Like many millennial men, I fell in love with 2-in-1 shampoo in college. I scraped together a meager income, through soul-killing contract work and the occasional godsend PayPal transfer from mom, desperately searching for any exploitable inefficiency to keep the bank account from a terminal nosedive. It is here, deep in that despair, that my brethren and I discovered the art of 99-cent ramen packets, Rite Aid white T-shirts and black garbage bags in lieu of window drapes.
Spend enough time in that frugal-slob mindset, and you will eventually question why you keep purchasing a bottle of shampoo and a bottle of conditioner during every trip to the drug store. A genius, long ago, discovered that both of the requisite hair-care products could be easily combined into the same formula, and sold for a much more tenable price on the bottom shelf of the grooming aisle. I joined the cult immediately. It’s been seven years since I graduated college — I’m far less poor than I was in those Days of Sleaze — but if you take inventory of my current bathroom situation, you will still find a proud, resolute bottle of 2-in-1 resting on the sink.
It goes without saying that my girlfriend isn’t a huge fan of this persistence. She has worked long and hard to purge some of the lingering chaos-bachelor instincts from my brain (when we met, I didn’t own a bed frame), and I was surprised to learn that my penchant for 2-in-1 also fell into that same general fuckboi gestalt. Apparently, this was another one of those red flags, much like a wet towel on the floor or a rancid pile of clothes in the closet, that encourages the nation’s male-dating population to turn tail and run for cover on sight.
But this didn’t make much sense to me. I mean, what does 2-in-1 represent other than raw efficiency? Who would antagonize such a sensible purchase? The whole nation of wives and girlfriends, as it turns out. It didn’t take long to discover that many of my fellow 2-in-1 men were also suffering in silence.
“My wife thinks it’s pretty funny that, as a well-functioning adult in his 30s with a nice job and a mortgage and everything, that I still use the 2-in-1, or 3-in-1, in my case,” says Allan Mathis, a combo-shampoo lifer in Atlanta, who routinely uses the infernal shampoo/conditioner/body wash triptych during his showers. “Her making an off-hand comment about how it’s kinda funny that I still use it was the first time I became aware that there might be some stigma there.”
Mathis tells me that he believes this faulty perception on the 2-in-1 contingency is the result of a general elitism in the social contract of human hygienics. I sorta get it. I’ve watched my girlfriend unload a true cornucopia of haircare tonics — some that are almost hallucinogenic in their specificity, like, applicable only during lunar eclipses on odd-numbered days — which she guards like an enthralled True Believer. It makes sense that someone like me, who reduces all of those choices down to a thick white bottle of milky sludge, could be seen as not considering their appearances enough. But Mathis says he’s pierced through the facade, and he’s got the science to back it up.
“I’ve done the Pepsi taste challenge where I’ve used expensive hair products, and my hair frankly looks and feels the same as when I cheap-ass 3-in-1,” he claims. He notes that the analogy comparing 2-in-1 shampoo to other dirtbag axioms, such as not owning a bed frame, falls short in his analysis. “In my mind, it’s more like having a bed frame that’s considered ‘nice,’ and having a bed frame that’s identical in form and function but considered to be ‘not nice’ in some way. In that case, why spend the extra money just to get the ‘nice’ one?”
This touches on the greater point that a lot of 2-in-1 truthers are fixated on. The well-meaning roasts of our significant others are just the tip of the iceberg. Instead, many of the men I spoke to believe that it’s the sinister Grooming Cartel that’s to blame for the insolence. The shadowy power brokers have psy-oped innocent Americans into accepting that the shampoo and conditioner duopoly is a downright requirement, in the same way De Beers convinced us to spend two months’ worth of paychecks on an engagement ring. Take it from Mac McCann, a social media professional in Austin who has sported a tight buzz cut since middle school. You won’t be surprised to know that McCann has never invested much into his haircare rigamarole, and he’s committed to holding the line no matter what any nouveau nu-male startup asserts.
“Every single day it feels like I see a new company on Instagram telling me what to shave, how to shave, how to wash my hair, how not to lose my hair, how to wash my face,” explains McCann, who could run for office with this kind of populist attitude. “I gotta assume that there’s a lot of companies that would love me to spend more on multiple bottles to wash my hair instead of the always reliable 2-in-1.”
“It’s cheaper, faster and easier,” he adds. “There’s no debate.”
Regardless of what McCann says, it’s important to understand that the anti-2-in-1 sentiment doesn’t exist within a vacuum. The men who are besmirched for not owning bed frames haven’t earned that disrespect simply by being poor interior organizers; no, there’s a whole culture associated with the mattress-only lifestyle that includes bad texting principles and a questionable refusal to attend any family reunions. As William Antonelli, another 2-in-1 diehard, puts it, there are likely plenty of men out there who have both wronged a lot of women and rely on a shampoo/conditioner blend before Tinder dates. Correlation, if not causation.
Seriously, who is surprised that L’Oreal preferences could flare up into a whole meta-commentary on the many, many things that are wrong with the modern man? This is the internet. We perform our deepest secrets for total strangers on a daily basis — watching from the sidelines as they morph into a composite, contemptible Type of Guy. Antonelli gets the inclination, but they think the trope is a little tiresome.
“There’s absolutely no reason I should know about a stranger’s shower regimen, but for some reason that’s a very popular topic of conversation on Twitter, turning it into a meme. Then it becomes a culturally accepted fact that 2-in-1 is bad,” they say. “It’s like the ‘Nickelback is bad’ of shampoo opinions. You know that it’s true even if you haven’t heard Nickelback, because that’s the meme.”
Antonelli sticks with the 2-in-1 because it works well with their “wild and thick” locks. You will pry that bottle from their cold, dead hands. Let that be a lesson for the rest of you. The morning shower is one of the few moments of bliss afforded to us as the world continues to free fall. For the love of god, don’t spend that time fretting about Twitter — not when your hair looks this good.