ORUntil recently, male motivation to look good or strong was often born out of an inherent desire for us to feel and appear more successful, competitive, virile, and powerful – what some now refer to as toxic masculinity.
Of course, there have always been men who have liked to talk about clothes, watches, and even grooming regimes, but for many, this open appreciation of what they wore was often simply a game of self-improvement disguised as an appreciation of the best things ever. life. Think of the 1980s and its bullish status stamps on Wall Street, like pinstripe suits and red suspenders (Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko); the scene in American psycho where rival stockbrokers battle for business cards, just like in a Top Trumps game. Or in the 1990s, when showing off became even easier and even off-duty symbols like underwear, jeans, and luggage were covered in a multitude of logos.
But fortunately there is a new generation that is now taking a very different approach. Their appearance is not dictated by a desire to attract or appease others, but rather to feel comfortable with who they are. And, as a society, we become less critical and more accepting of those who look and feel differently from us.
When I was in school in the 1970s, carrying a comb in your jacket pocket was seen as immense vanity. They could tease you for weeks. However, last week my 17-year-old goddaughter and two male friends showed up at my apartment, after being accidentally locked out of their house, to hang out until they got some spare keys. The two boys wore foundation, eyeshadow, and tinted lip balm. They were emulating their favorite K-pop bands and hiding any blemishes they might have had on their teenage skin. The fact that they looked good and seemed so confident was a joy to behold.
It was also a pleasure to see singer-actor Olly Alexander’s riveting performance in the Brits with Elton John, where he moved around the stage in makeup, earrings, and a lace crop top with matching flared trousers from queer American-British designer Harris Reed. . , singing It’s a Sin. “I wanted something that made me feel strong and sexy, but was also beautiful and flowing,” Alexander said. The overtly “queer” performance received rave reviews, including from Daily mail.
Obviously, for most of us, an avid interest in what one looks like is no longer seen as undermining what one thinks or achieves. Look at the genius Eddie Izzard, who has now adopted the pronouns her and her, or Grayson Perry and his female alter ego Claire. Or think of the 17th century and Louis XIV’s brother, the Duke of Orleans, who enjoyed the company of men, as well as that of his two wives, and used to go to dances in full female garb. And yet on the battlefield he led the French army to numerous victories. The only criticism of his abilities as a soldier was that he was often a little late for battle, as it took him a long time to dress.
Unfortunately, however, some men today still find it completely disconcerting, even infuriating, that others care or play with their appearance, which is why I have written a book intended to remove the stigma about men and their grooming options, helping them look their best, only if that’s what they want. It is for those men who may feel unsure about who to ask, where to go, or what to do.
Middle-aged men, in particular, still tend not to trust each other, or anyone for that matter, about their appearance. Because I write about men’s grooming and style and have edited a few men’s magazines, I am often seen as someone that men can trust about their appearance. Every now and then I get cornered in an office or at a party on the pretext of helping out with a business conundrum only to find myself answering questions about pubic hair clippers or beard oils. Once, the CEO of a global corporation pushed me aside at a meeting to ask if men could dye their eyebrows. He was concerned that the color of his eyebrows would not match the rest of his hair.
As if it wasn’t exhausting enough to be unhappy, or not happy enough, with how one looks (which, by the way, isn’t something we choose), there’s also the whole question of whether, as a man, you’re supposed to care. so. Or for how long and to what extent that concern can manifest itself before it is considered a failure or a weakness. It could be argued that all the terror of being perceived as vain or effeminate is the ultimate vanity.
I wrote an honest newspaper article a few weeks ago about my uneven relationship with my own appearance, listing some of the treatments I have tried over the past decade. Nothing major – no surgery, just minor adjustments like laser treatments to erase sun damaged pigmentation, porcelain veneers on my front teeth, fat freezing, a little bit of Profhilo. I was warned not to read the comments that would be posted online below the article, but of course I was intrigued to see how other men still react to the “vanity” of others.
Some of the comments were predictably harsh. “I would ask for a refund,” wrote one. “I’m scared to think how it must have been before,” said another. There were also dozens of other negative comments. Critics noted that for some there is still such suspicion, even hatred, towards those who care about their appearance.
It has always been this way. Before trolls could leave anonymous and derogatory comments online, they had many other means of venting their dismay. In the 15th century, according to Professor Aileen Ribeirothe book Dress and morality, the fashion in which men wore tight-fitting leggings and jackets trimmed at the waist led to sumptuary legislation that required those under the rank of lord not to wear “any gown, jacket or coat unless it was of such a length that the same can cover his private member and buttocks ”.
A couple of centuries later, the male peacock continued to receive criticism, with entire volumes published warning of the dangers of dandyism. John Bulwer, in 1650, lashed out at “the mad and cruel gallantry, foolish bravery, ridiculous beauty, filthy delicacy, and disgusting loveliness of most nations, molding and altering their bodies from the mold intended by nature.” Thank the gentleman who wasn’t around to watch reality shows, where it can take weeks to figure out which parts of the contestants’ faces and bodies are still in the mold nature intended.
But, possibly, isn’t it what’s on the inside that really counts, some of you may reasonably wonder? And of course the answer is yes. But does that mean we can’t play outside too? If what we are is the inner person, does it really matter if we allow ourselves a little outer adornment to help us look our best? When we move into a new home, especially a vintage one, we will look around us and recognize that we shouldn’t meddle with the original ceiling moldings and architraves, but we don’t hesitate to discuss updating the walls with a new coat of paint or change. of wallpaper.
What’s the harm of having your earlobe hair removed during a Turkish hairdressing appointment or buying Rogaine over the counter at Boots? There’s nothing wrong with a Tom Ford brow defining gel to keep your brows in order, and you shouldn’t smell the benefits of a tinted moisturizer either. War paint for men that will make it look like you’ve spent the last decade living in Winterfell.
It shouldn’t be frowned upon if we choose to make our journey into decline a little more comfortable. If you have the desire, why not make the train, instead of a plane, reach old age? Feel older instead of bungee jumping. Keep an eye on unruly pubic hair (69% of men trim theirs; 17% shave it completely); invest in a teeth whitening course at the dentist (it will take years away); Take a look at serums that can help reduce puffiness under the eyes or uneven skin tones on your face. Keep in mind that a well-cut blazer will give your body more structure than a year in the gym, and that navy blue, not black, is more flattering to older skin.
Don’t let anyone make you change your appearance, but don’t let them stop you from refining aspects of yourself that you aren’t satisfied with either. If clothes, cosmetics, beauty regimens, or treatments make you feel better, enjoy them. Who cares if it infuriates other men? They will only end up with unattractive expression lines. And those are much more difficult to fix.
Vain Glorious: A Sassy Guide for Men Who Want to Look Their Best by Jeremy Langmead and Dr David Jack is out now (£ 9.99, short books). Buy it for £ 9.29 at guardianbookshop.com
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism