At 18/8 in Marketfair, Alexandra Francis prepares a client for a shampoo, styling, and head massage.

At last we women have an answer to our prayers. We know we are dead easy to please on Valentine’s Day. Something that sparkles, smells nice, or is covered in chocolate (which has no calories during that 24-hour period) is all it takes. But what do we, in turn, give to the men in our lives besides the tired tie or too obvious fallback of monster truck rally tickets?

Here’s where the innovative 18/8 Fine Men’s Salon at Marketfair comes to the rescue. Owners Nancy and Matt Weingast noticed that men of all types are becoming more aware of the value of looking good and feeling their best. “It’s not just about a haircut anymore,” says Nancy. “Matt was a bit reticent at first, as I guess lots of men would be. But once he had a full-service appointment, he saw that their phrase ‘Man at his best’ was on the mark.”

Anyone watching sports on television lately will have noticed that among the ubiquitous car and ED commercials are ads for men’s skin and hair care. Brands that made products primarily for women now are manning up their advertising budget to attract guys who are no longer afraid of words like moisturizer and body care. The advent of shows such as Mad Men has raised awareness of the real effect good grooming has on personal perception and behavior. If you feel like a million bucks, you really do get treated like a millionaire. Pampering is no longer for the privileged.

The 18/8 Fine Men’s Salon takes its name from the formulation for stainless steel. The addition of 18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel enhances the performance of steel and transforms it into a better state.

“Our salon is not a clone of women’s spas where each service is performed in a separate area,” says Weingast. “Shampoo here, color there. We created semi-private stations where everything is done. And we are truly full service with shaves, waxing, manicures/pedicures, coloring and more. After all, why let the girls get all the glory of being pampered. Our clients just have to get comfortable and we do the rest. The little things are provided, like robes so that stray hairs from a cut do not get down your neck. Clients say they can come in for a haircut and go back to the office straight away.”

Weingast says that “Men who have never had a head massage will fall asleep in the chair. We shampoo before and after a cut and that massage comes as a pleasant surprise. I had a gentleman tell me that it suddenly hit him that he hadn’t sat relaxed like this, with people serving him, in ages.”

A gift for your guy? Owner Nancy Weingast says the just-for-men salon puts them so at ease that they sometimes fall asleep in the chair.

The technicians are all highly trained in men’s grooming techniques and styles. Stylists still learn classic barbering techniques such as being tested on their skills by shaving a balloon with a straight razor. “Clients are keen to learn about better grooming so advising them on what products are best for their skin and hair type is key. We hire very experienced staff and carry only salon grade, specialty products approved by 18/8. They have their own line as well, called Griff’s. It is a full shaving and hair care system,” Weingast says.

The Weingasts come to the world of men’s grooming from the outside and therefore brought a healthy skepticism to this particular business. They met during their first year at American University where she was in nursing school and he was preparing for a career in military intelligence with the Army, they moved to their first posting in Germany in 1990. Their life in the military included two tours to the Middle East and Afghanistan, and eventually night school at Georgetown Law School for Matt and an expertise in reconstructive plastic surgery at Georgetown University Medical Center for Nancy. After multiple moves, and three children, the couple moved to the Princeton area when Matt joined the law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath.

“We were interested in exploring a new business opportunity and heard about a company from California that was beginning to franchise,” Weingast says. Begun in 2002 by two salon industry veterans, 18/8 Fine Men’s Salons was ahead of the curve but waited to expand until the trend worked its way away from the hip culture of the Coast.

The Weingasts opened their salon last year at Marketfair, next to Joseph A. Bank, the men’s clothier. “We thought about locating in downtown Princeton but parking was a serious problem,” Weingast says. “Marketfair is a life-style center, not a cookie cutter suburban mall.”

A visitor to the salon is immediately enveloped in the rich, warm scent of a men’s club, a little bit of leather and whiff of fine pipe tobacco as an undernote. It is a transforming scent, reminiscent of a slower age when fine ingredients mattered. The lounge area offers beverages while clients wait for their appointments. The one TV was tuned to Blue Bloods.
Because 18/8 has its own private entrance outside the complex, its hours of operation are not dependent on Marketfair’s. “We can offer special services such as groomsmen’s nights. We close the salon for the party and we can bring in music and food. Grooms can treat their friends to something special,” Weingast says.

“Word of mouth has been amazing. We see such a wide range of men, from students, blue collar workers and corporate types, coming in just to ask what it’s all about and then trying one service. Men want to learn more. Once you’ve had a shave with a straight razor followed by hot scented towels, there’s no going back. Clients often come back bringing friends.”

Women have known for years that regimens change over time. What kept their skin soft at 20 is totally wrong at 40. Men now value this knowledge. 18/8 offers expert advice for all styles, including their program for mature clients. “It’s all about improving your appearance and feeling better than ever,” says Weingast. “Beards are hot right now but there is so much more to know about styles and grooming than just losing the razor. Shaping, color and products all matter. A fine Van Dyke doesn’t just happen.”

So, ladies, head to 18/8 Fine Men’s Salon to get your guy a gift certificate. He may look startled at the first but you can bet that he’s glanced at more than one men’s magazine at the gym or heard the guys talking at the 19th hole about how great it feels to be shaved by a professional. Now he can try it out for himself in an environment that is as masculine as he is. Who knows, he may become addicted to a little bit of the good life. That sparkler might be a bit bigger come your birthday.

18/8 Fine Men’s Salon, Marketfair, 3535 Route 1. 609-527-3188.