For many men, the fleshy lumps at the end of their legs are a mystery: black boxes of fungus, bunions and strange oduors.
It’s often easier to leave them hidden, wrapped up in socks for every waking hour (yes, even at night).
But the toe tides are changing and what was once a forgotten realm of the body is now beginning to open for business once again.
From Prince Harry’s royal pedicures to Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky’s nail art to Action Bronson booking his mates in for some much-needed foot care, men’s nailcare is having a renaissance.
So why have men put off pampering their pads for so long? What do men really think? And are the winds of male foot care changing course?
First, some historical perspective: though pedicures and footcare are now seen as the preserve of women, it was men that used to have the cleanest cuticles.
Ancient Egyptian pharaohs, largely men, were known to have been huge fans of feet and leg care. The better off your lower appendages, the better off you were in society.
Essential oils and herbal ointments were the preserve of rich noblemen, while women and the poor were relegated to having dirty and uncared for feet.
It’s the same story for Ancient Greece and Rome; having well cared for feet was seen as an aspiration.
Taking care of other people’s feet became a desirable profession – Napoleon’s corn cutter (a proto-podiatrist) was his best friend and confidante.
These pedicures weren’t what you might imagine them to be – they were about cleanliness, circulation and maintenance.
‘If you say to a guy a pedicure, they immediately think bright pink nails,’ says Aldwyn Boscawen, founder of London’s first dedicated men’s pedicure room.
‘Not realising that actually, in any pedicure, that’s kind of the add-on.’
As beauty became seen as something more for women, and foot care associated with beauty, male feet got left by the wayside.
‘Men of the house would have had corn cutters, but when women were seen more out and about in society you had this massive rise in nail painting and women taking care of their appearance,’ says Boscawen.
‘All of a sudden, everything that was seen as having your nails treated, but not for medical reasons, became this thing that women did.’
The lasting effects of this abandonment of the male foot are still felt today.
In a heavily unscientific poll of around 50 men for Metro.co.uk, around 10% of men confessed to never washing their feet, while a more respectable 45% admitted to washing their feet ‘once in a blue moon.’
Though there seems to be a large group of men who don’t dive feet first into their cleanliness regime, a solid 45% of men said they wash their feet each time they showered.
The core of the #NeverWash argument seems to be a form of trickle down soapenomics, expressed by poll respondent Jamie as ‘your feet get all the secondhand soap from the rest of you, cleaning them separately as well is spoiling them in my opinion.’
Other men more faithful to the feet washing cause have been discouraged by stray comments.
Elliot, 24, says that he used to clean his feet ‘every time I shower without fail, but I got told once it’s weird by someone I was dating. Don’t really understand how keeping clean is weird though?’
Another of the survey’s respondents, who asked to be referred to as Papi De La Sock Fluff, wondered if he was the only one to ‘meticulously de-sock fluff and (lord forgive me) de-foot-residue-between-your-toes every time you remove your socks at the end of a day?’
So why do so many men neglect their feet? Could it be a matter of out of sight, out of mind?
Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist from Preston, has been carrying out a skincare routine for his face and upper body for the past year, but his feet haven’t yet entered the equation.
‘It’s strange, in all reality, my feet, they feel like they’re so far away that it’s almost pointless [to take care of them],’ says Chambers.
‘They’re always covered by socks, even through summer.’
Chambers lost the ability to walk six years ago due to autoimmune arthritis and had to relearn, but even then, his feet were the last thing on his mind.
‘The one bit of surface that we’re ground to the earth with, the surface that we stand on, balance through, travel with, in many ways should actually be really important,’ says Chambers.
‘But for some reason men don’t still connect with looking after their feet, it just seems a little bit abstract – I don’t think I’ve ever had a pedicure in my life.’
Slowly, however, there are men who are starting to incorporate footcare into their routines.
How should you take care of your feet?
Diana Vascenko, lead technician at Beauty Clinic Simone, offers some advice:
- First of all, you should find some good quality shoes, especially if you’re exercising or running long distance.
- During the summer, applying creams to deal with excess sweating and during the winter, using moisturiser to avoid cracking skin.
- Wear 100% cotton socks – shoes and socks are so important.
Diana Vascenko, lead technician at Beauty Clinic Simone, has been taking care of feet for 12 years, and seen a huge increase in men wanting to get their feet groomed in recent years.
‘Three of four years ago, men were a bit shy to come to the salons – seeing it as more for the ladies,’ says Vascenko.
But once men climb aboard the foot care train, men can be even better than women at taking care of their feet.
‘I would say they’re actually better than women – if they have any problems, they’re really good with the products we recommend,’ says Vascenko.
Aldwyn Boscawen agrees: ‘Men, in some cases, have better feet than women because women do DIY foot care worse,’
‘You can do a lot of damage to your nails by using certain forms of nail varnish.’
‘Men on the whole don’t look after them probably as much, but they’re not actively doing too much to them that can damage nails.’
Apart from the obvious cleanliness benefits, there are tangible mental health benefits from keeping feet fresh, too.
A weekly pedicure, many pedicurists would agree, is a perfect way to unwind from the stresses of the week.
‘It’s being able to go sit and relax and take that time for yourself, it’s something to put into your routine for your mental health as much as anything else,’ says Boscawen.
And, comfort and mental health aside, taking care of your feet could be the financially sound thing to do as well.
‘You ask yourself the question: there’s a chance that this could be fine and I’ll go through life without doing anything, or do I actually want to take a positive step forward?’ says Boscawen.
‘It’ll be cheaper to sort anything now than it would be to sort anything out further down the line.’
So, men, take off those socks, let your soles breathe and think about looking further than your kneecaps once in a while.
What’s the deal with Feet Week?
Feet Week is a week dedicated entirely to feet… as the name probably gives away.
We figured we could all do with something to occupy our minds during the pandemic – and what better topic than feet?
From 4 May to 10 May you can find articles on everything feet, from what it actually takes to be a foot model to what it’s like to be a pro toe wrestler.
You can read all our Feet Week content right here.
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