Sandra Nygaard is the Fashion & Grooming Director at Men's Health. She has been covering the men's grooming scene for almost a decade - and has interviewed everyone from Chris Evans to Colin Farrell on their style and grooming habits.
In addition to styling covers and the magazine's fashion shoots, she helps come up with and execute special issues like the Style Guide, Denim Guide, and Grooming Award issues.
In this interview, Sandra shares her story on how she ended up at Men's Health, a behind-the-scenes look at what it's like to work there, grooming advice for guys, and more.
Tell us about your background and story. How did you end up becoming the Fashion & Grooming Director at Men's Health?
Sandra: Some people in this industry have been obsessed with fashion since they were children. For me, working in men’s is something I randomly fell into.
I have always been interested in style and aesthetics. I was a freelance culture writer (the arts, food, music, home design) after earning a master’s degree in Journalism at Northwestern.
When I moved back to New York from Chicago, I was freelancing for New York magazine online, but seeking a full-time gig. A friend told me about an opening for a reporter at DNR magazine, a men’s fashion industry trade pub that’s now part of Women’s Wear Daily. I knew nothing about menswear, but I thought, “Hey, I can do that. It’s just a new beat.”
That job was boot camp. In a great way. It was an intense, insider experience where I met so many key players and attended events I could have only dreamed about. I remember that job (and everyone I worked there with) fondly.
That segued into an opportunity at Men’s Health, which added styling shoots (like the one below with Charlie Hunnam), covering grooming, and managing style/grooming content online to my skillset. Now, I guess that “beat” has evolved into an area of expertise.
What's the most interesting or surprising thing about working at Men's Health?
Sandra: While fitness and nutrition are a focus for the magazine, style and grooming are an essential aspect of completing that package – and our guys recognize that.
Our reader puts a lot of stock in our service-driven advice, and they’re loyal to the magazine because they know we won’t just recommend a product randomly. We always offer ways to wear it, surprising facts about a fabric, how everything should fit.
In grooming, I interview doctors, dentists and dermatologists or sift through studies in medical journals for my content. It’s very labor intensive – and science based.
Behind the scenes, the people I work with on a daily basis are really fantastic. We have such a good time and I’d venture to say we’re probably the happiest, friendliest style team out there. I don’t think every men’s book can say that.
Plus, for me, every day is different: sometimes I’m on market appointments, some days I’m styling a shoot, other days I am interviewing experts and writing stories for the book and online. It keeps it interesting.
What are the most common grooming-related questions that guys ask you?
Sandra: Our readers have a lot of interest in grooming, so a lot of our topics are popular.
From hair – how to style it and to hold onto it – to teeth whitening that won’t break the bank. Manscaping is another topic guys are exploring.
In general, guys will look for grooming advice online rather than talking to a buddy about it. Women, we’ll ask what color lipstick a friend is wearing and how she did that thing with her hair. We don’t mind asking in person. I’ll ask a stranger on the subway sometimes.
Sandra and Collin Farrell at a cover shoot for the magazine
In your opinion, what are the biggest grooming-related mistakes that guys make?
Sandra: I think the biggest mistake is doing anything extreme: overgrooming or undergrooming. The guy who waxes his eyebrows and who uses too much pomade is almost as bad as the guy who washes his face with bar soap.
Just putting a little effort into it and attending to the details can go a long way. It means treating your skin right by cleaning and moisturizing it well. Trimming your nails, adding lotion to your hands. Making sure your teeth are white, your breath is fresh. A little dab of fragrance never hurt.
Women in particular notice these details because we’re so fastidious about our own grooming routines, so rough, scaly hands and rogue nose hair are definitely noticed. They can make or break a first impression.
What's one grooming-related "best practice" that guys should incorporate into their grooming routines (if they haven't already)?
Most guys I know never think about it. But every dermatologist I interview remarks on how important it is for keeping your skin healthy and youthful. So many studies support it as well.
I’m a fairly low upkeep woman when it comes to products, but I am religious about wearing SPF all year long. I can see the difference in my skin versus sun worshipping friends.
Sandra with Brian Boye at Milan Fashion Week
Beards vs. clean-shaven - what's your preference?
Sandra: It depends on the face.
Like a lot of women, I think trim beards or stubble is sexy. It looks masculine and slightly dangerous.
But I am not a fan of the really long, bushy Brooklyn beards. (And I say this as a long-time Brooklyn-ite.) They feel a little too unkempt to me. All I can think about are the food crumbs and random things buried in there. It kind of grosses me out.
I know, I’m being totally uptight about it, but I don’t think I’m alone in this observation. Sometimes you see a gorgeous face buried under all that hair, and you want to liberate it. It’s almost like when a beautiful woman wearing way too much makeup and you just want to wipe it off because it’s such a distraction.