Saturday, June 07, 2008

Metro before their time?

The archetypal metrosexual, David Beckham?
Meet the metrosexual -
TIME Magazine: TIME 100: David Beckham
David Beckham Is A Proud Metrosexual | Hollyscoop
David Beckham Photos - David Beckham Gallery
Beckham Magazine - Galleries

The metrosexual trend seems to be dying down, though it is questionable that it was popular to begin with, despite the media attention (and hype/advocacy) surrounding it. Then again, I do not have a "night life," so I can't say for sure that the lifestyle is not prominent among club-goers and fine-diners. If there is a specific kind of clothing or label associated with metrosexuals, I haven't really seen it among college and post-college males, though undoubtedly there has been some influence of the trend upon them, even if their clothing remains casual--shirt with jeans and boots or outdoor shoes. But more on that in a bit.

Shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy catered to the new-found desire in men to look good and to be perceived as attractive in certain ways. QEFTSG was popular when it first came out--NBC, which owns Bravo, even aired some of its episodes, but I am guessing that there is not much water cooler talk about the show these days.

Now I know two Asian men (one in his late 20s, the other in his early 30s) who were both metrosexual before the trend was noticed. Some obvious behaviors: the use of skin products, certain hair products, especially before going to bed. In addition to "fussing" with their appearance, they were concerned with having an abundant supply of shoes and accessories. One was rather well-off; the other not as much, though he was indulged. In his case, the metrosexual lifestyle should be distinguished from his following the Asian girly look common to many Asian males still (long hair and skinny), since that didn't last too long. Were there similarities in their home situation? It would seem that one parent was more influential than the other--the mother. And in the case of one, maybe the love of shoes could be traced to her. (Though perhaps that would be resorting to two stereotypes, not one. I can't remember if he said he was consciously imitating his mother or not.) Well, enough amateur analysis for today.

Does being a metrosexual have necessary connection with being soft, if by soft we mean someone who is not willing to undertake something laborious or endure difficulties? It seems not, although the two examples I am thinking of could be considered soft. Many metrosexuals are also concerned with their physique and go to a fitness club, etc.; but this is true of many non-metrosexual men as well. As Wendell Berry points out, Americans feel the need to appear physically fit, without earning it through useful physical work. Rather than being fit for the sake of health and fulfilling their vocation, many strive to be so only for the sake of appearance and being attractive to the opposite sex. In such cases, the body being in fine shape has no relationship to the desire to engage in arduous work. One can be in good shape and yet slothful at the same time.

What, then, distinguishes being a "metrosexual" from having a proper concern for appearance and attire? The excessive use of skin products? (As opposed to those who need to alleviate dry skin.) Hair products? Dying's one hair? Merely making an effort to looking good for one's self and for others? Adhering to good grooming standards (as opposed to affecting an unshaven look)? The amount of money spent on care? Going to a hairdresser or hair stylist as opposed to going to a barber? (Among the young males, sporting an earring has gone from being unacceptable to commonplace; the piercing of other areas carries more of a stigma.)

What one wears and does in accordance with good grooming standards seems to be defined in part by convention. So for formal occasions (and for some businesses), one should wear a suit and tie, etc. Can one readily see that the motivation for ignoring these standards, to stand out and be noticed, is wrong? While many are aware of dress codes, there is also a strong social emphasis on non-conformity.

If what I consider being pampered may be adequate and proper care for another man, does this mean that being a metrosexual is "relative"? Or is it relative in the sense that the form of the [male] virtue of temperance with this object, or modesty, has a mean relative to us? Hence, as Aristotle might say, there is no absolute, fixed standard regarding the use of lotion, for example, but the standard is to be found only by comparing with what the phronimos, to the wise and temperate man, would do. And there are other considerations that the phronimos would take into account as well, such as the amount of money being spent. Is money for the care of appearance and body being spent well and wisely?

Mr. Eliot of Jane Austen's Persuasion is supposed to be an example of a vain man. Would he be considered a "metrosexual" by the standards of his day? ("Dandy" doesn't seem appropriate. "Fop"?)

