On Men and Fashion

Every six months or so, the chattering classes will discover that men’s fashion exists and start excitedly shouting about how the new generation of men cares about their appearances and METROSEXUALITY and CHANGING DEFINITIONS OF MASCULINITY and MEN ARE GETTING PLASTIC SURGERY NOW. Usually this includes some truly awful bromanteaus. (My current favorite is mantyhose, which is responsible for a whole three percent of all the tights sold annually. Be still my beating heart.) Of course, the chattering classes’ drive to talk about it has almost no relation to the actual clothing-wearing habits of actual men, and quite a lot of relation to the fact that “ohmigod those men are wearing tights! What will happen to masculinity? Our nation is falling apart! CATS AND DOGS LIVING TOGETHER!” drives a lot of clicks.

Which is, in fact, evidence against their point.

However, the thing I find most interesting about this belief that men are suddenly starting to care about fashion is that it assumes that men didn’t before.

One of the assumptions of femmephobia is that masculinity is natural and normal and femininity is artificial, fake, a put-on. A feminine gender presentation is something you have to work towards, while a masculine gender presentation is something men just naturally have. Consider how “if you would just put some time into it, you would look really good” is advice for women, while “man, that guy probably spends six hours in front of the mirror” is an insult for men. No one ever says “throw on a skirt” the way you’d say “throw on a pair of jeans.” When women want to dress casually, like they don’t even care, they wear men’s clothes.

Of course, some of this is that femininity is legitimately more work than masculinity. A masculine man who puts care into his appearance, but not excessively, probably shaves every day, buys clothes that flatter him and match his self-image, exercises regularly, eats right, and gets a haircut on a regular basis. A feminine woman who puts care into her appearance,  but not excessively, does all that, plus putting on her five-minute face every morning, getting manicures and pedicures, getting her eyebrows waxed, and fucking learning to walk in high heels aaaaarrrgh. In general, you get a feminine appearance by doing things and a masculine appearance by not doing things; you become feminine by putting on nail polish, masculine by leaving it off.

But the thing is that avoiding nail polish because it would make you girly isn’t caring about your appearance less than putting on nail polish because it will. Not caring about your appearance would be “bleh, putting on nail polish sounds like work, how about we watch Wreck-It Ralph instead?” Avoiding nail polish because it’ll make you girly is just caring about your appearance differently.

What we need is a more natural femininity and a more artificial masculinity.

Fun fact: while femininity in general is more work than masculinity, not all feminine things are more work than masculine things. For instance, sundresses are often cheaper than blue jeans, just as comfortable (or even more comfortable when it’s hot out) and even less work (you don’t even have to bother with a top!). I suggest that chill girls who are one of the guys and don’t give a crap about their appearances consider working some sundresses into their wardrobe. (Of course, if you have considered it and your answer is ‘I don’t want to,’ no worries. Wear the things you like. All I’m asking is that you consider whether you’d like more things than you currently know you like.) Unfortunately, for the time being, dudes wearing a sundress will be taken as making some kind of Grand Statement about Gender Roles or what-the-fuck-ever. But if you’re in a social situation that means you won’t be criticized for it, try it! The goal here is that feminine things will have an equal place in the I Don’t Give A Fuck About What I Look Like place.

Also, fashion designers: there is a huge market for Lazy Feminine People. Get on that, will you?

Another fact: you can be masculine and put a lot of work into your appearance. Hats, anyone? Shiny shoes? Facial hair? Tailored suits? Vests? Cufflinks? Collar stays? Noah wrote a whole post about the suit as a costume. There is a lot of fun you can have with masculine stuff! The sense of power and joy many feminine people feel when they put a lot of effort into their appearance and now they look exactly the way they want to is also available to you more masculine sorts. I mean, unfortunately, so far there’s not a lot of “I’m masculine and also I really care about my appearance” stuff that isn’t decidedly retro, possibly because Western culture forgot that male fashion could be about doing things and not just not doing them sometime around 1965. However! The more people there are playing with the old signifiers of masculinity, the more they’ll evolve into new signifiers of masculinity.

Basically my point here is that the Art of Manliness, bronies in fedoras, and overdesigned hipster mustaches are the new face of feminism? I think that’s my point. I’m so sorry.

See Also: Natalie Reed’s The Artifice of Femininity, from which I stole the gender theory in this post.

Photo– MindyTaylor/Flickr. A rack of men’s clothing. 

About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at ozyfrantz@gmail.com or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.


  1. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help says:

    All the “Men spending time on their appearance! Men wearing makeup! Men working out! Oh noes, the end of the world is nigh!” ninnies should try reading the history of fashion. Doesn’t even need to be world fashion, just Western fashion and those of civilisations like Sumer, Egypt, Greece, Rome and so on. Men were plenty keen on their fashions and bodies and yes, *gasp* makeup, across millennia. And freaking beautiful clothes they often were, too. Men have dressed at least as elaborately as women through much of that time, and didn’t find their masculinity undermined, though the satirists and religious diehards did carry on about it periodically.

