Thursday, 15 September 2011


A short history of sharp dressed men and moral anxieties
photo research , captions and commentaries by Marc T.

The following analyse is from Rebecca Arnold, senior lecturer in cultural studies, fashion history and theory at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and design in London. The article is a clear historical overview and the most complete study, concerning the ambiguity in the relation between men and dress. 
Since the history of dress and the establishment of dress codes, society had a dramatic impact on how men and women have to dress. The dress is much more than a protection against natural aggressions, it is an extremely coded item that has to reflect differences between sexes, social levels and appurtenances to social groups. The dress is also the ultimate way to expose and to underline cultural differences and to visualize subcultures or counter cultures. 
Since masculinity is held up as a signal of the 'norm' in Western culture, any deviation from conventional male attire is viewed with great unease. Exaggeration within the dress of those men who wish to step outside these somewhat rigid definitions has a long history, and exaggeration itself need only be slight to provoke moral anxiety. This is perhaps because to question masculinity within a strictly patriarchal society threatens the existing balance of power. Traditionally, men who blurred definitions of masculinity by expressing an overt interest in fashion were viewed suspiciously within western culture. They undermined stable ideas of men as workers and providers and slipped instead into the 'feminine' realm of sensuality and adornment.

  Oscar Wilde, a late 19th century dandy was a more flamboyant and sexualised creature, who rejected the Puritanical strictness of George Bryan "Beau" Brummel era.

During the 18th century and 19th centuries, groups of men like the Macaronis and Swells in England, the Incroyable in France, and the Dudes in America, sought to distinguish themselves through exaggerated and elaborated dress. They threw open the masquerade of masculinity, showing it to be another cultural construction rather than a given.

French Incroyables

The Maccaroni, mezzo tint by Philip Dawe 1773

In the middle of the 18th century in England, a Maccaroni was a fashionable young men who dressed and even spoke in a outlandishly affected and epicene manner. The term pejoratively referred to a man who "exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion in terms of clothes, fastidious eating and gambling. 
The following 1770's description of a Maccaroni, in maccaroni verse style is mixing Continental affections with English nature, laying himself open to satire.
"...There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male or female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately stated up amongst us. It is called a Maccaroni, it talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion..."
Young men who had been to Italy on the Grand Tour had developed a taste of macaroni, a type of food little known in England, and so they were said to belong to the Maccaroni Club. They would call anything that was fashionable or a la mode as "Very Maccaroni".Similar subculture was developed in France under the name "Les Incroyables, the incredible's" and in America the Dudes. 

An extravagant English Macaroni posing for an artist

American Dudes

Masculinity was so firm a foundation of contemporary social and political institutions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, that any transgression was seen to be a betrayal of manhood, and a threat to the status of the country. Although masculinity was equated with 'culture' and femininity with 'nature', there was a very real fear of 'unnatural' masculinity. While it was accepted that gentlemen needed to demonstrate good etiquette and social poise, there was great unease that this could tip over into effeminate vanity. Any hint of exaggeration was deeply mistrusted because it was seen to indicate a subversive nature. A careful balance had to be struck between being overdressed for particular occasion and under-dressed, since slovenly costume was viewed as a symptom of indolence and immoral conduct. In the nineteenth  century, European empires grew and the thrusting explorer, soldier or industrialist was worshiped. These elements were reflected in the proliferation of uniforms in male dress during that period. While there were deviations in the style and cut of men's attire during the period, the repressive silhouette of the three-piece suit was ever present.
The dandy of the early nineteenth century, as personified by Beau Brummell in London, subverted these meanings of masculine sobriety.Instead of using overt exaggeration and elaboration to signal differences

George Bryan "Beau" Brummell. engraving by John Cook 1805

as the eighteenth century Macaroni has done, the dandy revered plainness and neatness in dress. Every detail of the dandy's dress must be perfect: dark fine wool coat, starched white linen shirt and cravat, buff breeches or pantaloons, hessian boots and soft yellow leather gloves. Dandies represented exaggerated sobriety rather than flamboyance in their dress.

"Le Dandy Chic", Robert de Montesquiou, Giovanni Boldini oil on canvas 1897.