St. Thomas Aquinas does discuss the morality of outward attire in question 169 (of the secunda secundae), whether there is virtue and vice in connection with outward apparel. He holds that there can be a lack of moderation in the use of outward things. This immoderate use happens in two ways:

First, in comparison with the customs of those among whom one lives; wherefore Augustine says (Confess. iii, 8): "Those offenses which are contrary to the customs of men, are to be avoided according to the customs generally prevailing, so that a thing agreed upon and confirmed by custom or law of any city or nation may not be violated at the lawless pleasure of any, whether citizen or foreigner. For any part, which harmonizeth not with its whole, is offensive." Secondly, the lack of moderation in the use of these things may arise from the inordinate attachment of the user, the result being that a man sometimes takes too much pleasure in using them, either in accordance with the custom of those among whom he dwells or contrary to such custom.
It is still possible for someone who follows the customs of his community regarding attire to nonetheless be inordinately attached to their use, resulting in a vice. There are three different ways in which the inordinate attachment to outward things can be excessive:

In point of excess, this inordinate attachment occurs in three ways. First when a man seeks glory from excessive attention to dress; in so far as dress and such like things are a kind of ornament. Hence Gregory says (Hom. xl in Ev.): "There are some who think that attention to finery and costly dress is no sin. Surely, if this were no fault, the word of God would not say so expressly that the rich man who was tortured in hell had been clothed in purple and fine linen. No one, forsooth, seeks costly apparel" (such, namely, as exceeds his estate) "save for vainglory." Secondly, when a man seeks sensuous pleasure from excessive attention to dress, in so far as dress is directed to the body's comfort. Thirdly, when a man is too solicitous [Cf.55, 6] in his attention to outward apparel.

Aquinas the mentions the three virtues opposed to these desires regarding outward attire, humility, contentment, and simplicity. Though Aquinas does not mention them, the use of skin and hair care products, cologne, and so on, can be excessive or inordinate as well.

Still, what if the customs of a society (and the judgments they embody) are in themselves disordered? Can a certain article be said to be too pampering, not only with respect to its material but the form as well? Are some forms and designs of clothing better than others? The problem does not appear to be with the material itself--it is not sinful to use this material as opposed to that (within reason--if the material harms the body, then it would be sinful to use it). As for the form, form serves function, so we must judge both the intended purpose of the clothing, and the form as a means of achieving the purpose.

Can we therefore concede that there is a need for some measure of practicality for the clothing we wear, without going to an extreme? That is to say, clothing must be able to be sturdy and durable, and not just fulfill the purpose of decorating the human body, so as to complement the various tasks man must perform? How can a business suit withstand the physical stress associated with being in law enforcement? On the other hand, should not someone serving the community through a special office avoid the casual (or even 'sloppy') look of contemporary athletic or practical clothing, lest the dignity of that office be harmed?

Is there some higher law to which one can appeal? Or is one always obligated to follow the norms set by society, even if they are counter to what the phronimos deems reasonable? While sumptuary laws may be imposed from above legitimately (or so it seems), can reform ever be brought about from below by individuals acting on their own initiative? Or does this have to occur spontaneously by more than a few men, as it happens with sects seeking to embrace "simplicity" in response to the decadence of their times? Are the members of these sects acting wrongly by opposing the conventions of their society regarding clothing?

Even if the metrosexual trend has been diminished, Peter Pan syndrome still remains, along with the emasculation of men and rampant misandry.

Meet the metrosexual -
Metrosexuals Come Out - New York Times
Die Metrosexual Die! by Matt Haber -
How To Know if You're a Metrosexual | How To Do - Metrosexual The Metrosexual Guide to Style: A Handbook for the ...
The metrosexual guide to style: A Handbook for the Modern Man - Google Books Result
Michael Flocker
The Metro-Sexual Guide to Men’s Fashion
Metrosexual Matrimony - TIME
ABC News: Metrosexual Is out, Macho Is In
Going Metrosexual For A Day - Right Wing News (Conservative News ...

Post begun on May 27.

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