Over the last 30 years, Jeremy Langmead’s light and witty repartee has offered a constant commentary on a man’s life in our times, always delivered with his particular form of irreverent, self-deprecating and exceedingly British charm. A long and varied career path in the businesses of publishing and fashion has seen him as the editor of Esquire, Wallpaper, Sunday Times Style and Luxx, the chief content officer at Christie’s, a columnist for The Times, and as a founding member of Mr Porter, the men’s subsidiary of Net-a-Porter.
Now, with the publication this week of his book ‘Vain Glorious – A Shameless Guide for Men Who Want to Look Their Best’ Jeremy compiles all he has learnt about grooming, fashion, and men’s skincare into an amusing yet ultimately useful paperback, sharing his tales of undergoing many of the self-improvement cosmetic treatments he espouses — or not — from Botox to hair transplants, and new veneers to delicately waxing his nether regions.
“My life is a constant battle between vanity and laziness. This book has brokered the perfect peace deal,” says comedian Graham Norton about ‘Vain Glorious’. Indeed, the book offers solutions for all quandaries, from advice on sartorial etiquette (no to flip-flops) to remembering fundamental men’s bathroom rules (try not to fall asleep at the wheel).
Jeremy’s argument is that men should not be shamed for wanting to be and look their best, even if that means with a little help from the needle or the knife. His recommendations are backed up by Dr David Jack, an aesthetic specialist with a clinic in London’s Harley Street, who adds his medical expertise to Jeremy’s anti-aging tips in the second half of the book, not to mention the fact that the men’s personal care market is booming, predicted to be worth $166 billion by 2022.
Here we chat with Jeremy about his views on vanity — dealing with the predicament of conceivably being considered too vain, or perhaps not vain enough, and the occasional accusations of superficiality. No matter how much you care about your appearance, the book is a must read simply for the brutal honesty and comical anecdotes from his experiences that he shares in order to break open the toxic taboos and secrecy that surround the male appearance.
What made you want to write the book in the first place?
Outside of the [fashion] world that we live in, most men are so embarrassed, especially of a certain generation, to talk about being vain or wanting to look in the mirror, wanting to look better. Yeah, of course, most men do want to look good. But the reason it really started was, I was at a banker’s dinner party — which aren’t always the most exciting, but I quite like those bankers, because they’re so macho and absurd and ridiculous — and they were all worrying about their hair and I asked, “Have any of you tried Propecia?” I was showing them these pills, and they all said “Oh no, no, I wouldn’t try any of those.”
Then one of them says, “Well, I’ve got this foam stuff.” He went upstairs and he came down and it was spray-on foam hair, that sort of fills the gaps. It just looked like Fuzzy Felt, that we used to have as children! They all hated the fact that their hair was disappearing, and yet they were too embarrassed to think that they could find a great solution for it. “Well, why have none of you thought about having a hair transplant?” I asked. And again, they were all embarrassed to even admit having thought about it.
Then, I actually did have a hair transplant two years ago. I had no intention of doing it, because I hadn’t really noticed the state of my own hair. But I was interviewing a surgeon and I said, “Well, I don’t need one, I’m just interviewing you for The Times.” And he said “Hmmm”. It was that awkward moment where he didn’t know whether he should say, actually you do need a bit of one. So he said “I’ll bring [your hairline] forward an inch or two.” And he did, and it was one of the best days of my life, because I just watched telly and ate sweeties while everyone else did all the work and I had lovely new hair a few months later.
Then I told a few friends, ‘laddy’ mates, that it doesn’t hurt, and there’s only about a week of inconvenience when you have to sort of spray stuff all over your head and sleep upright. Then two of them, one an actor and another who’s in banking, both went to this guy, had the hair transplants, and they messaged me saying, “We are so happy. It’s changed our lives. It’s absurd I know but I just feel so much happier, if only I’d known this all those years ago.”
And I thought, ‘F*** it, someone’s got to tell men because other men won’t.’ That there are some bits and bobs you can do to make yourself look better if you want to. Many people look perfectly brilliant as they age. Most people do. But not everyone’s happy with it.
People shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed of caring about how they look, and they shouldn’t be ashamed of not caring about how they look either. So, to try and take away that taboo, I suppose, is why I wrote the book. But I didn’t want to make it too preachy and boring, which is why I put my disasters in there too!
Where do you get your dry sense of humor from?
