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The Sexuality of #menswear

Double monks, the epitome of #menswear.

Double monks, the epitome of #menswear.

(Siraj Sindhu)– I’ve been watching a lot of Seinfeld re-runs lately. Some may sneer and say I’m stuck in the past, but I’ll happily admit that I have a romantic nostalgia for the mid-’90s. The simplicity of the era when just about any problem could be mitigated by having a bowl of cereal and watching the Mets game has an undeniable appeal. But I’ll also admit that I have one major issue with the ‘90s, and Seinfeld in particular: men in those days, captured eternally by the show, typified the “sack suit” way of dressing. Clad in enormous shoulder pads, baggy sweaters, and light-wash jeans, the men of Seinfeld represented the very depths of fashion.

Case in point.

Case in point.

As a man who takes an avid interest in fashion, I’ve been swept up by the recent #menswear movement, a style category that focuses on the use of formal pieces in the creation of coherently casual fits. Equipped with monkstraps, tie bars, and waistcoats, the men who pursue #menswear as a hobby are nearly the polar opposites of the cohort of Jerry Seinfeld, an inversion that reveals that Seinfeld belies a deeper significance to our dress and how others interpret it. In The Outing, a fourth-season episode of Seinfeld, Jerry and George are mistakenly outed as homosexuals; part of the confusion stems from George and Jerry arguing over the attractiveness of George’s shirt. The implication of this, of course, is that in a world filled with men who are taught by society to disregard fashion, those who care about fashion must be homosexual. The show pokes fun at the obvious irrationality of that conclusion; the viewer, while laughing along and acknowledging that fashionability does not correlate to homosexuality, still knows that as a culture, we often automatically assume that it does.

Witness Reddit’s Male Fashion Advice community, a thriving subreddit with 283,599 subscribers as of this writing, making it one of the largest online fashion forums in existence. MFA is a hotbed for current trends in male fashion, including #menswear, but it is also the grounds for a growing debate about why some men care so much about appearances. The pushback against the styles of the ‘90s results in men with uncommonly deep interest in fashion, as well as other men who view such an interest unfavorably. As a gathering place for men vaguely interested in adopting style as a hobby, MFA runs over with the post-Seinfeld mentality of linking fashion-consciousness with a dearth of masculinity. This is embodied in the frequent posts revolving around the perceived link between sexuality and style. One poster asked: “Honest question, how many of you are gay?”

My personal experience with this sometimes hostile mentality is limited. After graduating from high school, I learned (through the grapevine, naturally) that many of my classmates thought I was gay. I’ll admit that I don’t think its a coincidence that those same classmates also nominated me for the yearbook’s “best dressed” award. Again, the post-’90s attitude of conflating masculinity with style is rampant: Jerry Seinfeld’s shoulder-padded sack suits are manly, while #menswear is much less so.

Then there’s the fact that fashion is, in general, perceived to be the territory of women, and any man who dares to enter the arena is immediately cast in an emasculating light. This is a perception that snowballs and builds upon itself due to the “fashionable gay man” stereotype, thus discouraging men from actively trying to improve their style. Men are thus dissuaded from taking any interest in their appearances, for fear of being seen as effeminate. In fact, men who do ascribe value to looks are perceived as insecure: Jerry Seinfeld could wear a sack suit without fear of judgment, so why cannot modern men? Fashion, rather than being perceived as the hobby that it is, is viewed instead as a crutch used by men who are insecure in their masculinity to hide deficiencies in manliness.

So what? Does it matter if men are being implicitly deterred from dressing as well as women? To me, dress is a critical aspect of self; when one wears an article of clothing, one is, in effect, saying that that piece represents one’s self. Furthermore, clothing is an integral part of our judging and generalizing processes. Without even meeting a person, we often form opinions and develop preconceived notions about him or her based solely on appearance. The men who feel precluded from dressing well out of fear of social misinterpretation are effectively robbed of their opportunity to participate in a social art form. It’s a shame for fashion-conscious men to have to hide their hobby, but that is the status quo.

What can be done to combat this? Well, let me first acknowledge the important phrase made famous in that episode of Seinfeld: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

At each mention of their apparent homosexuality, Jerry and George were quick to point out that homosexuality is perfectly fine; Jerry even adds emphatically, “People’s personal sexual preferences are nobody’s business but their own!” Naturally, the writers of Seinfeld recognize that it would be immoral to depict Jerry and George as afraid of social malignity for being homosexual. Therefore, they vehemently deny being gay, but immediately endorse homosexuality itself, resulting in a bit of a disconnect. This is synecdochic with society in general, which simultaneously victimizes and endorses homosexual and effeminate men. Meanwhile, the irrelevance of George’s shirt becomes obvious: in issues of sexuality and masculinity, fashionability is immaterial. #menswear’s perceived association with effeminateness, then, is fallacious.

Now, we can also quit assuming that gay men dress better than straight men do. Might gay men put more effort into their clothing choices than straight men? Perhaps. But correlating gay men with attention to clothing only serves to propagate the stigma men have towards paying attention to clothing, out of fear of being seen as gay. More helpful, though, would be reducing the malignity of homosexuality (and emasculation), so that men might choose to pay attention to dress over running away from perceptions of homosexuality.

