In light of the recession, fashion designers and magazine editors now favor salt-and-pepper chest hair over prepubescent pecs.
Last week, the New York Times style section documented the shift from boyish models to older-looking models. Baby-faced, makeup-caked, waifish male models became en vogue a decade ago after Dior began hiring teens. The trend exploded to the point that many model castings were “chaperoned by Mom.” Flipping through early 2000s men’s magazines is like flipping through Peter Pan casting calls. But today, in these sober, economically dire times, fashion ads and men’s magazines have shifted from featuring boys who look like Justin Bieber to men who look like the Brawny man.
Guy Trebay writes, “When the economy was flush, consumers were content to indulge designer subversions of age and gender expectations.”
As if to say, when their finances are stable, men feel compelled to dress younger and more androgynous. But in a recession, they must dress as men, simple and rugged. When the dollar tightens, we see fewer frosted tips and more unkempt beards, fewer handmade Italian leather shoes and more American steel-toed boots, fewer bronzed faces and more weathered faces. We want the Depression-era looks of James Cagney and Henry Fonda, no more Titanic-era Leos and Derek Zoolanders.
Trebay interviews editors at GQ, Maxim, and Details, who all admit a shift in their looks. Jim Nelson, editor of GQ, asserts,
At a time of underemployment and digitized labor that doesn’t have real products, at the end of the process people want to be reminded that we as men do work, we do labor, we still do make things.
Whereas pre-recession fashion ads would feature men in more leisurely settings—by the pool, at a rave, in a bar—many of today’s ads place the models in the workplace. In the fall fashion section of this month’s Esquire, the models are in a junkyard.
But when you look through the men’s magazines, you realize Nelson isn’t just referring to the style section or the advertizing, he’s referring to the entire publication. Articles feature fewer pieces on the lavish lifestyles of athletes and actors and more stories of working Americans. This month’s Esquire also contains a feature on the reconstruction of the World Trade Center. GQ showcases the work ethic of Sylvester Stallone and profiles butchers and fishermen. Details named its cover story this month “The Last Alpha Male,” a profile of Jon Hamm, the poster child (or, rather, poster man) of the brave new burly world.
The fashion, features, and overall aesthetic of men’s magazines is shifting from a lifestyle of insatiable pleasure to one that’s more pared down, more earnest, more serious. But when jobs return and the economy rebounds, will excess find its spotlight again?