Friday, 16 March 2012

Adventures in menswear, part 2

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.    


Shey said...

Another amazing post! =D I love reading your posts dear Waves, of course I always say that, but I really mean it. I also understand the feeling of your closet not making any sense, I guess that's the reason I haven't blogged, today I had a hard time getting dressed, I tried a few things but in the end my gym shorts, an old t-shirt and flip flops did the trick, I want to feel comfortable today...and I'll worry about my closet later.

Madeline Quaint said...

It's so interesting reading about your viewpoint gradually changing, the last paragraph especially... I can imagine what it feels like as you describe it. I'll try to look at my clothes with your eyes in the morning.

Jess said...

Regarding the contrast between the way men are (and are allowed to be) portrayed in the media compared to women (as you mentioned, men can have bags under their eyes, grey hair, etc), I noticed such a contrast recently in a single ad campaign, which made it all the more obvious (and absurd). Trenery is a mid-range clothes retailer here in Australia, and it was launched a couple of years back as a sister brand to Country Road (which has been around since the 70s), the idea being that Trenery would cater to an older demographic than Country Road, but with a similar overall style. The press releases specifically stated that Trenery's target market was males and females aged 40+.

And how does that interpret into actual ad campaigns? Like this, apparently:

That woman would be in her early thirties at the absolute oldest, and any lines or creases or wrinkles she might have had have surely been Photoshopped to oblivion, whereas the man is probably in his fifties and is free to have all the overt hallmarks and signs of his age.

Anyway, I think women's magazines would be OK if the outfits in them and the way the garments are portrayed were intended as art - the editorials can of course be beautiful, even if they feature the most impractical of clothing and accessories. But that's not the message people take away from the magazines, clearly - they take away the message that this is the lifestyle they're supposed to aspire to and the image they're supposed to achieve.

I think that might explain why I saw someone on a forum the other day asking for advice on how to style a pair of sequinned, high-waisted knickers she wanted to buy (these, I believe: I can't really imagine a context in which those would be particularly wearable, even for the most body-confident person (except maybe in a burlesque performance or something), but she genuinely wanted to figure out how to wear them in day-to-day life - she wanted them, but she had no idea how to wear them. The big gaping gap between her desire to own them and the actual practicality of wearing them must surely have something to do with the fashion images of women that we're all constantly fed. It's simply not realistic or practical.

Anonymous said...

Sometime this weekend, I'm going to learn to tie a tie...for a look I want to create. Perhaps you should try that.

This comparison of men's and women's magazines has me thinking...I've noticed that their clothing is not over-the-top myself. And, yet, there are designer out there making such things for men. Jeremy Scott is one.

Anonymous said...

Great post, sweetie! Really well written, and very informative! You always amaze!! oxox, CR

lin said...

The age thing is one thing that struck me too! Although in men's magazines they still favour a lean, hard look, which isn't quite what most men look like either.

I like the practical styling of men's magazines too - and how they teach useful things like how to choose jackets, shoes, a watch. You never see this level of detail in woman's magazine.

I wonder if women buy magazines for the fantasy, or for real ideas on how to dress. When I read something like Lucky or Glamour, I notice they're somewhat more grounded in styling, although it's trend led.

Eyeliah said...

Great comparison. That is why I read blogs instead of womens magazines as they post attainable, realistic fashions and usable how to's and advice.

Faye of Bags Under Eyes said...

Good that you know what you want and what you like most.