Fashionable  young men were absorbed by inconspicuous consumption, which required close attention to, and knowledge of the quality of fabric and cut. The dandy's over-emphasis on the exterior was felt to break the Puritan ethic of humility. The sober tones of his dress only served to complicate the signals it gave off.. Dandies seemed respectable yet were obviously outside the accepted ideas of masculinity, Beau Brummel, who defined the dandy, was from a trade or service background and used fetishised neatness and plainess as symbols of restrained good taste and control. His dress exemplified the ease with the non-aristocrat could pass for his betters. He was an austere aesthetic that the upper classes followed and relied upon self-respect rather than respect from others based on rank. Dandies were sexually ambiguous, more interested in the approval of other dandies than the attention of women. Thomas Carlyle mocked them as part of a pseudo religion, playing upon religious severity and stress on a strict ritual of cleaning and washing - seemingly virtuous yet founded upon vanity.

 Thomas Carlyle 1795 - 1881
Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish satirical writer, essayist,  historian and professor at the Edinburgh University, he  was known as a controversial social commentator.

He wrote: "... And now, for all this perennial Martyrdom, and Poesy, and even Prophecy, what is that the Dandy asks in return? Solely, we may say, that you would recognize his existence; would admit him to be a living object; or failing this, a visual object, or thing that will reflects rays of light..."

Oscar Wilde's late nineteenth-century dandy was a more flamboyant and sexualised creature, who rejected the Puritanical strictness of Brummell's era. The aesthetes' love of style for its own sake was a direct attack upon conventional masculine models, and reinforced Carlyle's concerns.

Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900) photographed in New York  by Napoleon Sarony  1882

Dress was yet to be acknowledged as a means of resistance, a visual insult to stiffing norms. During the last years of the nineteenth century the concepts of both homosexuality and feminism were crystallised, and although they were unrelated, they were viewed as a joint assault on contemporary manhood: 'The challenge to young men of the turn of the century was not only to adapt successfully to the pressures of modern urban life, but to adjust to these changing standards of feminity (Barraclough Paoletti J. - Ridicule and role models as factors in American men's fashion change 1880 - 1910 in costume no19-1985.)". The line between aceptance and rejection of the "norm" was and remains thin. Certain acts of flamboyance are countenanced within male dress codes, context and tradition is paramount. Post - war youth cultures successfully lifted the mask of masculinity, by revealing that the uniformity and anonymity of the suit was itself a construction, that it was a costume which was consumed like any other, and had been perfected to the point of inscrutability by ruling classes, who visually asserted their power through their "respectable" dress, setting an example that the lower classes were to aspire to in their "Sunday Best". In the twentieth century, the groomed image of the bowler-hatted city gent sits on the 'right' side of 'gentlemanly' while the mod's obsession with detail smacks of vanity and a lack of concern for the things that are deemed to matter. Masculinity rests upon unwritten acceptance of paying attention to dress only within certain arenas, where it can be read as a sign of duty, discipline and devotion to a just cause. Concentration on style within youth cultures seems to speak of concerns with leisure, and loyalty to groups of friends, rather than to the wider concerns with which men are meant to align themselves. The mods '...seemed to consciously invert the values associated with smart dress, to deliberately challenge the assumptions, to falsify the expectations derived from such sources..(Hebdige D. The Meaning of Mod in Hall S. & Jefferson T. eds. Resistence through Rituals, Youth subcultures in Post War Britain, London, Routledge 1996).
Mods' Italian -style suits, individualy tailored and smartly accessorised, were intended to impress upon the onlooker the mod's imagined status, rather than his actual social position.

The Beatles in 1963

Neatness was a symbol of middle-class morality, yet the mod was usually working and keen to subvert his immaculate image with gestures of insouciance and defiance. Groups like the mod's and Teddy Boys before them, took the leap of imagination to construct their own status and visual code, through a spectacularised version of their dress of their supposed 'betters' . Teenagers had increased spending power by the 1950's and their role models were from the glittering world of rock' n' roll. The fashion agenda was set by those who were supposed to blindly follow, as in the days of the original dandy. Masculinity, so long the 'norm' was fragmenting images of maleness, drawn from ideas of power and status, as as the fictional and visual representations of the 'hero' had constituted, as Graham Dawson noted in the Blond Bedouin, Manful Assertions, (London, Routledge 1991): " ...An imagined identity - which -  is something that has been 'made up' in the positive sense of active creation...It organizes a form that a masculine self can assume in the world (its  bodily appearance and dress, its conduct and mode of relating), as well as its values ans aspirations, its tastes and desires...".

