Masculine fashion for women’s, cardigans, sweater with pockets. Masculinity, too, is learned, and although it sometimes seems more straight changing codes of masculinity also reveal a complex history. We have already discussed the emergence of the prototype of modern masculinity with the dandy as well as the emergence of ties as a mark of men’s formal dress and jeans as global everyday dress for men and women.
Masculine style clothing, cardigans, sweaters
As we have seen, men’s clothing in Europe became increasingly austere and pared back beginning in the eighteenth century, arguably in conjunction with bikinis fashion the development of modern political, economic and cultural modes of living. Women’s clothes, too, showed some reduction in excess and opulence, but the divergence between the woman as decorated with an elaborated dress code and the man as plain with a restricted dress code increased, especially in Victorian times (Davis 1992: 39).
As the modern workforce became male dominated, the workingman’s suit became the norm of occupational dress, while fancy women’s dress became a sign of leisured and refi ned status. While femininity centered on the individual achieving a look as the bearer of a particular image, masculinity became the expression of active roles associated with occupational and social status and the exercise of power.
If femininity is characterized by attributes of weakness, passivity, submissiveness, self-control, nurturing, and emotionality, then masculinity invokes the opposite attributes: strength, aggression, dominance, control, and toughness (Craik 1994: 176 –78). These attributes have been codifi ed into the basic elements of the modern man’s wardrobe namely, shirt, trousers, and jacket while individual embellishments of masculinity identity can be conveyed in choices in accessories such as tie, socks, sweater, vest, belt, or watch.
Twentieth-century men’s fashion reflected these restricted codes for the normative male but experimented with deviations in fashion targeted toward male groups and subcultures whose definitions of sexuality, gender and identity explicitly challenged dominant codes of masculine, such as gays, cross-dressers, punks, and musicians.
Although the suit has remained the staple of men’s fashion, the male wardrobe began to expand in the late twentieth century; however, men in skirts have remained taboo in mainstream fashion (Bolton 2003; see also Chenoune 1993; McDowell 1997 ). The impact of leisure clothes was one factor, as was the popularization of denim jeans, flower power fashions, stage clothes associated with popular music, and the rapid development of designer and ready to wear fashion for the middle market.
A softer look for men with more choices presaged the purported emergence of a new type of masculinity, variously called the new man, the SNAG (sensitive new age guy), the new lad, and the metrosexual.
This man rejected or at least challenged the macho image of men as strong and silent, chauvinistic, authoritative, or ruthless. The new masculinity showed attributes of sensitivity and empathy and was interested in his appearance. In part a reaction to the women’s movement and feminism, the new masculinity was also an answer to the prayers of the advertising industry in that it offered up a new type of consumer who could unlike the traditional man be seduced by the promises of new products and services.
New man was narcissistic
He was heterosexual but shared attributes with his homosexual peers, who were also becoming a target of marketers as more permissive attitudes toward sexuality made men (and women) less hesitant to reveal their sexual orientations and identities. The overlap of different codes of masculinity, outed forms of sexuality, and reworked codes of femininity were all grist to the mill of the fashion industry, which exploited the bricolage of gendered identities and new market groups.
The ambiguity of sexual identities has not only been celebrated in the use of men’s clothes in women’s and vice versa by cross dressers and nonheterosexual consumers but has been embraced as a slightly transgressive signifi er by mainstream consumers too. Variously called androgyny, unisex, metrosexuality, and queer consumerism, this trend has prompted “respectable” brands to market lines such as “His pants for her,” sarongs for men, makeup for men, the G-string as everyday underwear, and erotic lingerie for home masculine shoppers.
As male bodies have been transformed into spectacles, objects of the gaze, and subjects of decoration, the codes of sexual desire associated with masculinity have also changed. Together, these complementary attributes may seem to form the whole of gendered identities, but as notions of gender are destabilized, the emergence of new forms of femininity and masculinity and a proliferation of other sexual identities destabilizes one of the central body techniques of Western contemporary culture.