It Ain’t Easy Being Fierce

April 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

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As I hide behind my five-inch wide sunglasses, eating a cinnamon roll at Au Bon Pain, and watching all the questionable fashion walk down York Street, I think to myself: why does men’s fashion suck?

If you’ve ever had to shop for your boyfriend, or otherwise visited the men’s side of a fashion store, you’ve probably noticed two things: 1) the women’s plaza is almost always larger than the men’s shelf, usually pushed way to the back. And 2) that the options for women’s fashion are so much more interesting. I tell you what, if I have to interact with another pair of overly-sized jeans or another vertically striped dress shirt, somebody is going to get beat in the head with a Blackberry, Naomi Campbell style.

For many men, at Yale and most other places in America, being fashionable often comes with a price: homophobia. Americans expect guys to look like “men,” – whatever that looks like. It wants all men to be content in ugly T-shirts and potato sack jeans. This is less so in Europe, where men regularly wear skinny jeans, wild scarves and carry expensive satchels. Consider the Spanish boutique Zara—with stores all over Europe and a couple in the US—whose American menswear collection is drastically watered down from its European counterpart. How many times have I heard Americans say about Europe, almost dumbfounded, “You couldn’t tell which guys were gay or straight!” In America, we say:

“Todd is wearing a pink scarf. He’s got to be gay! On Wednesdays, all gay men wear pink.”

Gay or straight men shouldn’t worry about performing their masculinity or sexual orientation through dress, and we shouldn’t try to force meaning on it. Everybody knows the gender codes by heart, anyway.

“Real men are buff, play in the dirt and have cocks!!!” We get it.

Personal story. It was a long day of research for me so I decided to relax by treating myself to a drink, good music and as many hot people as I could see with two eyes.

I thought, “I’ll go dancing!”

I headed to my apartment from the library and combed my closet for the perfect outfit. I opted for a pair of skinny jeans, my pointy brown boots and a Ramones t-shirt.

As I walked towards Hydrate from the Belmont EL station in Chicago, a suspicious man followed me.

“Hey!…I know you hear me talking to you. HEY!” he exclaimed with exponentially more force as it became evident I was avoiding him. I turned around only to find that I should have never paid him any attention.

“Yeah, I’m talking to you,” he exclaimed.

What could this guy possibly want from me, I wondered? He was quite the ragamuffin, a tall, youngish guy. He wore baggy clothes, carried two bottles of beer and seemed to like causing trouble.

Nervous now, I picked up my pace. But not quickly enough—the ragamuffin walked at my pace and stared at me intensely.

“Hey ! where you going? ” he asked, intoxicated.

“Excuse-moi mais je ne parle pas anglais,” I said to him in French. I even spoke in French into my mobile, hoping this crazy person would believe I didn’t know any English. He didn’t.

“Man, please. You speak English. I know you speak English. Ain’t no damn black French people in Chicago! Wooooo shit! Let me take a look at that ass! Look at that tight little bubble ass, in them tight ass jeans!! I bet you hungry for some dick, huh? You want a little dick? Mmm! Man I tell you what, I’m not gay, but I’d fuck you!”

And he actually said it a second time:

“I’m not gay, but I’d fuck you!”

What to do? This guy was clearly harassing me through the lens of homophobia. Why did my fashion sense make me a target for homophobia? I mean, it’s not like I was parading around with glitter pouring out of my ass, to call on gay stereotypes.

Since that incident, I have been interested in what fashion has to do with instances of homophobia. Royal men in 17th century France, for instance, were quite fashionable, decked out in wigs and make-up, with fashion acting as a marker of their status in society. So why is today’s man afraid of good fashion?

Ever since the institutionalization of “sexual orientation” in the late 19th century, ever since Foucault prescribed that homosexual acts became linked to a certain type of person, it seems that straight men have mounted a campaign to appear as heterosexual as possible. Make no mistake about it: if the collections of Gap, Abercrombie and friends are unremarkable, it is because society wants men to appear as ‘regular’ as possible.

Men should come together under the cloth of fashion and try to spice up their looks. When all men embrace fashion, no one guy will appear gay or straight because everyone will be in on the fashion project. Looking good doesn’t have to necessarily mean looking gay. If European men can do it, so can we.

Fortunately, some celebrity fashion designers, including Hedi Slimane for Christian Dior Homme, work to nudge men’s fashion away from its current state of monotony. Hedi Slimane, the head of design for Dior Homme, has made DH a brand synonymous with skinny jeans, shirts and ties, rhinestone pants that may never be washed and pointy gold three-inch heeled boots. Slimane believes that his garments can be worn by men and women, fabrically illustrating the arbitrariness of gender.

Clearly, Slimane has read Judith Butler.

In a dream world, men would feel inspired by Slimane and believe that it’s OK to experiment with fashion. You don’t have to be flashy, but some effort can go a long way. Experiment with your look. Wear a nice scarf. Get a kooky pair of Vans. After all, dressing creatively doesn’t mean you’re gay. Habitually sucking cock does.
Your body is your canvas. Express yourself.

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