Something is happening to men. Look how their share of the bathroom cabinet is overflowing. Once upon a time, there was a razor, a can of shaving foam and a splash-it-all-over aftershave. Now there's a pre- shave beard softener, a sensitive- skin shaving gel, an aftershave balm, maybe even an instant moisture complex cream with UV protection. Oh, and half-a-dozen bottles of designer fragrance.

Gary Tobin, 39, from Wandsworth, south London, runs a sunglasses distribution business. He has a facial every couple of months at a beauty salon in Kensington. He also likes aromatherapy massages. And when a new men's grooming and beauty product hits the market, Mr Tobin is first to try it. He puts it like this: 'It's more acceptable now for men to pamper themselves. Why shouldn't we indulge ourselves?'

Ask Mr Tobin's wife, Jenny. 'He really got into it about a year ago, and his skin looked better immediately. I do think it's a good thing men are looking after themselves, but the best thing about it is that he doesn't nag me any more about the money I spend on beauty products.'

Today Gillette is launching a pounds 15m advertising campaign, the biggest in the history of men's grooming, to promote Gillette Series, a new range of men's skincare products. The concept of the New Man, propagated in the Eighties, is redundant, says Gillette. In the Nineties, every man is a New Man, ready to pamper himself with new shaving gels, aftershave gels, and clear gel anti-perspirants (if you haven't guessed, gels are in).

This product launch is significant because it marks a transformation. The idea that men want to look good, feel good, feel beautiful, has reached the mass market after years of false starts. We've come a long way since the days when gay men bought Mary Quant make-up in secret.

Men are finally shaking off their Victorian inheritance. The English public schools of the period taught young gentlemen that vigorous sporting exercise and plenty of fresh air were all that were required to keep body and mind healthy. Excessive attention to personal hygiene and grooming was judged unmanly. Little of a man's body was seen in public; even by the seaside, he wore a costume that covered the unseemly hairs on his chest.

The male body began to come out into the open in the Thirties. Hollywood actors revealed their chests, although the hairs were often brushed out in publicity shots. The male physique, displayed to its full classical perfection in the bodies of swimmers such as Johnny Weissmuller, was now thought worthy of celebration.

By the Fifties, men were taking pride in their bodies, but they remained suspicious of beauty products. They believed in the thorough application of soap and water, occasionally with the help of a flannel. Personal hygiene routines extended no further. Many men believed that antiperspirants were unnecessary, arguing that the body smelt better in its 'natural' state.

Bruce Cleverly, 47, the American who is masterminding Gillette's new campaign, argues that the modern man has changed dramatically. 'He's a much more complex being than he was in the Fifties. There's been a freeing of the male psyche, out of the standardisation of that time. Men are more comfortable with themselves, less staid, less regimented.'

What was Mr Cleverly like as a college boy in the mid-Sixties? 'Grooming for me was essentially hygienic. It was a soap, a shower, something to put on my face, a razor, and a deodorant.' Now he spends 23 minutes a day on grooming - the UK average, according to Gillette - and there's nothing he doesn't know about facial moisture replenishment.

The transformation began in the mid-Eighties, when upmarket beauty-product companies such as Clinique and Aramis worked hard to build a new market. The products were sold to the so-called New Man, then depicted as a soppy sort of character who took up knitting and went along to coffee mornings where he learnt how to cry.

Men's style magazines, led by GQ and Esquire, were keen to promote these products on behalf of their advertisers. Mr Average, however, was still suspicious.

That is no longer the case. The young have been converted, and the not-so-young are changing their views. The baby boom generation of men is maturing, growing in confidence and shopping for itself.

Michael VerMeulen, editor of GQ, prefers to put the emphasis on the technology, praising the Sensor razor, launched by Gillette two years ago. Mr VerMeulen makes the point that the new technological innovations are available at mass-market prices - 11 of the 13 new products launched by Gillette today are priced at under pounds 2.30 - enabling them to compete with 'designer' products at 10 times the cost.

There are other ways of explaining why men are pampering themselves. Dr Halla Beloff, a social psychologist at the University of Edinburgh, believes that men are coming under increasing pressure to look good in the same way as women. 'Men have to work harder,' she says. 'They now know that women are in a powerful enough position to want men to look like good accessories.'

According to the Dr Beloff scheme of things, men can't get away with a splash of aftershave because women won't let them any more. The same pressures that force women to spend time and money on beauty routines are affecting men, even if they would be reluctant to admit it. The suggestion is that men are spending more money on grooming products because they feel insecure. They may also feel more peer pressure within a work environment; if their colleagues are smartening up their act, they may feel obliged to do the same.

Dr Charlie Lewis, lecturer in family psychology at the University of Lancaster, suggests that men are now following women in the search for eternal life. 'We want to escape thinking about the degrading of our bodies.'

He is sceptical, however, about claims that men are softening up. 'Advertisers try to cast men in this light, but the caring man has always existed. There have always been plenty of men who are affectionate and sensitive.'

The male grooming market is growing fast. Since 1985, its value has soared by 26 per cent to pounds 469m, with another 7 per cent growth predicted in 1993. The new launch by Gillette could make that seem quite a cautious projection.

However, the companies that nurtured New Men in the Eighties are none too happy that Gillette has jumped into the market. An Aramis executive says: 'We see the mass market names hopping on the bandwagon. They recognise the potential after we've spent years cultivating this emerging market.'

Aramis accepts, however, that men have become more adventurous since the mid-Eighties. Aramis's new products include an anti-ageing supplement, Plus, which 'rebuilds resilience and elasticity for a less-lined look', Nutriplexx energising scalp treatment which 're-establishes optimum hair and scalp balance', and 'eyelift', under-eye stress relief, which 'reduces dark circles and puffiness'.

Until recently, these products were flights of fancy. As the Aramis executive says: 'Five years ago, men wouldn't even experiment with Lab Series eyelift. Today, they buy it.'

(Photographs omitted)