Apps for the well-groomed, and well-dressed, man
Several digital assistants can help with hairstyles, knotting a bow tie and selecting a wardrobe.
The New York Times
I know how to tie a bow tie. At least, I was pretty confident I did when I had to wear one to a formal dinner I was attending the other day.
But in the last-minute rush to get ready that evening I just couldn't knot one properly.
I do wear one sometimes when I'm in a James Bond-ish mood. Real bow ties are so much better than pretied ones.
The last time I found myself in this spot, I tried YouTube videos for help, but this time I wondered if an app could do the trick. Some frantic swiping through the Apple App Store led me to the appropriately named Necktie Deluxe, fairly new in the store for 99 cents.
Its clear images and simple instructions worked beautifully, even with my fumble-fingered efforts and the press of time. Later, riding in the cab on the way to the dinner — looking quite dashing, I must say — I flipped through the app's other knots, each described carefully as to its character, shape and best applications. I noticed it even had a section on tie care.
Suddenly I was initiated into the curious world of men's grooming apps.
I say "curious" because the apps cover everything from hairstyles to clothing color advice, and from the tone of some of them, you would think you were reading a Victorian gentleman's guide. But this being the 21st century, valets and butlers are a bit scarce, so it's handy to know that your smartphone — probably in your pocket most of the time — can take on some of their duties.
Let's start at the top, with haircuts. There are many apps that apply image processing to a photo of you so you can try out different hairstyles. Just a couple of months old, Hairstyle Salon is free at the Apple App Store and can work with a photo you already have stored in your phone or one you take on the spot. Then you use the familiar pinch and zoom gestures to size and position the picture before you pick one of the pre-made hairstyle graphics and drop it on your head.
The app contains a number of short and long options in different colors, and even beards and silly hairstyle choices — more are available as in-app purchases for a couple of dollars — and you can choose to save your hairy masterpiece and share it over Facebook. (As a bonus, it also has women's hairstyles.)
A little more fine control over the superimposed hairstyle is available in the aptly named Men's Hairstyles app that's been selling well at 99 cents, as it offers more than 240 hairstyle options for the initial price.
If your grooming questions are of a more chin-centric nature, you may want a free app called Beard Styles for Men, available only on the Android platform. It compiles online videos that show you how to shave properly and provides photos of many different beard styles. It's not the most elegant of interfaces, and the quality of the videos varies, but it is free.
An older, sillier app for iPhone called BeardMe lets you pop facial hair on your photo, like the Hairstyle Salon app, but with more flexibility in the design of mustaches and beards. Some are quite splendid, if impractical.
Of course if you've opted for a new haircut then you may also be on the market for some new clothes, and there's a long list of apps to help you choose them. Some try to get you to buy from a specific store or designer. Those apps are elaborate promotional efforts.
For example, the free Send A Tip app lets you send an anonymous email to someone to point out a grooming slip-up, but actually it's a subtle ad for a company called Grooming Lounge.
An older app that takes a more independent line (and the one I've had the most fun with) is Cool Guy, which is free on iOS and Android. You mix and match clothes you already own after you've snapped photos of them. It even lets you share your outfit choices with friends should you need a little third-party advice. There's a shopping aspect to the app, a section that helps you plan your suitcase packing, fashion news and even tips from a stylist — yes, yet more grooming. The app is very similar in both versions, though you may get more out of the typically bigger screens on an Android phone.
I was frankly surprised by how many grooming apps had been developed for men. You'd think we were slobs.
QUICK CALLS: Tie Mentor is a lot like the Necktie app, but for Windows Phone 7. It shows useful images of tie knots. It's also free, although its list of knots is a bit short. Once you've cleaned up, check out the 99-cent iOS app Table Manners — Italian Style, which tells you all you need to know about table manners at an elegant dinner — right down to how to accept an invitation.