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Special Men's Fashion Issue

Arbiters of Hip

Forget the Metrosexual Movement. Looking Good Starts With Finding Yourself and Accepting Your Limits--and Getting a Little Advice From Those in the Know.

September 07, 2003|Peter McQuaid | Peter McQuaid last wrote for the magazine about women's fashion in Los Angeles.

It's over. The backlash has already started. Though they don't know it yet, "metrosexuals," those preening peacocks of product, are as good as headed on the slow walk to the hanging tree.

"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," the smash TV hit where five gay aesthetes lend their supposedly impeccable "style"--or, more accurately, shopping prowess--to some pathetic, aesthetic-free, heterosexual schnooks, is already being mocked by the very urban, upscale gay men whom the Fab Five are supposed to embody. Like most reality programming, the plausibility of the premise--that a quick wardrobe change can transform the most fashion-famished guy into a self-sufficient taste monger--is about as authentic as a $3 bill.

"Metrosexuality is more than male vanity, more than being well-presented," says London writer Mark Simpson, who first characterized the phenomenon and coined the term in a 1994 essay in the Independent called "Here Come the Mirror Men." Nine years later, he still finds himself in the thick of the metrosexual debate thanks to savvy marketers who saw in his work the opportunity to sell us more stuff.

"It's about identity produced through shopping, and accessorizing masculinity and desirability," Simpson says. "The sexual preference is really irrelevant. Metrosexuality is the end of sexuality. What I mean is that it asserts that there is no authentic masculinity; it's brands and accessories."

It's the evil underbelly of making an effort. It's where pride in appearance morphs into image-driven self-obsession. It's the moment when we start believing that life should look like a Gucci ad.

In other words, are you buying that suit or having that back wax or pumping those weights because you: Need it? Want it? Or can't live without it because you want--no, need--to be desired by as many nameless people as possible and also be affirmed in the not-so-secret discourse of the fashion/media/advertising cognoscenti?

"Real hipness," Simpson says, "is about character, and character is the last thing fashion and shopping are about."

Our problem, as if guys didn't have enough issues already, is to figure out a way to present ourselves in a manner that signals a working knowledge of the better aspects of the material world, coupled with some evidence of an inner life of passion, curiosity and cultivation.

Tell yourself it's not necessary and not masculine, at your lonely peril. It's not going to go away.

Blame the feminists, or the idea that women don't need men anymore. Oh, they still want them, but the days when a woman's survival was intrinsically wrapped up in a man's attentions are long gone.

What that means is that men are going to have to work a bit harder. Having the required set of reproductive organs won't cut it. Being a good guy is a step in the right direction, but it's not enough. Having a big wallet isn't even enough (and if you think it is, perhaps you need to reconsider your idea of what's appropriate).

No, for this new game you're going to have to learn how to put yourself together in a way that says, "I am an interesting person," without signaling, "I am a tiresome, preening fop."

When the object of your affection not only holds down a job, pays her own rent, works out, reads a daily newspaper and subjects herself to high heels and the agonies of the Brazilian wax, showing up for life unshaven, with a bad haircut and your gut hanging out of a stained T-shirt, is a sure-fire shortcut to the nearest curb.

Why? Because any smart woman knows that the slob who insists on being loved just as he is, is every bit as narcissistic as the guy who is too busy looking in the mirror to look at her. And here in Los Angeles, land of the never-ending audition, the ante is automatically upped.

who better to ask for insight about dressing the part than casting director Joseph Middleton? Middleton has cast actors for major feature films including "Legally Blonde," "American Pie" and "The Bourne Identity" as well as red-hot indie projects "Donnie Darko," "Go" and "The Doom Generation." Middleton sees thousands of variations--and misfires--on the art of self-presentation in the course of a year.

Common sense, he says, is a good starting point. "People dress for castings; sometimes they overdress, sometimes they underdress. If they want to deflect how important it is, they look like they just rolled out of bed, or they overdress and end up looking like they're overselling it."

The result, Middleton says, is "a failure to hit the right note, or there's no note at all being played and it's a mess all over."

The same is true offstage. Stylish clothes should be a foil for the man, but overdoing it can have disastrous effects. "Go to South Coast Plaza or to dinner at Dolce one night," he says. "I mean, could we just kill the accessories by half? And instead of sheer, let's try a fabric. If you have an aesthetic tin ear, go for the grays, the navys. The New Mexico desert at sunset is very hard to pull off."

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