    @Archy – I live in Australia. Maybe I hang out with the wrong people, but I’ve never heard any suggestion that not being muscly means not being masculine. Muscled types seem far less common than the general range of blokes, from skinny to seriously obese.

    • Look at media of good looking men, chiselled + muscly physique is the epitomy of male beauty. Many guys I know goto gym, I do various weight lifting exercises myself to increase muscle mass. I saw plenty of people cop hell for being scrawny and obese but muscly was portrayed as sexy. Growing up I saw so many movies which portrayed the macho style muscles, Arnie, Stalone, etc who were hulks among men. Even in today’s media the sexiest men will be chiseled n have very visible muscle definition n size. One only has to take a look at the protein supplement industry to see how much men care about muscles.

      • The Kittehs' Unpaid Help says:

        Welcome to the sort of garbage the media imposes upon women all the time. Do you do your exercises for fitness, or to comply with an extreme (ie. bodybuilding) image because you’re afraid of being thought unmanly if you don’t look like that? I’d be inclined to say “screw you” to anyone who pushes the idea that if you aren’t a Stallone wannabe you’re not a real Manly Man. (On a purely personal note, I find musclebound bodies totally offputting: it just screams aggression, not masculine appeal, to me.)

        • They did a study in the UK n found slightly more men than women were insecure about their body image (82% men, 79% women I think). But men usually hide it more whilst women are more free to talk about it. And yes I put on muscle to keep my masculine status, plus I am overweight so I need muscle as a way to prove it’s not just all jelly. Men have long had the media influencing them but I don’t think many women really took the time to notice it, I doubt most women truly have a clue as to how insecure many men are since another masculine trait is stoicism and showing your insecurity is a no no.

          Why does muscle = aggression to you? I am above average size, 6’6, 300lbs+, overweight but quite a lot of muscle too (19 inch calves). I’ve met others like me but the most aggressive men I’ve seen tend to be average or below average size men, I refer to them as Bantom roosters/small dog syndrome. More common to see them pick a fight to prove their manlyness whilst the bigger guys tend to be more at ease, but for me I have no desire to do the pissing contests as I just have a large body and I add muscle because it’s fucking awesome to be able to lift things in the shed without struggling as I do quite a bit of hobbies n work like that. It’s also nice to know if I need it my muscle may help defend me as I’ve been attacked in public before, drunk lil roosters. The big guys I know tend to be gentle giants who if you mess with them/their loved ones THEN they turn into the hulk.

          Looks don’t tell the entire story about someone 😉

        • Welcome to the sort of garbage the media imposes upon women all the time.
          I’m sure you mean well but this just screams the belief that things have been doing fine for men in terms of body image until about 10 years ago or something.

          Remember, along with having various crap imposed on us men also have the “privilege” of not being able to speak up about it. The pain has been there for a long time and men have been speaking up about it for a long time. It’s just that everyone else has finally gotten around to listening.

  2. I’m a guy who puts a great deal of effort into my appearance. In fact, I put more effort into my appearance than most women do. From custom tailored everything to the little details like french cuffs, cuff links, tie bars, shoes, socks, etc. Every little detail is agonized over by myself every morning before I go to work. Making sure I have the proper dimple in my tie. Also, I am 100% certain that I spend far more time shaving my face than women do putting on their makeup. I think the very fact that you suggest femininity is “more work” than masculinity is insulting. You probably have it completely backwards. The amount of work required to have a strong, masculine, body alone is far more than everything women are required to do.

    • It’s so easy for women to try assert women have it worse in the time-taken for being attractive, considering they generally know little about the time taken for men. Of course the reverse also applies, so how do we real know how long the opposite sex takes in order to make a statement of X get’s it worse? Masculine traits include muscle tone, AND employment so are these to be taken into account too? 40-60 hours a week on employment alone, how long do women take to put on makeup? Employment isn’t seen as a feminine trait, although we could add in childcare which is full time. But then we could also add in male protection which is also full time n hey presto everyone spends the same amount of time to fill their gender role to be attraction. Or are we only to include grooming habits?

      • It’s so easy for women to try assert women have it worse in the time-taken for being attractive, considering they generally know little about the time taken for men.
        True. Such talk is nothing more than an arrogant assertion of the depth of green in the grass on the other side.

        Of course the reverse also applies, so how do we real know how long the opposite sex takes in order to make a statement of X get’s it worse?
        No idea. Which is why it’s such a waste to go on about who has it worse.

    • ToastedTofu says:

      I think it takes a lot of work to turn your body into something it doesn’t naturally look like. Some men spend hours in the gym just to bulk up enough to be called “average”, while some women spend hours in the gym trying to lose enough weight to be called “average”. Some men naturally have a larger stature than others, some women are naturally smaller than others; comparing your individual experience to that of another individual because our needs and wants appearance wise vary so much between individuals, regardless of their gender.

      I think the point of Ozy’s post was to highlight that there is a stigma about men who (openly) spend time on their appearance/attire/grooming and that men should feel free to be experiment or groom or attire themselves however they want without being shamed for it.

  3. ” A feminine woman who puts care into her appearance, but not excessively, does all that, plus putting on her five-minute face every morning, getting manicures and pedicures, getting her eyebrows waxed, and fucking learning to walk in high heels aaaaarrrgh.”