A London mod and his motorbike 1960's

The new role models of the post-Second World War period also challenged moralists keen to reassert the respectable heroes of sport, the military or politics. Writing just before the Second World War, designer Elizabeth Hawes had despaired of men ever dressing in a way that allowed for more individuality and self-expression. She acknowledged that men's business suits were functional and easy to mass-produce, but she felt that men could wear lighter clothes in summer and brighter clothes for parties. However, she recognized that the average man was highly suspicious of any significant change in dress, fearing above all that he might be made to look ridiculous, and the easiest way to look foolish was to show too much regard for fashion.

Elizabeth Hawes 1903 - 1971, 
 Alexander Calder, Lynn Fontaine and Katherine Hepburn were E. Hawes favorite clients.

Hawes echoed the opinion of many when she wrote in Men Can Take It: "...With all my desire to see men comfortable, I would like everyone to understand from the beginning that the very last thing I should like to see is the introduction of fashion into men's clothing. fast becoming one of the greater ills of our time."
Fashion brought with it not only the devil of consumerism, but also the threat to stability contained in the notion that masculinity was off-the-peg , in the same way that vain femininity was. As the century progressed this challenge to masculinity became more acute, having to search for new constructions in response to feminist, gay rights and black civil rights criticism of its bias towards white, heterosexual, middle-class ideals. Shifts in work patterns have also undermined the stoic strength of tradition. The workplace has been opened  up to women and to people of other ethnic groups. Work itself has changed, shifting away from the heavy industries towards those based on technology and public services, requiring different and less physical skills as well as different attitudes.
By the end of the 1960s, the subverted suiting of the mods was being overtaken by the decadent styles of the hippies and the psychedelic unisex of stars like Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones

 Jimmy Hendrix burning his guitar on stage, it was a "psychedelic" sacrifice of the establishment.

Mick Jagger, photographed on the set of Performance 1968 by Cecil Beaton 
Performance was a British film directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, this cult film was witnessing the 1960s.society changes. 

Mick Jagger's dishevelled bohemian style was portrayed in the 1968 film Performance and was disturbing not only because of the star's careless narcissism, but the drug-induced haziness of the masculinity that he embodied. He was heterosexual, yet flaunted long hair, and a skinny androgynous body. He was shown in Cecil Beaton's photograph taken on the set of Performance thrown back among a confusion of glittering, jewel-coloured cushions and throws, a studded leather wristband the only (albeit rebellious) emblem of masculinity.
The notion that straight men might wear frilled and colorful clothes was decried in the press. In Britain, David Bowie's mercurial image proved the definitive icon of maleable gender identity, inspiring the sparkling hedonism of glam rock. The confused messages given out by such ensembles were to cause unease on both sides of the Atlantic. In "The Morality Gap, 1976", Mark Evans claimed that such images had promoted a 'warped and perverse culture'. He saw  the use of such unisex styles as an example of how: " In recent months, rock audiences have become so accustomed to the sick, the bizarre, the violent and the obscene, that promoters  are forced to seek new depths of depravity in order to hit the Top 40(quoted in Nature Boy, The Face vol 2 no 14 1989). He expresses the long held fear that such transgressive dress will  only lead to worse affronts to morality, that visual differencesis one step away from physical protest against the status quo. Since fashion and youth culture continually need to push bounderies further, each challenge to masculinity compels the next subversion and blurred gender divisions can never be clarified again. What Evans failed to realise was that antagonising the establishment was a means to assert difference as something positive rather than frightening. Gremaine Greer in the "Female Eunuch" wrote of such young men; "...Their long hair was a sign that they did not accept the morality of the crop-haired generation of bureaucrats which sired them..."

David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, shaking morality and confirming a new era, the 1970s.

