On Fashion, Gender, And Society

Right out of the gate I want to make two things clear: First, this is not an indictment of individuals, but of ideas. Second, everyone is entitled to their ideas and beliefs, and I am just expressing my own.

I have been troubled by a recent discussion taking place here on Mens Flair regarded the supposed differences inherent between men and women. A fellow columnist asserted, casually no-less, that “women tend to be led, men tend to choose,” and when questioned about it defended himself by suggesting in the positive that “being guided by fashion has given women an advantage in a heightened sense of aesthetics.” While I do not think these comments were meant with any malicious or consciously misogynistic intent, it would almost be better if they were. The very fact that they reside as seemingly-benign, condescending assumptions about a gender difference with natural, easily traced causes makes them all the more dangerous. It is only in acknowledging our assumptions, questioning them, and then making distinct and purposeful judgements of them that we can ever hope to express truth.

Another perfect example of this is the assertion that “the markets for womenswear and menswear respond to market demand,” with simply no regard for what might cause or influence those demands. The power of the market is not top down, and certainly not bottom up as it would seem here, but rather dialectical. We want things because of unconscious motivations and desires that stem from much broader concerns than whether we wish to be fashionable or classic. And, while due to additional social forces these concerns may impact men and women to different and varying degrees, no person exists outside of them. To think so is a delusion.

A commenter pointed out the absurdity of some of these assumptions and was quickly met with the philistine maxim “Embrace boldly your masculinity, your sword of discrimination, your natural proclivity towards choosing. Do not prostrate yourself to the fashionable altar of politically correct feminism, or its facsimile. Stand up, my good man.” I’m almost speechless. While we are at it, you know, taking up our violent implements of barbaric masculinity and keeping the progression of ideas about gender politics (and anything else for that matter) suppressed and in the kitchen where they belong, why don’t we just go all the way and take the vote back as well? Such a disgusting, ignorant depiction of subordinate female intelligence and action is the exception to my above clause granting everyone the right to their opinion.

Such an attitude’s companion, the condescending, self-righteous brand of faux-gentlemanly behavior that includes soft-voiced references to “the fairer sex” does nothing more than champion misogyny under the guise of paternalistic protection. I know it sounds like a crazy idea, but imagine actually respecting a member of the opposite sex, not as a woman but as a person. Seditious seeds these suggestions should not be.

Lastly, the powder keg that began all of this, the paragraph regarding classic men’s style as different from blind female consumption, in fact should have had nothing to do with gender at all. As people interested to varying degrees in style, fashion, craft, &c., we should all be aware of the myth of “classic.” Yes, I like classically inspired garments and accessories, but to ignore the fact that this category of design is influenced by trends, past or current, is to miss the mark. All design and aesthetics in general are relative. Absolute beauty is only one thing: absolutely false. Whether male or female, we do not design fashion or style, nor do they design us. We design each other. The debate here should be about things like menswear/womenswear, classic/fashionable, not about men vs. women.


  1. Kai said:

    Oh relax will you? I prefer reading someones possible prejudices over philosophizing.

    December 10, 2010
  2. Chris said:

    I think you’ve made some great points. The concept of men treating women like frail, porcelain versions of themselves is actually much discussed in social psychology and has been termed “benign sexism”, and you seem to be right about the extents of its damage.

    I’m mildly horrified that people participating in a field nominally dominated by women could be ignorant enough to postulate that THEIR social group transcends stereotypes, but the target group of their stereotypes does not.

    I’d like to thank you for posting your thoughts, and to tell you that most of research psychology stands behind the conclusion that the two genders are significantly more similar than different, and that it’s sociologically challenged apes like the one whose comments we’re discussing that prevent that esoteric, scientific knowledge from becoming common knowledge.

    December 10, 2010
  3. Wardog said:

    Hear, hear! Let this be about clothes!

    December 10, 2010
  4. Jim said:

    Wow, could you be any more pompous?

    December 10, 2010
  5. Tyrone said:

    Well said. Thank you.

    December 10, 2010
  6. grant said:

    I love this site and follow the various blogs with eager delight every day. I love it because the writers who blog are informative and obviously passionate about style. Mainly I love it because it’s not the dreadful pessimistic news that pervades our general media. News that is usually filled with politics and ‘political correctness gone mad’ (or at least overboard); ‘elf and safety or even stuffy critics using their columns to show the general plebeians how articulate and acerbic they can be as writers. All too boring to bear on a mornings commute.
    So I was very surprised to read this dreadfully political, and obviously pompous piece of dribble that has nothing positive to say, (about Men’s Flair or otherwise) rather trying ever so hard to sound ‘Holier than thou’ GET A LIFE

    December 11, 2010
  7. J. said:

    The article is spot on; irate reactions to it merely highlight this fact.
    There seems to be an underlying assumption that liking classic style allows or forces one to profess reactionary and sexist views. If that is the case, I’d rather wear a bloody shell suit.
    So, Mr Pulvirent, more power to you.

