I had a few other posts in the works, but none of them were behaving. I don’t want you to be entirely without something to read, though, so I was wondering what I could do for a quick post when I saw this:
Once I got over the initial giggle value of this photo essay (and, um, decided that those guys looked pretty hot in their up-dos), the photos made me start thinking about gender, fashion, and self-presentation. Though there are situations where it’s still a little unusual (top-tier law firms) or forbidden (the armed services), for the most part long hair on men is a pretty accepted fashion choice. It may carry overtones of the biker or the bohemian, of hippies or Harleys, it may signal membership in a particular ethnic group (many Native American men wear long hair) or devotion to a particular aesthetic (Goths, for example), but it’s seldom remarkable — at most you might get a raised eyebrow here and there.
I know several gentlemen who have beautiful long hair — hair I seriously covet. But while long-haired women have a plethora of style choices — buns, braids, twists, etc. — which require a plethora of accessories — pins, clips, barrettes (not to mention all that hair product), in my experience it is very rare to see long-haired men with anything more complicated than a ponytail, or at most a simple braid. Why don’t we see more men with buns, chignons, or pigtail braids? Why can’t men buy manly barrettes or elastic hair ties with some sort of studly baubles on them? Is it just part of a spectrum — now that society is mostly comfortable with men with long hair, will it eventually accept men with fancy hair? Or would that be taking things too far?*
Actually, I’m a little surprised that the beauty industry hasn’t leapt on this yet. They’ve already rebranded lotions, soaps, and skin treatments in new “manly” fragrances and packaging (because of course, men can’t use pink lady products!). Men even have their own cosmetic lines — in case they don’t want to draw on their guyliner with a woman’s pencil. So where are the masculine headbands and bobby pins? As the author of the photo essay writes, “I’m not sure how ladies got to hoard all of hair’s styling potential when men can grow hair out of their faces.”**
Leaving aside the flowers, which are maybe more of a special occasion thing anyways, the men in the Bold Italic essay look really good — why can’t a guy rock the Mormon Prom look at a post-work happy hour? Or wear the chaperone out to a dinner date? The essay is part of a larger series on change, and was intended as a meditation on how appearance can change perception. It certainly led me to think more about socially imposed gender markers. What makes a thing masculine or feminine? (And why do we say “manly” but so rarely use “womanly”? It’s much more common to see “girly” used, I think.) Who gets to decide? And what happens to people whose choices go against the mainstream?
On a similar note, Bold Italic also produced this photo essay, Switcheroo, in which couples swap clothing. Although there are a few cases where the swap doesn’t work too well (mainly due, I think, to differences in height) for the most part the couples look really good (and really unremarkable, in the nicest sense possible) in each other’s clothes. Personally, I hope that men and women keep pushing the boundaries of what counts as masculine or feminine fashion. But perhaps that’s not surprising, considering my background in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century history. After all, these guys were the epitome of manliness back in their day — and both their hair and their clothes are to die for.
*It dawns on me that one place where I have seen fancy manly updos is New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology, which is a wonderful spot for people watching, especially if you’re interested in the performance of gender. The male students there come in all shapes, sizes, sexual orientations, and ethnicities, but they’re all dressed to impress. (It’s just that it’s usually not YOU they’re trying to make an impression on.)
**Of course, as all too many women (and their tweezers) know, men don’t have a monopoly on facial hair, they’re just the only ones for whom it is socially acceptable to rock a mustache.
I should mention that the post’s title is from the excellent song “Ladies of the World” by Flight of the Conchords.
By the way, in searching for a good image of the Buckingham portrait, I learned that he was played by Orlando Bloom in the 2011 version of the Three Musketeers.
Behold: a reason to see that movie! (I’m not really a Bloom fan so much as a fan of handsome cavaliers).