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.