Masculinity has not always been a word that merely implies physical strength, endurance and brawn. At various stages through time, it has been equated with sophistication, intelligence, poise and even dare I say, elegance (shock horror). Unfortunately in recent times, the term has become increasingly one-dimensional. For the last few hundred years we have rejected the peacock-like attributes once embraced by kings, princes and gents of the courts across Europe in favour of a more rugged, disheveled appearance. Hey, it’s all about whatever suits your fancy, but it’s about time that men had more than one look to aspire (and conform) to.
The new trends towards dandyism in the fashion world has, over the years, presented a shift in male attitudes towards self-preservation and beautification, and although most men are a long way from comfortably applying a touch of concealer, they are buying into the skin care industry in ever increasing numbers. Most major beauty companies are starting to release ranges marketed towards men, including the ever-dominating L’Oreal, who have even introduced an entirely new range of exfoliates and moisturisers, specifically engineered to treat the characteristics unique to men’s skin. What with their “manly” grey and orange tubes, bottles and tubs, men don’t feel their machismo being challenged when buying these products. It truly is marketing at its finest, and has clearly taken years of research on the behalf of beauty companies to find a way to tap into male vanity without feminising the oh-so-vulnerable male ego. It seems that our increasing obsession with youth seems to finally be taking a hold over the men in our society in a way that has been prevalent amongst women for the past “oh let’s say” few hundred years.
If you want to take it one step further, the notorious ‘enfant terrible’ Jean Paul Gaultier, who released a men’s make-up range at the start of ‘04, has had moderate success with his uniquely masculine styled and packaged, concealers, bronzers, and even eyeliners (or comically termed “guyliners”). Although judging by the advertising for this campaign, Gaultier has definitely been relying on the power of the ‘pink pound’ to guarantee its success.
And then of course there’s the EMO movement, which has taken a hold on whiny straight men everywhere. Regardless of the taste that comes inherent with this trend, the look itself has definitely had an effect on society’s masculine ideals, with the slightly fey, slim, introspective, kohl-eyed, gamine boy suddenly making hearts swoons everywhere (um, did somebody say Johnny Depp?). This is of course not the first time fashion has moved in such a direction, as those of us old enough to remember the days of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and The New York Dolls can attest. Even in the early ‘80s, the likes of Prince were redefining what was considered masculine, but it has been a good two decades (which can partly be attributed to the at times homophobic and chauvinistic hip hop movement) since we have had the rigid image of masculinity challenged, and I for one am thankful that once again the envelope is being pushed.
In a social history that has seen the ideals of femininity change time and time again, it is about time that men started to broaden the perception of just what is masculine – and had various definitions to go by.
words: Jon Evan Hewitt