RAVENSWOOD — Turns out, guys are every bit as vain as women.
That's good news for Julio Mendez, who recently opened Wax Man Spa, a "men's grooming place" at 1744 W. Lawrence Ave. that caters primarily, though not exclusively, to men.
Wax Man offers hair styling, massages, facials, and as the name suggests, a full range of waxing services, from knuckles to shoulders, abs to toes (and everything in between).
"The only thing we don't offer is a mani-pedi," said Mendez. "That starts to get too girlie."
Mendez worked at salons like Sir Spa and Chicago Male Salon, becoming the men's go-to esthetician for the removal of back hair and providing brazilian waxes, a service that produces what the Atlantic blushingly refers to as "bald, pre-pubescent nether regions."
Though his clients are split between gay and straight men, more straight guys dare to go bare, often at the urging of a girlfriend or spouse, according to Mendez.
"Women don't like hair," he said.
When it comes to those "nether regions," credit, or blame, "Sex and the City," which pushed women, and eventually men, far beyond the basic bikini wax.
Mendez, who has about 300 regular waxing customers, often recommends that clients start off with the less extensive bikini wax to see how it feels.
Though he prides himself on careful approach and fast work, Mendez concedes most men will experience 20 minutes of pain for a wax job that lasts four to eight weeks.
"I talk a lot" to distract clients, he said.
Not ready to go the full route? Mendez offers a "body trimming" service, using clippers to provide an uber-close shave.
"Some guys are too sensitive to be waxed," he said. "Men will go to war and die for their country, but they won't get a brazilian."
Another service gaining in popularity: Nose waxing, "especially for tall men — people can look up their noses," said Mendez.
Guys can sign up for the ear-nose-brow special to keep all their untamed facial features in check.
Jack Frederick, a teacher, followed Mendez from Sir Spa to Wax Man, where he can book a regular ear and brow waxing along with a massage.
"I have really long eyebrows — Julio knows how to do my eyebrows well," said Frederick. "Having somebody else do these services for you, they do it so much better than you can do yourself. You just look more tailored and kept."
For Mendez, a large part of the impetus behind opening Wax Man was to give clients like Frederick a comfortable place to indulge in spa services without feeling judged by female customers or staff.
"There's not girls giggling in the corner," he said. By the same token, "the typical all-male salons tend to more flamboyant. A guy comes in for a service and the staff are all flirty."
With its small, boutique setting, Wax Man offers a more private environment where clients can relax, said Mendez.
Staff is limited to Mendez — who styles hair in addition to handling most waxing and skin care duties — and stylist Juan Contreras, plus massage therapists Rob Laubach and Christopher Hasiak.
"Everyone here has a lot of experience working with men," said Mendez.
Both Laubach and Hasiak are quick to emphasize the therapeutic nature of their work.
"It's not fluff and buff," said Laubach, referring to a light form of massage. "I come from a clinical school where we do connective work."
"Most come for muscle injuries," said Hasiak, whose clientele ranges from marathon runners to desk jockeys. "Most of my regulars come for clinical work."
Though mere hairstyling may seem pedestrian compared with Wax Man's other services, it holds huge appeal for clients accustomed to being treated like second-class citizens at co-ed salons.
"I started my career at a women's salon," said Contreras. "The male clientele is just to fill in spaces."
"A lot of men feel rushed," like the 20 minutes being used to kill time before a two-hour female appointment, said William Byrne, who also followed Mendez from Sir Spa.
Typical male domains — barbershops and low-priced chop shops such as Super Cuts — don't offer the same level of skill as true salons, he said.
"You need someone looking out for hair trends who can give you styling tips," said Byrne. "A lot of times I don't know what I want and I rely on Julio's advice."
"He understands the nuances of your hair," added Warren Schaefer, another Mendez fan.
Magazines, television shows like "Mad Men," and celebrities such as Brad Pitt, James Franco and David Beckham have made men more aware of their styling options, said Contreras. "And Justin Bieber. A lot of guys point to him and say, 'I don't want to look like this.' "
For all its emphasis on men, Wax Man isn't an exclusive boys club.
"Some of my most loyal customers are women," said Contreras. "They don't want to go to a girlie salon."
Lesbians are another niche attracted to the spa. "They want their hair to look more like a boy cut," said Mendez.
He also sees his share of couples coming in together for brazilians.
"Women are way easier," he said.