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Why is Men's Fashion So Boring? And why men need to escape the Victorian Age!

Updated on May 9, 2012

We feminists used to believe Liberation meant "having it all." Presumably, like men. But somehow we forgot to notice that men didn't "have it all." Men have never "had it all." Men, throughout history, have had only what their culture permitted them to have.

(Men) are so limited in their socially acceptable self-expression.

I've heard women complain that female newscasters, politicians - any woman in the public eye - is subject to so much criticism and scrutiny based on the way she dresses or wears her hair.

I think this is a small price to pay for the fact that women (unlike men) have so many choices about how we present ourselves to the world.

...Masculinity is a tightrope that men are forced to walk at the point of a cultural gun. In exchange for infibulating their feminine side, they are granted the illusion of power.

(Excerpt from Let's Hear it for Male Liberation)

Visit a generic men's department store, and a generic women's department store. Notice a difference? While the women's department store contains a vast and wonderful variety of various patterns and prints, from pretty dresses to seductive halternecks, and trousers in various colors and patterns, as well as skirts and sleeveless blouses which exude a classy, sexy elegance, tops and singlets which can range from the ultra-feminine to androgynous, as well as business suits which exude authority. You will also find a vast and beautiful variety of shoes, ranging from high heels, low heels, ballet flats and kitten heels, each and every pair varying depending on the mood it is meant to portray. Now visit the men's department. What do you see? Well, let's see: You've got your T-shirts, your button-down shirts, your wifebeaters, and your slacks. Oh, I almost forgot; we've also got suits and ties, and shoes which come in a more or less similar heel size. If you want to be a bit creative, you can maybe wear a pink shirt, or a pair of skinny jeans, or if perhaps wear a fancily colored tie, but that's about as far as it can go. Is it any wonder why far fewer men take an interest in fashion than women? Think of it this way: Suppose, hypothetically speaking there are two people, Person A and Person B. Person A is allowed to eat a wide and interesting variety of cuisines, ranging from Western to Asian to Middle Eastern, depending on whichever food takes his or her fancy and mood. On the other hand, Person B is only allowed to eat one particular dish, regardless of whether he or she enjoys it or not. Which of these 2 individuals in question is more likely to take an avid interest in food? In other words, while women have an almost carte blanche range of self-expression with regard to fashion, men have been relegated to a rigidly defined set of acceptable appearances. A woman can walk around in a T-shirt and jeans if she wants to toy with the androgynous, she can wear a jumper and a nice pair of jeans if she wants to exude an aura of mystery and subtle attractiveness, or if she wants to exude an aura of classy sexiness, she may wear a halterneck top with a pair of form-fitting trousers, or maybe a long-sleeved knee-length dress. Men, on the other hand, are subjected to a cookie-cutter "one type fits all" style; we're expected to restrict ourselves to NOTHING but sleeved shirts, suits, pants or ties, as if that style is representitive of ALL men, hetersexual, bisexual and homosexual alike.

How did this all happen?

To understand why women's fashion is so diverse and interesting, while men's fashion is so rigid and restricted, we need to rewind backwards to the Victorian Era, just post-French Revolution. It was then when the men decided, "Okay guys, we hate the rich, we hate Capitalism, and we hate inequality (between men). So what we should do, is we ought to have a "universal symbol of Brotherhood", in order to serve as a symbol of solidarity between men." So what did they do? They ditched all the "fun" fashions of the past (e.g. high heels, skirts, tights, leggings, make up, frilly colorful ties, colorful trousers, high heels), and restricted themselves to a "maniform", which consisted of shirts, suits, pants and ties. And if you wore anything other than shirts, suits, pants or ties, it meant that you weren't "playing the game", so to speak, trying to make yourself seem "better" than the other guys. So if you wanted to reap the benefits of universal brotherhood, you wore your maniform like a good little boy. This system works pretty well for most guys; the upside of this "maniform" is that you don't have to go crazy deciding what to wear to formal events - it's pretty much decided for you, and you don't have to worry about unsightly body hair either, because it's meant to cover up your body, not accentuate on your assets (e.g. arms, chest, legs). But the downside is that, the maniform only allows you to express ONE particular style - subtle, conservative and reserved, which can be a bummer to guys whose personal style "subtle and reserved" hardly does justice to. Even a nice form-fitting Tee shirt and jeans does not give you the wonderful, liberating, sensual aesthetic of the backless top, which I love. Don't blame me for shopping in the women's department; I am not a crossdresser, simply a metrosexual man trying to express his true, honest-to-God personal style through his fashion. There is a certain visual aesthetic that I am trying to capture that cannot be captured by sticking to the extremely rigid menswear section. Halterneck tops, for instance are an exclusively "female" garment, not available in the men's department. Despite being abit uncomfortable, they do wonders in accentuating a toned man's shoulders and arms, and can draw attention towards the much desired V-taper if tucked into a pair of tasteful, slim-fitting trousers. The men's department store doesn't contain backless and classy sleeveless (singlet wifebeaters? not after 7pm!) tops as well; i find it men's tops to be far to rigid and conservative for my bold and outlandish taste. Personally i love women's backless tops, as they accentuate my shoulders and back muscles in a way no man's shirt can. My approach is more toward fashion freedom, self-expression and a certain degree of playful androgyny, as opposed to cross-dressing per se (i still look very, very very much like a man). Personally i never understood the desire of some men to pass as a woman, but i try not to pass value judgments on something i don't understand. But I digress. We were talking about the rut that modern men have gotten stuck themselves in, weren't we?

