If women’s fashion reveals while men’s fashion conceals, what we are left with is this: the female body as society’s standard of beauty. Fashion then becomes both the creator and enforcer of the standard, with all the freedom and restrictions that comes with expressive freedom and normative tendencies. The standard has become so strong that we see it manifested in many way, such as this cliché in the media: the ugly guy with the gorgeous wife. (See TV Tropes’ website for more on this.) As long as a woman looks great, it doesn’t matter what men look like because the female body is the standard by which we judge beauty – and today’s masculine ego is incapable of being measured against it without imploding into a messy pool of insecurity.
It would seem empowering for men to receive the social message that whatever their physique, they too can get the hot chick. But let’s consider what it means to say that it doesn’t matter what a man’s physique looks like. It means that the male body is ignored, hidden from view, relegated only to the province of gay men or, on the hypermasculine fringes, to bodybuilding. This hasn’t always been the case; look at ancient Greece, for example. The Olympics in those days were, after all, carried out in the nude. Yet what about the beach? After all, don't men's bathing suits entail topless men, while even the skimpiest bikini partly conceals a woman's breasts? The difference, of course, is that women's breast have been sexualized while men's chests haven't.
What we have is the proverbial double-edged sword. On one edge, there’s the supposed freedom for men not to worry about what they look like – especially since fashion will helpfully provide baggy clothes to hide it, or society simply doesn't sexualize their bodies on the public stage. On the other edge is the notion that men’s bodies are irrelevant. A risky interpretation of this double-edged sword – and go ahead, draw any Freudian inference you want – would be to view this is as a problem whose solution is the greater socialization of self-esteem. As we see with women and the challenges they face given the media, however, calling for anyone to subject themselves to the aesthetic preferences and judgment of other people is simply a bad idea. Yet surely there is something destructive to this
Fashion needs a revolution - or maybe evolution would be enough. As it is, fashion is a navel-gazing enterprise, cannibalizing its own history in order to drive a cycle of trends. But what if fashion divorced itself from gender constructs and socialized self-esteem, and instead adopted a new set of design criteria? Instead of looking towards revelation and concealment as design principles, fashion could learn from substantial design disciplines, like architecture or graphic design, in which the goal is, in part, to solve problems – functional, communicative, aesthetic, and expressive.
My question to you, then, is this: what should these design criteria be? I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments below.
And on that note, that's the last of these little indulgent musings. Next week, it's back to posts with pictures.