March 11, 2009

The Metrosexual: Men and Beauty

kristen By Kristen Barber

Doctoral Candidate

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. clip_image002In 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?


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I agree with your opinions on men and how they more clean cut. It doesn't mean that they are not straight or fruity but because they want to be clean. They want to look good and impress people. Women take pride in looking good and now men are following their lead.

I think all men should want to feel clean and good about themselves everyday. They should take care of themselves by getting good haircuts, shaving, dressing well, and smelling nice. Some bottles of cologne appeal to men and it may be the reason men buy that cologne. Some people may think metrosexuals are being deviant, but really they are just following the same trend there has been for centuries. Over the centuries, males have sort of changed the norm and went for the more dirty boy look because they did not care enough to spend time on themselves. All they cared about was their jobs and girls. Nowadays, guys are starting to realize that girls like a clean-cut guy, so they are taking care of themselves more. I think this was a very good article and I hope people who are against metrosexuals read this and realize that they are not bad people. Hopefully those guys will start to take care of themselves, too.

I thought That the article was really interesting and I knew that there were going to be more and more Metrosexuals just because there is an image out there for men and women and everyone wants to be wanted and looked up so because of your appearence or anything like that so it was jsut a matter of time befiore it reached the men in this counrty.

Wow, what an interesting post. People usually talk about gender when they discuss the metero male, but I like how you link it with a historical context to class and divisions between men.

This is interesting because I always thought that "metrosexual man where feminine" until you brought out the point how men in the 16th, 17th and 19th century greatly cared about there looks especially if there were of a higher class.Its okay for a man to look good and smell good than excusing him of being gay. Like females, males go far lengths to "look good"

The increase in male consumption of beauty products, expensive clothing and cosmetic treatments reminds me of the way women were convinced to start smoking. Early in the twentieth century, cigarette companies hit on a way to expand their market to include women, who by and large did not smoke at the time, as it was considered dirty and un-'ladylike'. With help from a relative of Sigmund Freud, a scheme was organized that involved paying models to pose as women's liberationists in a huge parade, and at a certain point, take out and light up cigarettes as a symbol of their rejection of constraining gender roles. Of course, they were not freeing themselves from constraints; with the magic of hindsight we can see that they were in fact convincing other women to embrace a consumer product disguised as a libertarian symbol.

I see the 'metrosexual' trend as a similar move; men are not deconstructing the constraining masculine gender role, which would be an entirely positive move. They are instead simply expanding their consumer role to include a whole host of new products, and completely buying in to an ideology that consumption of cosmetic products is somehow increasing their value as human beings. They are buying in to a new standard of beauty which, unsurprisingly, benefits a variety of industries, the owners of which probably could not care less about gender constraints. In fact, the move towards consumption of products that in recent history were marketed primarily to females has not included a larger critique of gender roles at all. The same unnecessary, often toxic and environmentally harmful products marketed to women are simply repackaged, renamed and re-gendered (to appear 'tough', 'strong', 'intense', and masculine) before being marketed to men.

“Metrosexuality” seems to be a tweaking of patriarchy for the benefit of capitalists; a slight territorial concession between two often allied forces of domination. Previously, the lack of male concern for personal appearance was an expression of patriarchy; it was not the male role to decorate or sexualize the body (through the consumption of mass marketed products, anyway), because that was the role of women. Men were the 'selectors', not the 'selected', so it was females who needed to compete for selection through consumption of the right amount and type of products. Someone quite possibly realized that this limits sales dramatically, and now patriarchy is expressed slightly differently, with more of an emphasis on consumption.

The historical examples of past male 'beautification' don't show that metrosexuality is a permanent trend of male concern with beauty for beauties' sake; even in those times, there were differences in style and consumption that existed to mark women as the 'selected' and the inferior. What those examples actually illustrate is that metrosexuality is part of a continuing trend in cultural hegemony. Back then, as now, as always in capitalist industrial society, consumption of products and concern with appearance revolved around making a distinction between the ruling and working classes. That's the real key here; it isn't a breakdown in gender restrictions, because they're as strict as ever, though admittedly what precisely is restricted and to whom tends to shift around. It isn't a continuation of male concern for self-beautification simply for the sake of beauty. It's a continuation of people's concern to associate themselves with and internalize the values of the ruling class, combined with the concern of various industries to move a lot of otherwise useless product by creating false scarcity; convincing people that they need products and treatments to fit a manufactured standard of beauty, class and success.