In fact, the trend that should have died out in the post-Industrial Revolution still lives even today. Men still police other men, in a fierce struggle to maintain tradition. Men's magazines such as GQ and Esquire are infamous for demonizing any man who dares to flout societal norms and wear ANYTHING but a shirt, suit, slacks or tie. Is it any surprise why Jared Leto ended up on GQ's worst dressed man list? It's not that he's not made an effort to dress up, hardly so! In fact, I daresay that Mr Leto has probably put more thought into his wardrobe than the vast majority of straight men, and hardly deserves the title of "Worst Dressed Man" for breaking past the puritanical Victorian prudery that characterizes the editorial board of GQ. He's obviously put some thought into his attire, and whether you like it or not is all a matter of subjectivity. Nevertheless, it appears that GQ and its band of neo-Victorians have taken upon themselves to slam Mr Leto for his unique fashion sense:

Don't get us twisted, Jared, we like you, we think you're good at one of your day jobs. But consider this philosophy from legendary dandy Beau Brummell: "A gentleman should never be noticed for the singularity of his dress." What we think he means is, try not to look like a dick (?!)—that's how these slideshows happen.

(Excerpt from The Worst Dressed Man in the World: Jared Leto by Stelios Phili)

WOW. Okay, I take it that Mr Phili, being a stereotypically heterosexual man, is not particularly thrilled by Leto's individualism, by seeing the male body so openly displayed, and has taken it upon himself to shoot down whatever form of self-expression that is made through his clothing as being "bad", but I think it goes even deeper than that. Mr Phili's choice of words (e.g. look like a dick) constitute covert homophobia, because I am sure he would not mind seeing bikini-clad women walking around wearing practically nothing. Mr Phili''s remarks in no way reflect poorly on Mr Leto; in fact, I would like to suggest that Mr Philli obtain an education about the concept of diversity. Perhaps he could have said, "I don't agree with Mr Leto's style of dress, but he should be free to dress however he pleases", as opposed to applying his neantherthal ad-hominem on a man daring enough to break past the rigid constraints of Victorian prudery (e.g. shirts, pants and suits), which betrays Mr Philli's own personal hangups as a result of his (positively) repressed, patriarchal upbringing. Doesn't it ring of a familiar tune, when the first women who began to wear anything other than dresses or skirts were ridiculed as being "badly dressed"? It seems however, that while women have in the past hundred years expanded their horizons of existence, as well as economic opportunity, along with freedom of self-expression in terms of fashion, men such as Mr Phili have been fiercely policing the hetero-normative gender roles and fashion choices of other men, and have, as Esser (2003) puts it, always governed the rules of modesty in society <.http://www.ipce.info/library_2/files/esser_baggy.htm> It is therefore men who decide how much male and female skin is respectively socially acceptable in various social situations, and how other men's bodies should be portrayed, and this is represented by the lack of backless tops, classy sleeveless tops, men's tights, skirts, and the like in mainstream men's department stores (which are mostly managed and run by straight men), as well as the constant cultural messages by magazines like the aforementioned GQ, that as a man, the only socially appropriate form of attire in formal events for you is the good old-fashioned Western suit and tie (not hating on anyone who chooses to dress conservatively, just talking about the limitations in men's fashion choices). Considering GQ is a magazine filled with almost naked women in skimpy bikini outfits along with a couple of fully-dressed men, I'm not terribly convinced that it actually acknowledges the Female Gaze on the sexualized male body, and this in my opinion is a subtle assertion of male privilege: To objectify women, but aggressively deny the existence of the heterosexual female gaze on the male body. As the director and gay activist Dustin Lance Black so succinctly put it,

"It's not the 1950s any more GQ, it's 2011 and it's time to grow up."

