spanish dancing women on its label. the bottle is of the same shape as lavender/yardley.

Thomas C B Chua said...

Hei, I also went through the " Tancho" age ! It greased your pillow case !!! Thanks for the fond memory.

Unknown said...

does anyone have a picture of the A1 hair jelly popularly used in Indian barbershops?
It's cylindrical, the hair jelly is green and not so greasy.
Thank you in advance.

Unknown said...

If anyone has a picture of that A1 hair jelly, kindly send to

Thank you.