Interesting thoughts all around.

I would just like to add a male's perspective here though, as I have found myself thinking about these things often enough. For example, to keep on the haircut theme, I'm thinking about going somewhere more expensive to get a haircut (which likely means some kind of hair salon), because I have had my hair butchered a number of times by other places--and all I'm generally looking for is a simple trim.

The problem has often been one of communication though, with a number of barbers either not being able to understand English well (though this is understandable), or being too rushed to hear some of the nuances of the haircut I'm looking for (like how I've got a prominent widow's peak and so have my hair cut a bit shorter in front, and if my hair's cut too short in back it sticks up). Those who are paid a bit more likely have some more training and are able to be more careful by going somewhat slower.

All that said though, the moment I start to take a minute to explain some of the nuances of the cut I'm going for, I get this sense of deviance (particularly because everyone can hear you and there are often people waiting in most barber shops); it's exactly that feeling of being cast as a homosexual or metrosexual because of all of this.

And while I would consider myself someone who is deliberate about my appearance, I would agree with some of what Z.King wrote about how the metrosexual concept can just be consumeristic and, in my opinion, self-absorbed; and to tie that back into the author's final question, I think we would do well to work towards a societal acceptance of a balanced middle, where we're not encouraging self-absorption among men or anyone, but a male can still feel fine caring to a reasonable degree about his appearance.

I agree with you that just because a man dresses nice and wants to look good, doesn't mean he is gay. Men's roles are changing. They no longer are expected to be tough and macho, but possibly more sensitive and clean cut.

I found this article to be especially interesting, and possibly even more-so now that we have gone into great depth in class about the groups that we identify with and why.

It is becoming more and more obvious that this new concept of metrosexuality has introduced an entirely new group into our society. I would be inclined to label this as a sort of secondary group as it gives the individual a sense of belonging and this is how they identify themselves however, not all of the people belonging to this group will have face-to-face contact nor will they ever be as intimate as they may be in a primary group.

Nonetheless I would have to say that I agree with this article in that a man is not necessarily considered homosexual if he chooses to maintain his appearance. In fact I believe it has become increasingly popular for men to keep a cleaner more neat appearance than we may have seen ten or so years ago.

Just in my personal experience, things like shaved legs, waxed eyebrows, and regularly using moisturizers etc. have seemed to be getting more and more popular as I look into just the immediate world around me, especially those in my age group. My peers are also becoming increasingly open about the topic as well, whereas before, I feel like if a male had shaved his legs or waxed his eyebrows there would have been that certain level of secrecy as well that would have come along with it so as not to become part of the dreaded "out-group". Whereas, in our present-day society when men's roles seem to be shifting as we see more and more men staying home with the kids, cooking dinner, and even doing laundry and dishes, this is no surprise; it is just merely one more example of our evolution I suppose.

I think more men just care about how they look because they know its advantages in the work place and the social world. Being well groomed and having nice clean clothes make you look well put together.It shows you care about yourself. I believe girls and employees would take a well groomed or "metrosexual" man over a man who is about the complete opposite based on the assumption that the man looks wellput together.In the media driven world being well put together is good for dating and business

I like this blog it is very interesting. I agree that more men are trying harder to look good. It is almost like they feel the need to look good for their social life, so people will accept them. In most companies they want their men to look desent and presentable, therefore they will pick metrosexual men before they pick a man who doesn't dress for presentation but rather for comfort. I also agree that just because a man is metrosexual and wants to look good doesn't mean he is gay, it just means he dresses to impress.