Yep, Mr Black pretty much hit the nail on the head in that regard.

Since the 1960s, women have been busy breaking OUT of THEIR gender boxes... At the same time, men have been making THEIR gender boxes smaller and stronger. It's time for men to realize what women did decades ago and fight for society to see THEM as equal!

(http://newmalefashion.blogspot.fr/2012/05/jims-answer.html)


While women's fashion has gotten more and more diverse, daring and beautiful in the last hundred years, with bold backless cuts and an availability of shorter hemlines than ever before, men have more or less stuck to the rules of safe and modest Victorian conservatism. I mean please.. Shirts, ties, suits. Shirts, ties, suits. In that regard, how then are we any more free than our grandfathers were? And what makes you think that ALL men are happy to be restricted to such a narrow choice of outfits? It's funny when people talk about the clothes in Downton Abbey as "period costumes", because quite frankly, most us modern men go through our entire lives longing to but never having to guts to venture beyond that "period costume" (sleeved shirt, suit, pants or tie), you know! The renowned fashion designer Jennier Minniti is quoted to have said in a 1998 interview:

We don't know the physical body underneath. All of the beautiful male form is not shown with a suit, and it's been like that for the last 100 years. What fashion does for the female figure is amazing, and it has failed to do so for men. And there's always this term androgynous dress, but I think that's a fallacy. It always means women wearing menswear."

As women we understand what a dress feels like, what it does for women--the sex appeal. Men can acquire the same attributes as well when they put on a dress. They feel very masculine. I don't put high-heel shoes on them. I don't even believe in that for women."

...I think it's really about the male redefining their sexuality. When I see a man in a dress made for him, it's almost as if we're witnessing the male body for the first time. It's almost a sense of liberation both socially and personally for the male body.

Words cannot describe how I feel about Miss Minniti's points, but I do know that I agree wholeheartedly with them; I suppose for a man to say f*ck you to social norms and express himself through his clothing and liberate himself and his body from the shackles of Victorian prudishness would be equivalent to a young woman during the Flapper Era of the 1920s, who fought for their sexual liberation and autonomy over their own bodies, from the repressive conditions of Victorian society. Well now as men, it's our turn to gain that kind of independence! Let's shock the oh-so-easily shocked editors of GQ, and teach them the meaning of liberation!

So.. what can you, as an un-stereotypical man do?

Well, there are two options for you:

1. Follow the crowd. Wear nothing other than shirts, suits, pants or ties, lest you offend the delicate sensitivities of society and its figurative shackles on what you may or may not wear. After all, fitting in is SO much easier than doing things out of the box, isn't it?
2. Be an individual. I know it's easier said than done, but think about it, if nobody dared to be different and challenge the status quo, then:

-Buddha wouldn't have discovered Buddhism

-Penicillin wouldn't have been discovered

-Slavery and racism would still be socially acceptable in the West

-Women would still be wearing nothing but skirts and dresses

-We'd all believe that the world was created in 7 days by a big bad Alpha Male!

-It would still be socially acceptable to call a black person "nigger".

Think about it: Do you follow trends because you truly want to dress that way? Okay, if conservative and old-fashioned is your cup of tea, then all power to you. I'm libertarian, so I believe that anyone should have the freedom to wear whatever they please so long as they don't bother me about what I'm wearing. But if you're restricting your possible wardrobe choices just so that you don't upset the delicate sensitivities of close-minded heterosexual men like the editors of GQ, who don't mind filling their pages with tons of bikini-clad women but are shocked and offended by the slightest sight of male flesh, then just think: Is it really worth it to dress for the approval who would call you a dick for dressing differently from the mainstream? If that is the case, they are the ones with the problem, not you. Perhaps you shouldn't make it your problem to try to avoid offending them, because God knows they don't mind offending you. In fact, I am absolutely positive that if the editors of GQ ruled the world, men would all be covered from neck to toe in 3-piece shirts equivalent to the Middle Eastern Burqa, while women would be walking around in bikini outfits! I think Will Smith put it concisely when he said:

"Too many people spend money on things they don't want, to impress people they don't like."

