Wednesday, October 20, 2010

from boys to men (from NYT sunday styles)

Well, scratch everything I said about men's fashion, body image, and androgyny four months ago; seems Guy Trebay and LEADING INDUSTRY EXPERTS like the editor of Maxim have declared that pipe-cleaner prepubescents are out, and rugged, MANLY MEN are in.

josh brolin + jeff aquilon, both v man

I needn't repeat the obvious about Hedi Slimane's history at Dior Homme and as a photographer. We know he loves youth, pin-thin tailoring, and the indie rock world; he's credited with making those baby-faced androgynous male models on the catwalks ubiquitous. But the industry is tiring of "skinny skate-rats," as Trebay so eloquently puts it, and looking towards older, weathered, more traditionally masculine standards. Which, as it tends to do, leads to really offensive language about the nature of manliness.

"The twink thing seems over. When people open GQ, I don’t want them to feel like they’re looking at clothes on 16-year-olds," Jim Nelson, editor of GQ, says. "When we cast, we want a model with some heft to him and a few years on him. Someone who has aged a little bit and who feels like he’s a man.”

I can understand the movement away from boys who look like they've been plucked out of high school; in difficult economic times, male consumers want to see well-built men who work and do manual labor--men who look like they're mature enough to purchase the goods they're selling. They want their icons to embody purchasing power and heritage luxury, and an emaciated teenager isn't going to do it. (Not to mention I'm not super keen on 16-year-olds being pushed onto the runway, male OR female.) Sam Shahid, creative director of Shahid & Company, says, "Look back to movies during the Depression, and all you saw was real guys like James Cagney. In tough times, people want a strong man." (Of course, it's a rather frustrating point that men become stronger, tougher, and more MANLY post-recession whereas women's skirt lengths just get shorter and heels higher--which I STILL CAN'T BELIEVE is a legitimate socioeconomic theory. Male success is rugged, protective strength, female is overt sexuality. Hmm.)

hedi slimane photography

That said, no matter how snappy and headline-grabbing such language may be, there is no reason to conflate skinniness and youth with a false, or rather lacking, manhood. Other than Levy rather charmingly calling models like Slimane's boys "twinks," the NY Times article also throws around words like "waify," "jailbait," and diametrically opposed, "Real Man" capitalized. I suppose it's the gay male gaze of the fashion industry, as well as the objectifying nature of modeling, turned negative and dehumanizing; just because such a homosexual male demographic of "twinks" exists doesn't mean that every ectomorph in the modeling biz is wide-eyed, immaturely naïve, and effeminate.

If I'm allowed to quote/paraphrase myself, it's the fear of more ambiguous gender presentation in fashion rearing its ugly head again. It's the same reason why Polly Vernon declared that "gobsmackingly lean silhouettes" in male modeling would lead to the mainstreaming of "manorexia" in that old Guardian article--it's not that anyone is really concerned about male body image, just that fashion industry darlings like Cole Mohr ("a model with jug ears and the body of a teenager" as Trebay puts it) are too frail, too awkward, and too delicate to be men. Such notions of the Real Man, or the Mad Men-ification of fashion (square-jawed, mature masculinity, a time-travel symbol of a man who likes a stiff drink and who sports a few lines around the eyes), is just a more microscopically-focused expression of queerphobia and misogyny. It's like the bullshit pipe-dream stories about "curvy" female models: how even now, Lara Stone can't give an interview without the writer making reference to her size 4 physique or her tits, or how putting (a recently slimmed-down) Crystal Renn on your runway or in your Vogue is a sign of progress. (Which, Terry Richardson and Carine Roitfeld, we have a problem.)


  1. dude, how AWFUL was that fucking crystal renn terry french vogue spread? i wanted to kill everyone in a ten mile radius when i saw that and was too enraged to even write about it.

    i think there's also something weird going on here about the skew gender expectations/defaults in fashion that i'm not totally clear at what i'm getting at here -- the "standard" fashion model is tall, flat-chested, narrow-hipped, and broad-shouldered with sharp, angular features, features more common amongst, uh, 17 year old boys than 22 year old women. but when 22 year old women look more like women than 17 year old boys we have apoplectic fits over their UNUSUAL tits and can't stop talking about how "womanly" they are, and yet when 17 year old boys look like 17 year old boys we have fits over fashion's obsession with androgyny, which apparently never bothered us before? and also our "androgynous" women are also still always weirdly oversexed as women (and/or have nips showin) -- if they actually look too much like boys (or worse, men) (also, LET US NOT EVER MENTION that freja et al likes the ladiez) we also get freaked out. or then if we put the 17 year old boys who have the same bodies as the 22 year old women in the same clothes, we get all freaked out too. MEN WITH BEARDS AND LARA STONE'S TITS YEAAAAAA ALTERITY GREAT. like, what?

    incidentally you had some stellar insults and snarky turns of phrase in this here post which i am still snickering at.

  2. It INFURIATED me, holy shit. I also hate how every argument about Terry Richardson eventually ends with his supporters declaring "what do you know about ART?" I don't know how someone could look at that editorial and see nothing wrong with it. Granted, I'm no fan of Carine either, because I think she tries much, much too hard to be provocative and controversial. Which usually leads to topless 15-year-olds and cultural appropriation.

    "i think there's also something weird going on here about the skew gender expectations/defaults in fashion that i'm not totally clear at what i'm getting at here"
    this is an amazing sentence

    I remember that one recent Freja editorial (Interview magazine? yes, namely this photo and the reaction being "omg i can't even tell who's the gurl!!!!!" Basically, it's a game of WHO WE CAN EXPLOIT MORE? JUST LET THOSE TITS GO NAKED WHO CARES