By Erynn Masi de Casanova
Try engaging in a conversation about the meaning of the term “metrosexual” without smiling. It’s impossible. The word and the concept just seem a bit silly. In my interviews with 71 U.S. corporate men on the topic of work dress for my book, Buttoned Up: Clothing, Conformity, and White-Collar Masculinity, mentions of metrosexuality usually involved laughter and joking. Yet I would argue that the hubbub around the figure of the metrosexual is rooted in something real. Men’s bodies, grooming, and dress are subject to ever greater scrutiny, as scholars, GQ, and maybe even your dad have noticed and commented on. Due to the heightened surveillance of their looks, some men are taking greater care in their appearance-related decisions and behavior. Focusing on men’s work lives allows us to examine an everyday, but high-stakes, setting for self-presentation.
British journalist Mark Simpson coined the term metrosexual in the 1990s, but I am less interested in tracing its genealogy and public use than in ascertaining what it means to men in their daily lives. How do white-collar guys define this term? Interviewing corporate men in New York City, Cincinnati, and San Francisco, I uncovered a range of opinions on whether people still use the word “metrosexual” (turns out they do it more in SF), and whether it is a positive, affirming label or an insult. Dave, a white 24-year-old finance professional in Cincinnati, said that a metrosexual was “always a hundred percent concerned with [his] appearance all the time.” Other negative definitions of metrosexual included someone who “spends far too much time in front of the mirror,” who takes two hours “putting down [his] hair every morning,” and the gym-tanning-laundry proponents of MTV’s Jersey Shore. Luke, a white man in his thirties who works in Manhattan, described the negative image memorably: being a metrosexual implied “an obsessive concern with appearance… to the point where it was almost like annoying. It’s like, come on. Be a man.” Some of this resistance to the aesthetic aspects of metrosexuality comes from the idea that part of the privilege of being a man in U.S. society lies in not being judged on appearance in the way that women are. Voluntarily giving up that privilege can cause a man to be looked down on by other men. Continue reading “Is the Metrosexual Extinct?”