Lastly, we men can work to alter the collective mindset that we have of ourselves as “effortless” in appearance. This self-perception stems from the fallaciously dichotomous assumption that women are made feminine by trying to improve their appearance (by applying makeup, wearing jewelry, dieting, etc.) while men are made more masculine and more secure in their sexuality by not trying (and throwing on whatever is convenient). Furthermore, if caring about appearances became as acceptable a masculine hobby as, say, video gaming or football, the deleterious effects of this false dichotomy could be ameliorated. Perhaps the simplest way to make #menswear an acceptable hobby is to cease associating fashion with sexuality and insecurity in masculinity, and treat it as the art form it is.

Until then, though, I’ll keep up with #menswear on the internets, tell guys that its fine to care about dress, and try to increase the ranks of dudes-who-don’t-judge-other-dudes-on-clothing. And most of all, I’ll be making sure that this never happens again.

About Siraj Ahmed Sindhu

A thing can be true and still be desperate folly, Hazel.

16 comments on “The Sexuality of #menswear

  1. ivan
    August 22, 2013

    “Naturally, the writers of Seinfeld recognize that it would be immoral to depict Jerry and George as afraid of social malignity for being homosexual. Therefore, they vehemently deny being gay, but immediately endorse homosexuality itself, resulting in a bit of a disconnect.”

    You’re missing the point. The writers weren’t afraid of anything at all — rather, they were satirizing the contrast between many people’s projected acceptance of homosexuality with their innate prejudices.

    • Siraj Ahmed Sindhu
      August 22, 2013

      Very true–hence the disconnect. Seinfeld, like all television, is a reflection of culture, and both Seinfeld and the culture that produced it feature people who publicly endorse homosexuality while emphatically denying any connection to it, revealing those innate prejudices.

      • Matt Alexander
        August 22, 2013

        But it was as satire.

      • Siraj Ahmed Sindhu
        August 22, 2013

        I recognize that. The episode was a wry look at how we as a culture treat homosexuality.

        Also of note: interviews with the cast and writers revealed that the script for this episode was nearly scrapped out of fear that it was too offensive. Seinfeld added the line “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” to lessen this potential offensiveness.

  2. Sam
    August 22, 2013

    This is a fantastic piece and something I can relate to all too well. I remember actively searching out a pair of nice olive chinos a while back, when I saw a guy wearing a pair. When I asked him where he had got them, it became obviously that he was indeed gay himself, and he was adamant that because I was inquiring, I too was gay. It was an infuriating experience, and this piece does well to shed light on such a dilemma.

    • Anonymous
      August 29, 2013

      hahaha

      I’m sorry this anecdote doesn’t make much sense.

      Sam: Hey I like those sweet olive chinos, where did you get them?
      Gay man: Oh these?
      Sam (in his head): Ah, this man is “indeed gay himself”
      Gay man: Well, I am gay. You asked about these pants, so you are gay too.
      Sam: No I’m not! This is “INFURIATING”

      WAHT.

  3. I’m a gay man that likes to dress well. My style in high school was the generic large t-shirt and baggy jeans, until I went to college and started cultivating a sense of style. I’d argue that in a larger context America’s male gender norms are breaking down with the acceptance of gay marriage, the 90s “metrosexual” trend, and with the recent Bradley Manning revelation that he wants to live the rest of his life as a woman.

    Fashion is an outward creative expression and men should be able to dress as they want, irregardless of sexual preference.

  4. Anonymous
    August 22, 2013

    I had the same experience in high school as the author did. Won “Best Dressed” senior superlative and all in the yearbook, later found out through the grape vine that many people assumed I was gay.

    I was a 3 letter varsity athlete and had 2 different girlfriends while I was in high school but still, in many people’s mind (male and female students) I was gay because of the way that I dressed.

    I would like to point out that similar assumptions were made about Kanye West when he started to work on his own fashion collaborations. That was 2010 I think? So I started to realize that if people were going to presume Kanye was gay, just because he started to participate in fashion then it could happen to anyone. Late 2010, in one of his “on stage rants” West shouted, and I’ll forever respect him for this, “I like clothes and girls so fuck you!” Seems like an appropriate attitude to me.

    • Craig Campbell
      August 25, 2013

      “I was a 3 letter varsity athlete … but still, in many people’s mind … I was gay.” While the fashion=gay stereotype is inconvenient for you trendy straight guys, the sports=straight stereotype is actually offensive. Check yourself.

    • Anonymous
      August 29, 2013

      It’s 2013, time to get off the “I did sports, so I ain’t no queermo fag” wagon.

  5. dave
    August 23, 2013

    Isn’t this a non-issue? The guy in the tailored suit doesn’t care if the guy in basketball shorts and a t-shirt thinks he’s gay.

    • Siraj Ahmed Sindhu
      August 23, 2013

      I don’t think increased wealth necessarily correlates to decreased insecurity.

  6. Friend of the college
    August 23, 2013

    Fun piece. Now, I wonder if you can get AC students to stop wearing sports clothes all day long…(including to class).

  7. Craig Campbell
    August 25, 2013

    I might be mistaken, but #menswear seems like a specific collection of GQ-endorsed styles. I’m curious as to how, for the purposes of this article, you think about and define the word “fashion”? There are distinct nuances to what we call “cute,” “chic,” “stylish,” “trendy,” “edgy,” or “well-dressed,” though all the fall under the umbrella term of “fashion.”

    • Siraj Ahmed Sindhu
      August 27, 2013

      You’re right, it essentially is. I think of “fashion” as a prevailing genre of style–whether its personal (as in, everyone has their own personal “style”) or recognizable on a grander scale, like prep or emo.

  8. Pingback: Happy Birthday ACV! A year in numbers | AC VOICE

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This entry was posted on August 21, 2013 by in Fashion, Gender, Queer and tagged , , , , .
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