I think it’s because I grew up with such a peculiar family background, with my mum marrying five times and everything was a disaster. She was like Henry VIII, because some of them she beheaded, some of them committed suicide, one of them went to a lunatic asylum. I mean, really that did all happen! You just had to make a joke of everything because otherwise it was too depressing. You have to laugh in the face of adversity, which sometimes really helps. But I do have that awful tick that some people have, when someone tells you the most shocking news, and then I start giggling uncontrollably, and it’s just a nervous thing. It’s awful. It does get me into trouble sometimes, but I think it’s just having to make light of things when you’ve had to put up with a bit of a bonkers childhood.
What resistance do you see from men to be seen to be looking after themselves?
I write a grooming column for The Times LUXX Magazine. Everyone always tells you not to read the comments — but of course, as soon as someone tells you not to do something, you do it, don’t you? So whenever I write about something superficial, about having a treatment or about fashion, there’s the hate you get online. Of course, we all know that trolls are trolls, but even within The Times sophisticated readership, they really are angry that I’ve written about hair transplants, or written about Botox. There’s still a huge resistance from that older readership.
But what’s so nice is there’s another generation growing up that don’t give a damn. I mean, my kids, they don’t care about anyone’s sexuality, they don’t care what gender they decide to be. My goddaughter, three weeks ago she was Keith, then she was back to Nell, and then she was Ziggy the week after. I mean, I never know what gender she is anymore. It can be a bit confusing, but it’s also rather wonderful that everyone else is more accepting of what other people do.
And the beauty technology has changed. People look a bit less plasticky, and a lot of the treatments you can do are now safer, they’re not dangerous. As I say in the book, when you get a tummy ache, you take Imodium; when you get a headache, you take an Ibuprofen; so if you get a horrible frown in the middle of your forehead that you don’t like, and someone says. “I can get rid of that for you,” great. Or keep it if you like it.
How much do you think looking good on the outside benefits feeling good on the inside?
Well, that’s a really good question. And obviously it depends as no two individuals are the same. There are generally some people, like the trolls from The Times, who don’t give a f*** what they look like. And I envy them. I mean, how lovely to be in that position. Genuinely, I think, gosh, lucky them, because it’s so much cheaper and there’s so much more time to worry about other things.
But when you feel more confident on the outside with how you look, yes, I think it makes a big difference if it’s your mindset to worry about those things.
There’s a chapter in the book, which is totally true, where I explain that one of my OCD things is this obsession with having stuff in my teeth. I cannot relax if I think I’ve got some lettuce in my teeth. Sometimes I will go to the bathroom and check. If there’s no mirror in the loo, I will finish the dinner early rather than carry on. I’ve got a little better with therapy on that, but it can be really disturbing if you have OCD. A tidy face means a tidy life, in my book. Which is bonkers, but that’s how it works for me.
But I think a lot of people just feel a little bit more confident if they feel that they look better on the outside. I hate to quote myself but, “beauty may be skin deep, but how we feel about how we look often dives so much deeper,” and that’s so true.
Did any part of this process embarrass you, to either have the treatments or to write about them?
Well, the awful thing is, actually it did, because the whole point to write this was so that men weren’t embarrassed about wanting to do a treatment or look better. But I am slightly embarrassed that it’s coming out, because then everyone will think, “Oh, that natural youthful look he had wasn’t entirely natural!” So I was a bit embarrassed about that, in a little way, but I got over it. The Times is very kindly running a cover story in The Saturday Times Magazine, but I have horrible feeling it will literally will say “Is this the vainest man in Britain?” or “The face that costs £22,000?” I mean, it’s going to be appallingly embarrassing.
What difference do you see in the vanity shared by men your age versus your son’s age?
It’s tricky because obviously at my son’s age, they all look fine anyway. But it’s lovely that one can have candid conversations now, and that they’re just so open. The other day I was talking to him and he says, “For f***’s sake dad, every time I look at a picture of Justin Bieber on Instagram, you’ve liked it.” So poor him, what a dad to have, and now this book coming out!
But look at the biggest YouTube makeup bloggers, most of them are young guys of about 17 or 18. In Asia particularly, South Korea and in China, they’ve got no qualms about wearing makeup. Makeup here in the UK is beginning to take off – I don’t know if it is in LA yet – but there’s a brand called War Paint for Men, that sells out. The future of men’s skincare and beauty lines as a market is huge, and it’s growing massively.
Out of all the treatments you tried, which do you think was the most successful and what will you continue to do?