So go all out, let your fashion say what you want about you as a person! Design your own clothes, find yourself a skilled tailor. Why dress to please the bigots, when you can think for yourself? I think it is high time for straight men to rise above the prudish societal mores of Victorian conservatism established and dictated by the men we call the patriarchy. Assert your right to show some skin, assert your right to portray your bold and outlandish style through your clothes; assert your right to look and feel beautiful. Let's show some skin, boys; let's finally acknowledge that the male body is every inch as beautiful as the female body, and every bit as worthy of display! PEACE!


What do you notice about men in Western formal occasions? They're more or less similarly dressed, sort of like a uniform! (Not hating on conservatively dressed men, just saying..) Where is the diversity, the individuality?
What do you notice about men in Western formal occasions? They're more or less similarly dressed, sort of like a uniform! (Not hating on conservatively dressed men, just saying..) Where is the diversity, the individuality?
While Amy Adams has the right to wear a nice charming set of suit and slacks when the mood takes her....
While Amy Adams has the right to wear a nice charming set of suit and slacks when the mood takes her....
She also enjoys the freedom to slip on a sassy blue Cheongsam when she fancies. Now that's what I mean by fashion freedom: Dressing to stand out, rather than blend in (ala men and their male uniform)!
She also enjoys the freedom to slip on a sassy blue Cheongsam when she fancies. Now that's what I mean by fashion freedom: Dressing to stand out, rather than blend in (ala men and their male uniform)!
Jared Leto was named GQ's "worst dressed man". His crime? He doesn't dress according to the standards of Victorian conservatism (sleeved shirt, slacks, suit, tie)!
Jared Leto was named GQ's "worst dressed man". His crime? He doesn't dress according to the standards of Victorian conservatism (sleeved shirt, slacks, suit, tie)!
It's funny how people call Downton Abbey fashoin "period costumes", when most Western men these days go through their entire lives never venturing past this "costume" (sleeved shirt, slacks, suit and tie)
It's funny how people call Downton Abbey fashoin "period costumes", when most Western men these days go through their entire lives never venturing past this "costume" (sleeved shirt, slacks, suit and tie)
So are these guys slobs? By GQ's standards, yes they are.They're not wearing pants, you know! And they're showing their (GASP) bare arms in public! Outrageous! They should be covering up, because we all know that men look sexier when they cover up...
So are these guys slobs? By GQ's standards, yes they are.They're not wearing pants, you know! And they're showing their (GASP) bare arms in public! Outrageous! They should be covering up, because we all know that men look sexier when they cover up...

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    • daouady profile image

      daouady 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Sounds like you are describing American fashion for men. Non-the-lest an educational hub....Thnaks

    • BereniceTeh90 profile image
      Author

      BereniceTeh90 5 years ago

      You're welcome, Daouady :) I just made some changes to it

    • profile image

      mark 4 years ago

      Thank you for this...it echoes my own seniments about the drab constricting world of men's fashion!

    • BereniceTeh90 profile image
      Author

      BereniceTeh90 4 years ago

      You're welcome Mark; sorry for the late reply!

    • profile image

      Warren O'Leary 4 years ago

      100 % truism !

    • profile image

      Tom 3 years ago

      Did I miss blue jeans/tees/flannel shirts as the other acceptable male uniform?

    • Alphonse Dubois profile image

      Alphonse Dubois 2 years ago

      What a nice article......! Men's Fashion did lost a lot of attributes unfortunately and the Victorian code is too strict. But how can men escape from it ? They are under the control of the nononsense economy which gives hardly opportunity to escape from the obliged dresscode. Only when economically independent they can experiment what they really like. If not, loss of job is a big risk many won't dare to take.

    • profile image

      2 years ago

      You seem slightly condescending towards crossdressers; needing to clarify more than once that you aren't one and that you don't identify/understand it. Well, good for you? And so what if you were, do you honestly think anyone would care?

      I wear womens clothing as well. I've always had a slim figure, so I sometimes felt I looked stupid with certain men's clothing, whereas I find the cuts of women's clothing to be more flattering. I frankly don't care what others think, men come in all shapes and sizes, as do women, so why do people still like to gender clothes?

      I've a flat tummy, I could wear clothes to reveal it, but that's frowned upon. Someone else might have a flabby unflattering tummy, but it's fine for them because they're of a different sex? It never made sense to me. Make-up seems to be something that's frowned upon too; does anyone really believe that feeling attractive is a gendered need? It's a human one! Everyone has a self-esteem, so why's it frowned upon when men care about their looks?

