The XX Factor

Everyone Wins When Men Look Better

Oh, what a difference a TV show can make! A couple of years ago, trend pieces discussing the men in their 20s and 30s who like to cut  nice, fashionable figures dismissed these men as emasculated “metrosexuals.” But the popularity and influence of the aesthetic of Mad Men intervened and now the very same “metrosexuals” are being used to shame older men who are still wed to their worn out T-shirts and Birkenstocks . I may be biased, being partnered with a man who enjoys looking sharp in a jacket and a tie, but I can’t help but applaud this new trend of applauding men for wanting to look good. If it took Jon Hamm in Brylcreem to get us here, so be it.

Not that I sneer at the revolution in casual dress of the ‘60s, exactly. For one thing, it introduced a great deal more variety into what one can wear, and nowadays it’s more just than hipsters who mix casual and not-casual clothing. (A tie with jeans, a band T-shirt with a skirt, etc.) I’m against oppression in all its forms, and the mandatory dressing up of the ‘50s was objectively awful and had to be thrown off. But what’s less discussed is how casual became a uniform and a mandate in the years since. Having recently moved to New York, I can say that it’s actually a relief to be able to wear heels and a skirt if I want to; Austin isn’t as hippie as it used to be, but it still is hippie enough that if you try to dress up to go out, people look at you funny and ask if someone died. This attitude is more common across the country than you’d think, which is why the dreaded Crocs managed to be a trend instead of being treated as clearly too ridiculous to be donned by anyone with dignity.

Even in places like Austin, though, recent years have seen a loosening up of the casual-at-all-costs mandate in clothing for both men and women, but as the article notes, men especially have been the beneficiaries. Mad Men probably has a lot to do with it, but the trend really predates the show. I credit a combination of hipsterdom and feminism-hipsters for putting a premium on self-expression through clothes and feminism for making it less shameful and emasculating for men to want to express their inner dandy.

In the years since the casual revolution of the ‘60s, men dressing up has always had a whiff of shame to it, as if a man who wants to look good is acting just a tad too ladylike for comfort, possibly because he’s doing what ladies do and considering what he looks like to the opposite sex. (Thus the term “metro.”) So of course the men taking leadership on the return of the tie and jacket are the men who care least about proving their manhood at all costs and find it fun to please the ladies. It’s when I go to suburban environments full of anxious masculinity expressed through guns and gas guzzlers that I still see men pushing the casual-at-all-costs look, where it’s not unusual to see women with full faces of make-up, hair done, and dresses on the arms of men wearing baggy shorts, baseball caps, and Crocs. But perhaps these women will get relief in a few years as the trend of men dressing a bit more nicely trickles down, as did organic food and hybrid cars before it.