My teeth are probably up there, I just had those done, composite bonding veneers. The dentist said, “Oh, you don’t want to go too white, because it’ll look like you’ve had them done.” I said, “If I’m paying three grand, I want them to be as white as they can. I want to look like someone from TOWIE!” So I was pleased with the result. And don’t you think a smile is the most youthful making, lovely thing that a face can do? Even if you can’t afford any treatment whatsoever, just smile and then you’re 50% of the way there … unless you’ve got terrible teeth, but you know what I mean! A smile just lights up a face, makes the other person feel comfortable.
But I think mostly the hair transplant. I hadn’t noticed that my hair had disappeared. Jimmy Carr said he hadn’t noticed his hair was “socially distancing from his forehead,” which I thought was such a good line! “I had hair, it was just in the wrong place.”
But I’m pleased with it, just having a bit more hair at the front. And the one thing that gives me the most joy is telling other men if I know they’re unhappy about their hair, that they can sort that one out. There are some friends of mine for whom it’s a big secret. But I’m f**king telling everyone I’m so pleased. And why not? In 2021, it’s not a terrible thing, there’s far worse things to worry about. And by the way, so many men look great bald, but not everyone does. I just look really ugly with no hair.
I tried filler once. Which just felt a little bit like there’s gel in my face. Ugh. Don’t need that. The nice thing is you can just have it taken out, which a lot of people don’t realize. But alternatively Profhilo is great. It’s a bit like just injecting moisturizer, and it dissipates under the skin, then you just have a slightly glowy, more refreshed look. What’s not to like?
The awful thing with me is that I’ve always tried everything. When someone said, ‘Oh, women are wonderful,” I married one. When someone said, “Children are fun,” I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll have one of those.’ And then a few years later someone said, “Oh no, guys are fun.” So I thought I’ll marry one of those. So I’ve always wanted to try everything that came along, which can get you into trouble sometimes, obviously. But I do like trying all these things within reason.
Do you think there is such a thing as too vain? Who’s gone too far with all of this?
I’m so un-judgey now because I think everyone should look how they want to. But there are some men who got so vain they were no longer able to see what they looked like, and that’s where it goes wrong. I suppose they’ve gone so far down the vanity route that they literally can’t see what’s looking back at them in the mirror. And they would have looked like perfectly lovely elder gentlemen, but they’re just so full of fillers, they don’t actually look human. So that’s when it’s gone too far. Like Siegfried and Roy, that whole look.
Secretly, I’ve always loved that story about Liberace paying for his boyfriend to have plastic surgery to look like him, which is the ultimate fantasy, isn’t it?! I keep telling [my husband] Simon that that’s his Christmas present next year, haha. “You’re getting my face for Christmas next year!” Which is why he’s nowhere to be seen.
Some of those Essex boys in The Only Way Is Essex preen themselves, but I love them for that. They’re real lads and they don’t care, they just say, “I want to look like this.” We’ve become less judgey as a society, I think.
Which man do you look at and think they’ve aged the most elegantly? Who’s the perfect example?
Alive is hard, isn’t it? Because mostly it’s the dead people that we want to look like.
[David] Beckham, I sometimes think he looks amazing. He’s looking a bit leathery, but rugged and jaggy can look brilliant if you carry it off well, it’s sort of really handsome. If you meet him close up, he has those eyes, that charisma that suddenly overrides the whole face.
But mostly I envy the looks of the dead guys. And it was the dead guys who always used to sell better on the cover of Esquire, by the way. Like McQueen and Newman. Partly because they had that allure, they weren’t just really good looking. But also, as I think I say in the book, as they were dead they weren’t competition, so we’re always happy liking them a bit more. That’s our primeval mating instinct, needing to look better.
How do you think masculinity is evolving and becoming less toxic?
Well, it is obviously evolving with the generations, but there’s still a lot of battles going on in that area. And again, so hard for our sons’ generation, how you date and how you treat people. It’s great that they’re having to think about what they say and do much more so but, as you’ve probably read, there are all these boys at schools who are being told that they’re disgusting and they behave badly, and now they’re too embarrassed to ask girls out on dates, because they’re not sure if that’s the right thing to do. It’s so good that that’s all being addressed, but also it’s making a lot of boys feel very insecure.
The other thing for that generation, which is slightly on a tangent, but again, you’ve probably read about it, is the rise of the availability of online porn. The availability of PornHub has made so many younger men feel insecure about their physical prowess, that you’ve got 19 year olds who have absolutely no problem whatsoever getting an erection, taking a Viagra just to give them a boost of confidence to have sex, and they think that they’ve got to be like the guy on PornHub, physically as well as performatively. Of course with social media too, they’re judged so much more than we were in the old days.
It’s a tough world, so toxic masculinity has sort of been replaced by a toxic world at the moment. The world is kind of getting better, but it’s also hitting itself in the face at the same time. So again, why worry about someone caring about how they look? Worry about far worse thing that are happening.
Tell us about Dr David Jack. How did he get involved?
So, I had my first Botox by mistake on a trip to New York. I literally thought it was booked as a facial, which is 100% true. But then of course you think, actually I did look a bit better after that. Then I happened to interview David for a piece for The Times. He was in his mid 30s, and so gentle, clever and knowledgeable about his business. I ended up interviewing him again and had a few treatments with him. Then I said I was doing this book, but I really wanted a medical part at the back, so the reader can work out what they can do with advice from someone with a bit more of a scientific background, over me telling you how it works.
He’s 35, I’m 55, so it brings in two different generations in a way. [At his clinic] he is booked from 8:00 in the morning to 8:00 at night, six days a week. His clients are probably a 60/40 ratio, women to men, although more men recently actually; and a lot of that 40% of men are no longer gay. The straight guy proportion is getting a lot, lot higher.
How have you personally coped during the pandemic?
I spent six months working on launching a menswear brand prior to the pandemic, but then that got put on hold because of Covid. So I had a few months of thinking, ‘Well, what am I going to do next?’ It was the first time I’d had that question in my head since I was working with you for Vogue all those decades ago.
It was a weird thing mentally, but being up here in The Lake District, what was so great was that you felt you were away from the pandemic because of the open terrain. So I just started hiking and climbing mountains, and that was just the best thing I’ve ever done.
I’m sure I looked like Forrest Gump, just climbing up hills every day because there’s nothing else to do. But what you find, as I’m sure you have from the hikes that you get throughout California, is when you get really high, when you climb Scafell Pike which is the highest mountain in England and it takes six hours — I stopped about seven times pretending to take pictures, but I was actually completely out of breath, and having a Cadbury’s Twirl! — then you get to the top and suddenly you realize how small all your worries are. That whole literal perspective of standing on a mountain and seeing how small the world is below you. So walking and hiking and mountain climbing was how I did it, that’s really genuinely how I coped. And I got to write this book.
Some of our favorite quotes from Jeremy’s ‘Vain Glorious’:
On trying to dye his hair grey for his column in The Times :
Alas, instead of looking like a Californian surf dude, I looked more like the lovechild of Donatella Versace and Iggy Pop. I quickly unpacked the grey hair dye. This time I had to dab petroleum jelly around my hairline to prevent the dye staining my skin, apply the color, wait 45 minutes, rinse, apply a conditioner and wait another 20 minutes. Time for the great reveal. Oh. Iggy was still with us; no sign of the silver at all. I stared in the mirror and Joe Exotic stared back at me.
On stuffing underpants for a photoshoot:
According to another source, David Beckham, who in the past has happily posed in his underpants on giant billboards for Armani and for his own range for H & M, apparently needed no help whatsoever in that department. If this is true, you would have thought Victoria could smile more often.
On wearing shorts:
The current trend for short shorts is best avoided: you don’t want to look like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno. But don’t go too long and baggy either, as this will be unflattering. A pair of shorts in a brushed cotton or linen is ideal (and a good place to try a splash of color). Cargo shorts are popular but avoid too many pockets as they will make you look bulky. You don’t want to be mistaken for a gap-year student. Socks should never be worn with shorts. Fine for the catwalk, not for the boardwalk.
Critics of those who fight the ageing process — actually “fight” is too harsh a word, let’s say bicker with it — point out that we should accept that our faces and bodies change as we get older. And they’re right. We do have to accept that. And in fact there are many reasons to embrace some of those changes and the positives they bring with them. But some of age’s comrades are a little less welcome. Ear hair isn’t especially pleasing. Eating a Toblerone and shortly afterwards seeing it poking out above your waistline is a tad frustrating. Your eyelids deciding to take it easy and casually hang over your eyeballs is uncalled for. And my nose didn’t need to get any bigger, but, yep, there it grows.
On male bathroom etiquette:
Do not glance, even if the person won’t see you, at your neighbor’s penis. Even though there a strong chance you have no natural desire to look at his penis, there’s a cruel trick of nature that sometimes, without your say-so, makes your eyes do so anyway.
If your neighbor farts at the urinal next to you, you have to pretend either not not care or not to have heard it. Do not, under any circumstance, jump in fright or giggle.
When you have finished urinating and are placing your penis back in your pants, let out an audible groan. The idea is to make a sound that lets the others at the urinal know you are lifting a large and heavy object back into its place of rest.
Buy Jeremy’ Langmead’s book ‘Vain Glorious’ here