I found myself browsing men's style magazines at Barnes & Noble the other day. GQ and Esquire were shelved right next to Playboy and the other naked-woman-on-the-cover mags. The men hovering around the area got noticeably nervous as I started flipping through "their" magazines, and I couldn't help but feel a little uncomfortable. Luckily Chris was available for support. We picked the UK version of Esquire to take home. It had nice-looking editorials and an interview with Daniel Radcliffe. I was interested in looking at the way men's fashion is portrayed and how men's style magazines would compare to those meant for women. For the latter purpose, I ended up reading Esquire side-by-side with the March issue of Elle. It seems that both men and women get their fair share of fancy-looking adverts, trendy clothes and accessories, cosmetics, "culture", and a handful of articles on random topics, even relationship advice. (A distressed man needed - and received - help persuading his wife/girlfriend to hold onto those explosive breast implants the media has been discussing lately - surely one of the most absurd things I have read in a long, long time.)
On first glance it seemed to me that men's magazines must be just as non-sensical as women's: the world of Esquire is painfully heteronormative, and it excludes all other body types except tall and slim. But a couple of things struck me: 1) The appearance of wrinkles on men: there were numerous pictures of men frowning, men with bags under their eyes, men with gray hair. You never, ever see that in women's magazines. 2) The clothing is practical, if not adventurous. There wasn't a single outfit in Esquire that I couldn't imagine on a living, breathing man with a normal life. Yes, some of the clothes would be suitable for special occasions only, but they were still... clothes, you know, for people to wear. The women's trends shown in Elle included very particular things like lacy pastel clothing, art deco flapper dresses, and athletic micro-shorts. The list for men's trends in Esquire consisted of cropped jackets, three-piece suits, double-breasted jackets, and things like "patterns" and "texture" - nothing very innovative or exciting, but certainly practical and somewhat flexible.
Men's style magazines certainly have their problems: Esquire, for one, offers just as exclusive-a-take on a man's life as Elle does for women. The magazine shows a glimpse of a lifestyle most men can only dream of: $14,000 watches, $300 custom-made shirts. I'm still inclined to think that Esquire's approach to helping men stay stylish is more accessible than anything women's magazines can offer. Women's magazines tend to offer us dreams beyond our wallets, but also beyond our daily lives, our age, our bodies, our everything. At least men might have a chance.
I'm starting to notice that I'm falling down the rabbit hole a little bit, with my growing interest in menswear. I have trouble getting dressed in the mornings, because my wardrobe makes so little sense to me. A part of me feels like my entire wardrobe is built on gender-based biases that I've bought into along the way. But it's not all bad. A fresh perspective on things is sometimes all we need, even if it takes us out of our comfort zone.