    Make that a feminine, mainstream woman, who reads magazines telling her how to look feminine, does that.

    I’m a feminine woman, who doesn’t put that much care into my appearance, but enough to look good regardless. And manicures and pedicures? What the fuck for? And I make other women jealous with my long nails regardless. Usually no nail polish, but long, real nails. It’s a combination of having good genes (nails grow long without breaking), lazyness (not wanting to file or cut them often) and liking them long (and not biting them). It just “sort of happens”. A man keeping short nails is more work. Toe nails you never see, so I don’t care (about mine), and you don’t care either.

    Eyebrows waxed or plucked? Again why? It doesn’t look better, it looks artificial and stupid. Lest you look like bigfoot, what nature gave you is fine. I’m fine with leg shaving (once a week), and underarm shaving if you have hair there (no hair there, so can’t say, but see no reason to touch eyebrows, beyond removing unibrows.

    And you can get flats, formal flats. No need to learn to walk in high heels to look good. Even less stiletto ones. I’ll wear sneakers with a skirt if I’m going to do any sort of physical activity (including walking for a while). I’ll only wear formal shoes if all I’m going to do is sit, or dance (not that I dance).

    I take care of my hair, but probably less than most people on the planet. Yet it looks very good. My secret is to not do too much to it. Thank my lazyness. I brush it in the morning (as bed hair is very tangly), possibly with my fingers. I wash it every 2 or 3 weeks with shampoo and conditioner. I don’t even wet it between that (unless it rains on my head or something). It looks healthy, shiny and whatever shampoo commercials think will sell. But costs 10$ a year in hair products. My hair is 3 feet long. It has been for years, never had a problem.

  4. No one ever says “throw on a skirt”” — and yet that’s pretty much how I do it nowadays. Basically I just treat my “women’s” clothes in the same way I used to treat my “men’s” clothes.

    Incidentally, regarding artificial masculinity: have you read any Mark Simpson at all? 🙂

  5. Ahh I see, putting on makeup, etc takes time right…so what’s that, a few hours a week? Did you forget looking masculine generally requires gym to bulk up the muscle required which is also more work that women generally don’t need to look feminine. You could say they may need it to stay thin but eating less is more beneficial to losing weight than working out is, and the majority of energy usage is the BMR so exercising off too much extra food will be impossible.

    • I disagree. I’m not sure noticeable muscle tone is a requirement for being interpreted as masculine at all. It could be done by growing out some facial hair. Which I think fits with Ozy’s point about effort, as a lot of women consider shaving their body hair a way of feeling more feminine. Also note that long hair is more associated with women than men, and long hair requires more effort, and more products even at a basic level (I never style my long hair and I still use conditioner and serum alongside shampoo to maintain it and keep it manageable). A man with noticeably plucked/shaped eyebrows is going to appear more feminine, just going from appearance, than a man with thick, untouched eyebrows. Just some scattered thoughts.

      • As a man who currently has long hair, and takes great pride in said long hair, I can state without any doubt that my long hair is fair easier to maintain than spending time styling my hair when it is short. I shampoo and condition, and I brush it. I don’t spend 10 minutes styling it every morning and touching it up throughout the day.

      • You disagree? “Scrawny” “Wimp” “little boy”, these are all terms applied to men who have little muscle tone. I think women grossly misunderstand the level of effort men put into being manly, part of which REQUIRES active employment and earning money as a large part of masculine is a decent income. A woman without a job is still attractive to many, a man without a job is attractive to very few.

        • I know. Goddammit, I went to school. I saw boys around me who were short, or skinny, being mocked and hurt because of other’s perceptions of them as girly and weak. Even some of the teachers did it. I am also well aware that is does not stop when everyone is adults. It is awful, and should be fought at all costs. I apologise if I came off as sounding flippant about this important issue- indeed, I realise after I posted that comment that it may have been insensitively worded. My statement was intended to mean that increased muscle tone is not something necessary from a casual observer’s standpoint to identify a man as male in our culture. I know lots of very skinny guys who come across as male because their style of dress and cut of hair identifies them as male. I believe that is the point Ozy was making. This is merely the tip of the iceberg of gender performance, of course.

          • Dunno if you live in Australia but manly = muscley/toned, can’t be too fat, need just the right amount of body hair, etc. The workouts needed to get such a body can often take far more than mere makeup for women.

            • Fair enough. I live in the UK which may well be different. I guess the original comment just made me think that I’ve never heard a man say ‘I can’t leave the house until I’ve done my workout!’ It’s a different process. Makeup is an instant change of looks, working out is a gradual one. And working out is also a common thing for women to do, to appear toned and, above all, thin.

              • It is common for women but not a requirement under femininity as muscle mass n muscle building is for men. For women there is more pressure to eat less than workout which can be successful in weight reduction to the thin ideal however for men they don’t have that option which requires less time, they have to bulk up n to get to the ideal manly physique tends to require large portions of protein/eating more and long n hard exercise at the gym or a career which is very physically demanding.

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