The metrosexual male is most defiantly evolving in our modern society. It is still a strange thing to observe to me. I feel as if it is not the norms of a male to be so caught up on his looks and features. I still look at the sexes as males have masculine, tough, rugged look;and for females to have traits of beauty, soft, and care about there looks. I find myself caring about my features but not to the extremes of metrosexual males. The other day at work I noticed three older men out shopping for shoes. They tried on like five pairs of shoes and asked each other for opinions on the way they look. I was shocked. Inside I felt like saying "that is something girls or homosexuals would do", but I guess in our modern society this is normal. I still find it strange.

I agree with the opinions on how men are becoming more metrosexual. Men want other people to see that they are attractive. Everyone these days wants to have a clean cut look. Men can not have women look more stylish or up to beat on what is good to wear. Imagine a well dress girl going out to dinner with you, who would not want to take that girl out not looking there best or have another man who looks much more appealing catch her eye. Everyone wants to take care of themselves. They want to have a clean haircut, dress appealing, and smell nice. One of the main senses of attraction is smell, this is why staying clean and looking your best is wanted by both men and women. We base how we feel about ourselves based on how we feel others think about us. This is why people try so hard to look as good as they can. Advertising for men has changed so much over the years. Most now are based on how girls will become more attracted to you. The axe shampoo for men commercial comes to mind, how its is said that, “ 74 percent of women admit hair is one of the first things they notice about a man.” Although I do not know if this statement is true, I believe that a very high percentage of women would want there man to be well groomed and clean cut. There is also the Old Spice commercials that based there product on being “manly”. I believe that men do not want to be seen as gay or metrosexual but at the same time they want to be seen as the strong, well dressed, good smelling man.

I agree with you that men are starting to become more clean-cut. I think the commercials on men's products like shampoo and cologne show that clean is in. Years ago the boys didn't care about being clean or what they wore. Now it seems to be the opposite most guys now wear the "cool kid" clothing and they wear only certain colognes. It's great that guys are becoming cleaner and more aware of their appearance.

Actually, the creator of the metrosexual, Brit writer Mark Simpson addressed the questions you raise here back in 2004 in an auto-interview on - pointing out rather wittily how different metrosexuals are from dandies:

'Q:Are metrosexuals really such a modern phenomenon? What about dandies?

MS: A metrosexual wouldn't be caught dead in a powdered wig -- though he might be tempted by the stockings and buckled shoes. Sorry to be pedantic, but dandies were an 18th century phenomenon. Metrosexuals belong to the 21st century. Dandyism was the pursuit of an elite, mostly aristocratic, or wannabe aristo group of men and was largely a way of advertising their wealth, idleness and refined taste. Metrosexuality is a mainstream, mass-consumer phenomenon involving the complete commodification of the male body. It takes Hollywood, ads, sports and glossy magazines as its inspirational gallery, rather than high classicism. The metrosexual desires to be desired. The dandy aimed to be admired. Or at least bitched about.

That said, there are continuities. Oscar Wilde, probably the most famous and most populist dandy of the last century, would have understood metrosexuality and might even have approved of it -- he did once declare: "To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance." Even if he could never have lived up to its exacting, athletic standards himself. It was Wilde's trial and imprisonment for "gross indecency" at the end of the 19th century that popularized the Homosexual: The word was coined in 1860 -- and, like "metrosexual," is a forbidden and unfortunate conjugation of Greek with Latin. It also symbolized the triumph of the Industrial Age notion that male sensuality, aestheticism and narcissism were pathological, perverted and criminal. At least when you did them right. It was the decidedly middle-class concept of "sexuality" that killed the dandy. Now, fittingly enough, the metrosexual is killing sexuality.'

Men’s increased tendency towards the metrosexual ideal is something that is caused by the extensive amount of media bombardment from media. If we compare the amount of cosmetic products that was aimed towards men in media twenty ago against the amount that is showed today. There is a substantial difference. Since we live in a technological society today we are constantly exposed to commercials and other elements that affect our ideals and views on the world we live in. I personally have a fixation for hair. Hair is important. I try to take as good care of my hair as possible. I try to go to a hairdresser fairly often, I have highlights, I shampoo and use conditioner almost every day and I use hair gels. So one could say that I spend a fair amount of time on my hair every day. The reason for this extensive treatment on what really is an obscure element of the human body (hair is a protein filament that grows out from the body) is my obsession to take after my “hair-idol”. I started listening to a band when I was 16 called Taking Back Sunday and ever since have I been trying to recreate the lead singer haircuts. Therefore can I easily say that media has affected me. It is just like Barber states after her observation on men in hair salons, we want to reassure ourselves that we hold a superior “taste” than the average man. People who look beautiful generally have it easier to succeed. That applies both in social life and in a professional life. That may also explain men’s general tendency for vainness, a clean and stylish look creates more opportunities. It makes us look more sophisticated and we stick out from the crowd. Is that not what we all look for? To be above the masses of people?