    December 11, 2010
  8. Kai said:

    I’m sure there will be a part 3, unfortunately.

    December 11, 2010
  9. Part 3? Not from me there won’t. Unfortunately, the modern trend to blow things out of proportion has already been achieved. I cannot add any more verbosity to the debate.

    December 11, 2010
  10. Alton Busterton said:

    The most remarkable thing. Bear with me, I beg.
    Last evening, the day’s labors having drawn to their conclusion, I took myself the few blocks through the blustery cold to my local. Though my body was pleasantly tired from working (I restore antique pianos), my mind was restless with thoughts of stereotypes, discrimination, and the battle of the sexes, as it were. I was ruminating, and I thought a pint of bitter would help settle what the Hindus call monkey mind.
    Well, “one pint leads to another,” as they say, and soon I was half in the bag, my mind having settled but my mood having turned glum. I was just about to don my fedora and slump home when who should appear but a spritely young woman with short hair like a boy’s. She was dressed in a tweed three piece. How I could not have noticed her before I know not, and blame it on my dour mood. My not having spotted her was especially remarkable considering my local is a gay bar called Rawhide, and is patronized almost entirely by large men wearing various leathers. I took the appearance of this tweed bedecked androgyne as a sign, and struck up a conversation.
    She was a sweet thing, true to her gender, and after spilling my story (a bit drunkenly, I’m afraid), she reached out and put her hand on mine. “Alton,” she said. “I have a question for you.
    “Please, my dear,” I replied.
    She held my gaze for a beat, her chestnut eyes moist with the dewy emotion of the moment. “What would Winston Chesterfield do?”
    I paused a beat, and then the answer came: “Scout,” I said, for that was the sprite’s name,” I do believe that he would choose, as men tend to do.”
    Unfortunately Scout was a lesbian, as I’m sure you’ve already surmised, and I ended up tending my sword of discrimination furtively, in my twin sized bed, with the aid of a cashmere Pantharella. But it doesn’t matter.
    I know something of psychology myself, and I believe that the latest from that field delegates each gender to their own planet, one red and rocky and the other green, and gaseous. Different, entirely, but both orbiting the self-same sun as our own beloved planet, on which both genders must do their bloody best to live harmoniously.
    And so my choice is this: I apologize. To Mr. Winston, for igniting such a frivolous fury in his name. To Mr. Pulvirent, for perplexing him so. But most of all to tiny Laura, the woman who yearns so desperately to be a man: may you learn to love again.

    Alton Busterton

    December 11, 2010
  11. Dani said:

    Thank you for this post, there is nothing more appealing to me than a man who is not afraid to defend women in this sense of the word!

    December 11, 2010
  12. Keith said:

    Fantastic post, and something that i’ve been trying to articulate for a long time. Well done!

    December 11, 2010
  13. Chris said:

    Gaseous and rocky? I’ve never seen a sentence more indicative of complete ignorance in my entire life. You do realize that Freud is late, and not the latest? And certainly that the fieldS of psychology don’t collectively publish conclusions on topics labeled “the latest”, but that the vast majority of research in the last 40 years has shown men and women performing similarly in areas from socializing to child rearing to memory? Of course you do, and I recognize that your comments recently have all been sarcastic satire on the uneducated. Bravo.

    December 11, 2010
  14. Neil S said:

    It seems to me that men and women are equally led by fashion. In London at least, the vast majority of young people dress in similar shades of low grade casual wear. The homogenous styles of the high street dictate what they wear, and they accept it. Only a few discerning individuals of either sex distinguish themselves through well chosen and stylish clothes. We attract one another, because we are closer in thought and feeling than the herd whatever their sex, and because we know that a well dressed man and a well dressed woman together are greater than the sum of their parts. If there must be grounds for discriminaton, let it be between those possess standards and those that do not, regardless of gender.