      I suppose all I can do is not care what people think and that's what I've slowly learned to do, even if opposition from my parents still bothers me. (I'm a college student)

      To finish, I actually "crossdress", albeit that's strictly for the people I date. Is it a shocker if I say 70% of the men I dated self-identified as straight? People like to call them out as "closet homosexuals" but having interacted with these men and listened to them, I don't think that's the case. Differences between the sexes seem largely artificial now, based on gender roles, clothing and social behaviour, less to do with biology. Sexual orientation wouldn't be a thing in an ambiguous society.

      To clarify, while I do crossdress in private, I don't go "out in drag", but I do my best to look androgynous.

    • profile image

      Chase 2 years ago

      People just like to pretend their not grey on grey for social justification. For awhile in the 80's it seemed like we were going in the step of the right direction but all the 21st century brought was normalizing and standardizing. The only place in the world today that has a bit of freshness with its fashion is Asia.

    • profile image

      Stunami 16 months ago

      I agree with you; as a result I don't bother even stepping foot in most fashion department stores. Men's casual wear in America is not only boring, but really dorky! GAP, Old Navy, Dockers to name a few.

      Instead, I look to independent designers manufacturing in Bali for rock star designer clothing and for budget sleek fitting clothes, I shop at AlliExpress.com. The Koreans have a grasp on being casual and dapper at the same time. I am really digging many of their alternative stoic collars for example in their, jackets, sweaters and cardigans. Americans design everything tailored to fast food eating frumpy men. Form fitting is rare here.

    • profile image

      chris 16 months ago

      Good article. I agree. I like to dress in my own style , e.g I like to wear a mens satin dress shirt ( so long as its not too hot weather) with a suit or suit jacket for something different, because men always seem to have to wear COTTON shirts with everything. I make sure I keep the collar inside the jacket, otherwise it would look too 1970s, but I think it creates a different look to what men always wear with suits/suit jackets, even though mens satin shirts were around in the late '90s, I think a mens slim fitted satin dress shirt can really brighten up a dull black or dark coloured suit and complement each other. I seldom wear a satin shirt (unless black or a coloured one to a wedding with a waistcoat) on its own, but nearly always do if I m required to wear a suit anywhere. I try different colours without been too "out there" like for instance a Royal blue satin shirt with a black suit is a real standout ensemble without been over the top.

    • nordmar profile image

      nordmar 11 months ago

      I agree with you. I feel like all men live in box nowadays. I hate this. And in the future we can't get the right to wear everything we want without claim gay, faggot, trans or something. I realy hate this world.

    • profile image

      Han 11 months ago

      This article summarizes my feelings exactly - I think the male body is a thing of beauty. But due to homophobia, any man that shows a slight hint of femininity, whether through dress or behavior, is immediately met with repulsion.

      Being a man means showing your power through a career or fast car; sexiness in a visual sense is never a trait that a man is "supposed" to display.

      I'm hoping this all changes soon - and I think it has from a high fashion POV - but the biggest challenge is for the male expression to become socially acceptable in the general public.

    • Taranwanderer profile image

      Taranwanderer 9 months ago

      What in the actual h*ll is going on with how some men dress these days? Ah well it's a brave new world, I suppose.

      https://bellatory.com/fashion-accessories/Dress-to...

    • Daniel Sebold profile image

      Daniel Sebold 9 months ago

      Isn't it possible that men's drab fashion is an attack on feminism? Men are saying "We don't care what women think of our bodies because women only think of their bodies, are selfish, want the attention on themselves, haven't shown enough interest in beautiful males for men to care.? So why should men even try to wear something sexy? The sagging baggy hip hop shorts say: "Well, if women can run around with their bums sticking out of the bottoms of their shorts and swimming suits, then we will run around with our bums stick out of the top." Ha ha. Aren't we sexy? Men's fashion is a cynical slam on women and says men don't care anymore, can't afford the alimony.

      Also,I downloaded a 1970 Mc Call's men's fashion page and was amazed at all the cute casual clothing for males back then: plaid mid thigh short shorts and mid thigh tennis and running shorts--real pretty boy stuff. It looked like some sort of gay fashion magazine by today's standards. Perhaps we have become far more homophobic than we ever were, perhaps ironically from the very gay rights successes that were supposed to liberate men.

    • profile image

      Tof 5 weeks ago

      The "maniform" is probably the reason most feminists assume that all men have it made, are paid more, and have everything handed to them. That's like if a guy assumed that every woman gets everything she wants just because she's sexy. That would be ignoring the real experiences of probably most women.

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