I'm glad that in this article, it is mentioned about the fact that back in history males and females weren't much different when it came to clothes. It seems that we are slipping into that again, which might be a good thing for society in the sense that it might lead to less sterotyping.

I think the mens have to take care too. Very interesting blog,

I find that in my mid 40's I am a metrosexual man. I have worked out in the gym for the last 20 years and have developed a decent body. While looking at myself in the mirror my body hair seemed to cover all the area's that were nice looking. I decided to trim the body hair to expose my body when in shorts and without a shirt. I then realized how comfortable it was so I broke out the razor. Yes, I shaved my entire groin area, and I also shaved my stomach up to my chest leaving short trimmed chest hair. I continue to trim all my body hair. I feel I have looked the best I ever have and buy product's to try and make me look better. It is nice people are accepting this style more and more.

The reason I chose this article is because I have been noticing how men sometimes take more care of themselves than women do. For example I don’t pay any attention to my eyebrows until they are fully grown. I’ve had some guy friends that actually take their time to go to the salon and get their eyebrows waxed. They even get their facials done. Some people don’t like that and categorize these “metro sexual men” as “homosexual men”.
Back in the days and even now people call everyone who looked like they took care of them selves “gay” which I don’t like but I believe people are categorizing by using this word. I really love seeing men with nice hair cuts and trimmed eyebrows better than mine. This article overall mentions how this is nothing new. Men have always been conscious about their looks since the early 16th and 17th century. But at the time they had to distinguish between female and men clothing. I agree with the article because its true how this metro sexual style became popular since the 16th when men wore curlers in their hair and wore tight clothing as well. But many times these men are being influenced by the media. I personally prefer my men well trimmed, shaved legs, and nice eyebrows but others think that’s not what men are suppose be like. At times we see men taking roles of women for example baby sitting, washing dishes, and doing chores around the house, men aren’t turning into women its just that the world is changing and its become more normal to see this.

It's great to hear that there are females that are trying to defend metro sexual males for once. Many of the viewpoints that receive attention are normally from the guys themselves. It would be interesting though to hear how a male would respond to this blog. People, in general, worry about how they are portraying themselves, not just girls like many people tend to believe. It is almost like an innate behavior to subconsciously think about what others see when they take a glance towards you. Every one should understand that guys could worry about their looks and not be homosexual. Guys have to take on the "feminine role" sometimes too. There are numerous times when a guy has to care for their children, make dinner for their family, and clean the house. Many people just don't realize what stereotypes tend to be put on everyone. Great post!

It's funny how some people think being metrosexual is being gay. i consider my style to be metro, but i'm not gay. I just like good hygiene, good clothes, and compliments from the ladies.

I don't think there's anything wrong with men paying attention to their appearance, but my philosophy is always "everything in moderation."

I don't think there's anything wrong with men paying attention to their appearance, but my philosophy is always "everything in moderation."

Man are not like women, we just have to behave and wear something that make us really good.

Nothing wrong in taking pride in yourself & your appearance...

Today everybody want to look good. There are a lot of products for men now including make-up.

I think everyone is going for a more "curated" look. Nothing wrong with that.

Interesting. I like how things constantly change.

Already this seems a bit dated. Things change fast!

That's the problem with trends. They soon become a bit past their sell-by-date.

And don't forget that men's levels of testosterone are declining quite dramatically. A possible connection?

Men will do whatever it takes to attract sexual partners. Doesn't it all boil down to this?

Not some, some men act only on their true feelings of attraction to a love interest.

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