The Sloppy Casualness of American Men

The always-interesting Virginia Postrel writes about metrosexual and retrosexual men in America. Normally the two are contrasted as opposites; Virginia groups them together as both rejecting the sloppy casual fashion sense distinctive of many American men.

She first quotes William Loeffler who proclaims the end of the Metrosexual:

The man's man is back. And he's had enough of unisex salons, simpering emo music and the emasculating kryptonite of the Oprahsphere. 

Or so say a spate of ads, books and websites that hail the emergence of the retrosexual, whose attitude and style hearken back to the strong, silent type of the '50s and early '60s.

The retrosexual keeps things simple. He does not own more hair and skin care products than his wife or girlfriend. He does not "accessorize."

Think Don Draper, the dapper, jut-jawed executive played by Jon Hamm in the AMC series "Mad Men." He may be a philanderer, but you won't find a pink shirt in his wardrobe. Like the dark hero characters of ex-spy Michael Westen in "Burn Notice" and U.S. Marshal Raylon Givens in "Justified," "Mad Men" presents alpha males who live unapologetically by their own code.

To which Virginia responds:

The real contrast isn't between these guys and overgroomed Metrosexuals but between both groups, with their grown-up polish, and the beer-bellied American male in comfy shorts and untucked oversized shirt. On my recent trip to research glamour in Shanghai (more on that later), I talked with author and marketing consultant Paul French who, among many other interesting things, commented on why, with a few exceptions, American apparel lines haven't been terribly successful in Shanghai. U.S. companies are too attuned to the sloppy casualness of the American market, and Shanghainese like to look sharpThey want Banana Republic, he said, not The Gap–something that apparently escapes the parent company of both. (Instead of BR, there's a local knockoff called Urban Renewal.)

(Hat tip to Cardiff Garcia's sixteen favorite blog posts of 2010.)

6 Responses to The Sloppy Casualness of American Men

  1. Owen Marcus says:

    We are looking to redefine ourselves less by others standards and more by our own. The problem is after decades of looking for others to do it, we don’t know where to look.

    Our sloppy look went with our shame in being men. We tried to be ‘better’ by learning to be more feminine. We are rediscovering how to be men – we are creating a new masculinity.

  2. David says:

    i believe there is a dialectic of masculinity taking place in which we are trying to find a discourse and a place for more “feminine” men. Unfortunately, Americans assume that one must be into fashion in order to dress well. Simply not the case. If you go through the streets of Paris, Milan, or London, you’ll find executives smartly dressed who wouldn’t even think of opening Vogue and equally frequent bars for happy hour beers. Its a matter of aesthetic socialization that Americans simply lack. Notions such as “dressing up” and “club clothes” are notions we need to do away with really since there is a middle ground to be found between wearing sweatpants and that blocky suit that is reseved for “fancy occasions.”

    I currently live in Shanghai and am really interested in seeing that research mentioned in the article.

  3. Tyson says:

    I would also be interested in seeing this research. I’ve been to Shanghai on several occasions and would not consider the locals to be a fashionable type. While living in Hong Kong, I found that I could generally tell the mainland Chinese from the Hong Kong locals because they mainland Chinese always dressed down.

  4. Dave says:

    We’ll see, because everyday I see more guys “upgrading” as their peer group changes (tight jeans and flannels). Then again I live in an urban and quite young area, so I’m fairly biased.

  5. All urban Italian men are metrosexuals. It’s encoded in their genes.

    They like my cashmere sweaters and my wool pants, but they hate my shoes.

    How do I know this?

    Because Italian men don’t try to hide their feelings, including their disdain for the impaired fashion sense of tourists from the US.

    So many Italianos I’ve encountered look appraisingly at my getup, starting at my extreme James Dean pompadour (of which Brad Pitt does a good imitation).

    They keep a neutral expression until their eyes inevitably reach my practical walking shoes, whereupon their face screws itself into a twisted mask of censure and disapproval.

    One of the most handsome young men I’ve ever seen made so bold as to call me a “stupido Americano” when he encountered me on a street in Vicenza wearing linen shorts in October. Italian men don’t like short pants, either.

    I’m proud to say I followed him at a brisk pace until he began to whistle Dixie. I knew he was mine as I sank my fangs into his comely neck and sucked his delicious fashionable Italiano metrosexual blood (he wore a pea coat– so manly and sexy).;-)

  6. A.H.A. says:

    It’s true, you can always tell American tourists here in Sweden because they are really loud and dress badly (shorts, tennis shoes, fanny packs, tacky t-shirts, baseball caps).

    But then again, (young) people in Sweden are a bit TOO obsessed with fashion. Basically everyone under 30 looks like a hipster but more stylish.

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