Saturday, July 17, 2010


Put This On:

This blog is for men, not “guys.”

If so, Put this On certainly isn't for me. I'm almost always a supporter of anything that Jesse Thorn does, as is evinced by the link in my sidebar. But aggressive statements like this pretty much sum up everything that makes me uncomfortable about today's menswear community/blogosphere.

I would probably need a PhD in Gender Studies to express myself fully on this matter, but this tendency to attempt to "redefine the American male" delves into delicate gender politics issues that either the supporters of this ethos have chosen to ignore or are simply unaware of. To define oneself as a "man" as opposed to a "guy" is really a softer way to define oneself as a "man" as opposed to a "woman". While the word "guy" has many specific and exclusive connotations, "man" is the most encompassing and in some ways the most undefined term, in the sense that it refers most strongly to a binary between the sexs. But, the word "man" has grown over the past couple centuries to represent specific roles that males are expected to play, in a way that "guy" has not, as in the sayings "be a man" or "it's a man's world". You cannot aspire to be a "guy". You an aspire to be a "man". This, it seems, is what Thorn is trying to get across. However, what's implied because of this movement to redefine us males is that there are specific areas lacking fulfillment in modern American culture that can only be fulfilled by "men".

It seems to me that the recent menswear revival, specifically that focused upon traditional and "classic" items drags along with it this blurry and often unnoticed tail of antiquated and rather sexist ideas about gender roles. Let me remind you, for example, that one of the relatively recent lauded icons of this revival, Don Draper of AMC's Mad Men, is an undoubtedly sexist character. Of course, to imitate him does not mean to imitate everything involved with him, but these issues cannot be cleanly removed. A "mystique" is not easily deconstructed.

The problem seems to be, at least partly, that these so-called classic items are almost always associated with activities specifically considered to be done by "men". The denim and workwear revival is associated with old-school blue-collar manual labor, the trad revival with 1960's ivy league academia, the outdoorsy plaid revival with Northeastern hunting and hiking culture, and finally the bespoke revival with pre-1970's business and Hollywood culture.

While women are hardly mentioned in these spheres, one cannot pride oneself in wearing, for example, what one would look good in while digging a ditch (this issue has come up I assure you), without creating an uncomfortable implied negative space. A specific item of clothing cannot be argued to be "classic" because it is the most practical or the most aesthetically pleasing, but rather because it is the most proper. Menswear, in other words, has not become a culture of or but a culture of only. And this, I do not like.

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