By the 1980's the notion that masculinity was as much a masquerade as femininity was represented in the flamboyant costumes of clubland once more. The New Romantics theatricalised cross-dressing for men and women. They wore elaborate combinations of real and imagined past styles, painting their faces to enhance fantasy and artifice, their escape from the natural. Vivienne Westwood's Pirates collection of 1980 epitomised this post-modern pastiche of the past as gender playfulness rather than restrictive traditions. The unisex designs combined references to real seventeenth century dress in the convex seamed breeches and square - toed  boots, with the glamour of the Hollywood pirate, dishevelled and battle-torn, in bright red and gold layers. The so called 'gender bending' of pop stars like Boy George, who drew upon this eclectic dress code, was sufficiently mainstream by 1985 for mass-market cosmetics line Boots No7 to use a male model i

Boy George, lead singer from Culture Club 1980.The multicultural statement in dress and society.

in full, pearlised make-up for its advertising campaign, with the line 'Looks  better on a girl', the ironic pay-off.
The realisation in the 1980s that there is no single stereotype of gayness had enabled gay style to be used in more areas of fashion. Also, focus on the male body and voyeuristic depictions of it reinforced the attack on a single view of the masculinity. The exaggerated style of the Buffalo Boy, and Herb Ritts' and Bruce Weber's objectification of the male body, showed that the men were increasingly required to consume to maintain a sense of their masculinity.

Bruce Weber for Calvin Klein, new visions about what is a man. 

Herb Ritts "new" men, the Buffalo look

Advertisements reinforced people's need to acquire the right 'look' to meet contemporary expectations. Ray Petri's styling of the Buffalo look was important because it encapsulated the contemporary approach to masculinity, bringing together cult icons of 'classic' maleness, using for example, cowboy, Native American and boxing motifs, which had strong associations with childhood dressing up games as well as their cultural resonances. It also constructed the club uniform of customised MA1 jacket, Levi 501 jeans, Dr Martens shoes and white T-shirts, garments which again present a heady cocktail of functional anonymity in their military/workwear history, stylish transcendence of 'mere' fashion and acknowledgement of current gay subcultural dress. The images he created with Marc Lebon and Jamie Morgan  for magazines like i-D and The Face were highly influential, opening up market for later men's magazines like Arena in 1986. All focused on the same concerns of though, sports-inspired style, with the emphasis on the 'design classic' creating new options for masculinity. As Jamie Morgan wrote of Petri's style: "...His  images were strong and sensitive - they showed you didn't have to drink beer and beat people up to be tough. He gave men a sense of pride in the way they dress which was hugely influential..."
This look certainly had more impact than the more extreme experiments of the time. Female designers like Katharine Hammett, who produced fluid parachute silk shirts and trousers in the mid-eighties, and Vivienne Westwood, who favoured rich fabrics and decoration in her designs, offered more sensual and playful types of menswear, but it was Jean Paul Gaultier whose gender games became the most notorious. His male sarong skirts and knee length  kilts of the mid-eighties were seen to be too direct a challenge to masculine power.

Jean Paul Gaultier mixed it all up and creates confusion..

His aproach highlighted the role playing that is the basis of the masculine (as well as the feminine). By exposing masculinity as artifice, the lie that masculinity is natural and fixed collapsed under his stylised examination. However, it was his faux gangster-style double-breasted suits that were the dominant look of the aspirational male, and only the bravest would attempt one of his beaded matador boleros. Public unease meant that the male skirt was the reserve of the nightclub fantasy. In 1995 a man lost his case against Hackney Council in London, which had banned him from wearing a skirt to work; this challenge to the official 'norm' had proved too disquieting. In order to maintain the status quo, the dress codes assigned to the masculine must not be subverted in a manner that cuts through the discipline and lack of emotion implicit in traditional styles, in particular at work. it is notable that this is also the last place in which women are often made to wear skirts, a throwback to older ordering systems. Employers are reluctant to admit that fundamental changes in gender definition and women's status have taken place.
Although there may be more scope in women's dress for subversive signals, since femininity is not traditionally so important in the power structure, both the presentation and design of menswear became more spectacular in the last 30 years of the twentieth century. Ambiguity causes insecurity because definite understanding cannot easily be reached. This detracts from the neutral status usually accorded to the masculine. In the second half of the twentieth century it was recognized that society is multicultural, that there is increasing equality of the sexes and sexuality's. This acknowledgement forced masculinity to take part in the gender debate rather than to define it, and this in turn naturally led to anger from traditionalists, who longed for a monolithic past that never really existed.

From Fashion Desire and anxiety, image and morality in the 20th century by Rebecca Arnold, Rutgers University Press.

Ike Ude,  artist and publisher Arude Magazine New York
self portrait

Ike Ude incarnates the absolute of the contemporary dandy,

 Hamish Bowles, European editor at large at Vogue Magazine,, 
is considered as the world's best dressed man.  

Hamish Bowles or the contemporary "chic"

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