clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Birchbox Man Reviewed: Monthly Grooming Samples by Mail

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over two years. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.


Assorted booty from two Birchboxes—minus a few items I already used.

Dear Of-the-Monthers,

It's been a long time since BMG conned you into years of cheesy catalogs and terrible albums-of-the-month by teasing us with 12 whole CDs for one thin penny (your first shipment likely included Jewel, Natalie Imbruglia, and Crash Test Dummies). But monthly subscription services don't just offer music (or wine or pears or cheese) anymore: A new crop of web-born and artisan-minded monthlies have sprung up over the past few years offering up everything from affordable "high-fashion" footwear to craft supplies, home accents, organic baby food, and e-books.

One such category that's rife with subscription service options is beauty. And for a multitude of reasons, including a tremendous array and new grooming and cosmetic lines and as well as a constant stream of fresh product launches. Not to mention: It's really easy to ship tiny little samples. For an exhaustive list of purveyors, check this Fantabulously Frugal primer—it will blow your mind.

Certainly, you're familiar with Birchbox—at least since early October when Goop interviewed co-founders Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna while offering up a special edition Goop-curated Birchbox.

And whether you've tried it or not, you sort of get the premise: Let's be everyone's all-knowing beauty editor friend whose bedroom drawers overflow with luxe and luscious beauty and grooming samples she's only too happy to throw around. Except we'll do it by mail. For strangers. And it won't be free (it's $10 a month).

What you may not realize is that Birchbox introduced Birchbox Man earlier this year. It's $20 a month instead of $10—and includes four or five samples (skincare, shaving, haircare, fragrance) plus one fun little gadget or tech accessory. And, it might make the perfect holiday gift for that clueless-when-it-comes-to-grooming man in your life. Further, it might make an even better gift for the Tom Haverford in your life—the hyper-discoverer early-adopter who actively seeks and shares the newer, the better, the rarer.

I received two Birchboxes (a free trial). I loved the packaging—thin boxes of natural-colored, recycled cardboard with carefully-folded neutral tissue (I would've loved it even more if the inside of the boxes or the tissue was printed in wood grain or birch bark—but that's just me) revealed carefully wrapped samples by American Crew, Kérastase Homme, Anthony Logistics for Men, and John Varvatos, amongst others. Each shipment came with a cheat sheet: A one sentence "What" and a one sentence "How" on each product (sample, regarding Peter Thomas Roth Mega-RichTH Shampoo: "Wheaties for hair. This rich cream fortifies to prevent thinning and breakage.").

The reverse of said cheat sheet includes a smattering of seasonally appropriate manly tidbits (can tidbits be manly?), a la editorial content on Gilt Man or Mr. Porter: Johnny Cash's Desert Island Discs as culled from a 1998 autobiography; factoids on the history of marathons; and teasers for web exclusive content including an article entitled "How to Make your Beard Grow Faster."

Which brings us to the website—it's clean and a breeze to use. The editorial content is a nice foil to the e-commerce. And each user is encouraged to complete a profile including specifics on his face, his hair, his regimen. These details allow shippers to choose products that complement a person with fine hair or oily skin. Once samples are received and, well, sampled, users are encouraged to review them—great for further honing that monthly assortment; also great for other users. Further, each product is apparently Birchbox-tested and approved. And they promise never to send you the same sample twice.

If your man really loves the samples, full-sized versions of each are available for purchase on the site. First-time buyers are eligible for a discount; and all money spent is eligible for bonus points that can be accumulated and put towards future freebies. Plus, they accept returns. Which is a bit of a comfort when purchasing $18 shampoo.

Overall, I was pretty happy with mine. The products weren't all new to me—but I've liked everything I've tried. And the samples are large enough for multiple uses—so you can really assess how each works for you. I would definitely recommend a giftcard or gift subscription for the man in your life who might need some grooming direction; or the guy who loves trying new stuff; or even the frequent traveler who could really benefit from having a glut of fragrance and shaving samples at his fingertips.

For my money I'd rather save $10 a month and stick to the toiletries. My gadgets included a RumbaTime watch that can be programmed to act as, like, a debit card; and a little felt wallet by Old Calgrary. Both fine, but I'm not going to buy lunch with a blue plastic watch—ever. That said, I could definitely see a lot of men being excited by new and hip little items they probably would never find (or buy) on their own.

Plus, who doesn't love getting a package?

· Love, Frank [Racked]