    December 12, 2010
  15. Barima said:

    “Unfortunately Scout was a lesbian, as I’m sure you’ve already surmised, and I ended up tending my sword of discrimination furtively, in my twin sized bed, with the aid of a cashmere Pantharella. But it doesn’t matter.”
    Alton, I’ve just informed Rowan Pelling about you. Well played

    December 12, 2010
  16. Phil said:

    Are you all for real? It’s almost 2011 and no one is just admitting what this is all about? You’re on a fashion site and you’re afraid of being called a fag. Why are you so worried about it and trying to draw any number of different distinctions, telling others to “man” it up in so many different ways? Because of the fear that others might think that because you like to look good that you’re a peacock, a dandy, and that then of course that means you take the receptive role in sex.
    This is sadly not a conversation that a bunch of guys who look at a fashion site, many of whom are pretending to be straight or “post labels” or whatever can avoid, no matter how flowery or Victorian the prose is.
    I wish it were.
    But the reality is that if most Americans knew you read this site they would assume “Fag”. True. Right?
    So, why the fear on your part of owning it? Why the fear on their part?
    Because women “take it”.
    Women take the receptive role in sex. Turn on any straight porn i’m sure you have handy in case someone walks in and sees you reading a men’s fashion site. 9 out of 10 times you see a woman at least pretending that she’s being taken against her will if not really scared because they have actually pushed her further than she wanted to go. (I’m not saying women don’t like sex. I’m saying that men don’t think about women and sex as they think about themselves. And i’m saying that as good as it feels, guys don’t rush in to tell their buddies that their girlfriend got them off with her finger or hairbrush as fast as they say they pounded it out of her.
    Listen to how most groups of guys refer to others. (Don’t listen to them when they tell you that they just use these words to mean “tacky” or “lacking courage” or “being a doofus”. don’t listen when they say that these words don’t stand for “women” or “gay guys” to them. That’s crazy. All the other words the use seem to mean what they mean to others.)
    Just listen to most, seriously most, and this is where they refer to women: When determining if someone getting in their way is a p**** or a c***. Busdriver, boss, policewoman, guy who’s too slow with groceries, or whatever non-gendered role and guaranteed to be called a bitch. With guys, it’s disrespect it to call them any of those. Hmmm, Other bad things to call a dude? a****** or c***sucker. Say he’s a big pussy and you’ve assaulted his honor. A “dick”? Well, while he may be cocky it’s not so bad. Boys will be boys, but girls are sluts.
    And in the colloqual, is being a “fag” more like being a “pussy” or like being a “dick”? Getting where we are with this? Really simply now:
    A. Worst thing to be is female.
    B. Fags act like females.
    C. Guys commenting on fashion blogs wont be thought to be female, but assumed to be a fag.
    D. So, definitely got to show you hate fags. Women too.
    E. But you are a fag.
    F. Oh yeah, well then i hate myself. Women too.
    G. So why are you still being called a Fag? Because th others are even more twisted about wanting it in the a** like a b***** so they buy shoes, eat and get drunk and then come on here and write ostensibly about all they know of women.

    Fashion and dressing and decoding signfiers in what others are wearing is fun, makes for a good blog, and is neither proof of masculinity nor femininity in and of itself. Only when it gets twisted in on itself with the comments above and those that they are responding to does fashion become a repressed homo cry for help.
    Just buy some cute shoes that make you happy, confident, or light in your loafers and go out and get whatever you want. Have a good time and we’ll get back to fabric and finery another day.

    December 13, 2010
  17. crito said:

    Just saw this. Brilliant prose. To think, I was considering unsubscribing from MF for its being too stodgy! Kudos also to the commenters taking up the banner.

    December 13, 2010
  18. Robert said:

    To all the earlier comments about “get on topic or go home!”; I am paraphrasing. If you feel that a site that discusses fashion cannot have such a discussion you are deluded.

    In todays world where most men don’t care about fashion be it casual or formal those who do care are going to be challenging gender roles themselves.

    That is why any sexism is surpising because those who have a dedication to men’s style as those that write here should know best what it is like to be criticised for looking good.

    December 14, 2010
  19. Victoria said:

    Indeed, men that take an interest would probably be more aware of what it is like to be critised for their looks. However, your comment suprises me as there has been no sexism on this site at all (and I think I have read most articles on here)
    Moreover, simply because people do not take an interest in Gender and think it belongs to another website does not make them deluded at all, but actually rather rational.

    December 15, 2010
  20. Alan said:

    Thank you. The fact that classic style may be deemed conservative by many doesn’t mean it should be assumed that readers are themselves all conservative.

    So hooray for standing up and saying that, while we are men who enjoy clothes made for men, that we can still see women as our equals in every way. If that’s political correctness, I’m all for it.

    January 4, 2011

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