The Metrosexual: Men and Beauty
University of Southern California
The term “metrosexual” entered our vocabulary in 1994 thanks to British Journalist Mark Simpson’s article, “Here Come the Mirror Men.” In this article, he claims that men are becoming vain; they are grooming, adoring, and flaunting their bodies in ways we have never seen before.
These men, who he calls metrosexuals, spend money on expensive clothes, trendy hair products, and elaborate facials. Many people mistake the metrosexual for homosexual, but Simpson’s point is that straight men are spending more and more money on clothes and beauty products. This phenomenon challenges the stereotype that it is only gay men who care about how they look. We should not be surprised then when a man spends money on “boytox” or does a double-take when he passes a mirror.
It is difficult to deny that men are increasingly targeted by marketing companies as potential consumers of beauty products. Advertisements for men’s colognes, clothes, hair products, and facial creams are splattered over billboards, printed in many magazines, and broadcast over radio and television. In addition to an explosion in advertisements, we are witnessing a growth in the number of products available to male consumers.
For example, in the early 1980s my dad purchased his cologne and shave cream from a lone shelf in the drugstore, often selecting from the two or three brands available to him—English Leather often won out over Brut or Aqua Velva.
Today, in many department stores men can shop for products at cosmetic counters along side women.
I spent a day observing at one of these counters and was amazed by the shelves upon shelves of cologne and other products available for men. I noticed how sexy the packages they came in were—one cologne was even sold in a bottle shaped like a naked male torso. Some men’s skincare lines such as Lab or Jack Black sell the same products available to women—though exfoliant is sold to men as “scrubbing” cream.
What does this all mean? Are men becoming more like women? Why such a dramatic change in attitudes towards men’s fashion? I would have to say, no, this does not mean men are becoming more like women, and actually men’s attention to fashion and appearance is not anything new.
In the 16th and 17th century, men and women’s clothing differed very little. Instead of distinguishing men and women, different styles of clothing were worn to distinguish between classes. Both men and women of wealthy classes draped themselves in heavy luxurious fabrics, wore lace, tights, jewelry, blush, and styled their hair in curls. Later, as men and women’s fashion began to look different, men of a privileged class preferred clothes made from fine linen and with a stylish cut to them. This dandy of the 19th century was known for his exquisite taste and superior clothing; and it was not surprising to see him wearing pink gloves. The dandy was not considered feminine, however, but rather a man of superior class who had the money and time to spend on his appearance.
In an attempt to understand what men’s fashion and beauty mean today, I did research on men who were loyal customers at a hair salon in Southern California. In my article on “The Well-Coiffed Man,” I found that these men preferred the salon to both barbershops and chain-stores such as Supercuts. They felt that barbershops were for working-class men who did not care how their hair looked. These salon men, on the other hand, wanted a “stylish” haircut they felt they could only get at the hair salon. The men paid more for a “stylish” haircut because they thought it made them look modern, progressive, and, importantly, professional. These men told me that working-class men, such as “mechanic[s] working at… Jiffy-Lube,” do not care about their looks and do not have their same superior “taste.”
Like the dandy of yesteryear, the men I interviewed use fashion and beauty to mark themselves as separate from other classes of men. Their hair in particular becomes a marker of status, an expression of their ability to pay for expensive haircuts. They also feel a “stylish” haircut will help them succeed in the corporate workplace. These men do not think beautifying makes them more like women. Rather, they rely on their hair to distinguish them as “men with class.” With this in mind, how might we address Mark Simpson’s claim that the “metrosexual” is a new phenomenon? How can we rethink stereotypes that suggest it is only women and gay men who care about how they look?