The term metrosexual, which was first coined by British cultural critic Mark Simpson in a 1994 article for the Independent and in a 2002 discussion of the English soccer star David Beckham written for www.salon.com, burst onto the American scene with three specific developments in 2003: the publication of a New York Times article titled “Metrosexuals Come Out” on June 22, 2003; the airing of a VH1 documentary called Totally Gay in which metrosexuality was identified as an emerging trend; and the premiere, on July 15, 2003, of Bravo Television’s smash hit Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. All three of these events elevated the status of this supposedly new version of American masculinity and prompted a national obsession with men’s skin care and the general state of early-21st-century American manhood.
Defining the Metrosexual
The metrosexual is most commonly understood to be the consummate male consumer: narcissistic, preoccupied with physical appearances, and obsessed with urban culture. The creation, in part, of capitalist producers of men’s clothing, skincare, and hair products; savvy hairstylists; and the media, the metrosexual is frequently characterized as the embodiment of a new form of feminized masculinity; a man thought to enjoy the pleasures of both female and male attention. The pleasure-seeking and fashion-obsessed metrosexual’s desire to show off and be admired is also seen, by some, as a subversion of the traditional masculine gaze; a reversal of the historical male prerogative to travel freely through urban spaces in pursuit of the visual and sensual stimulation derived from viewing women, as objects of desire, in public places. While the general assumption is that the metrosexual is, in fact, a heterosexual who has embraced the aesthetic and consumerist sensibilities of gay men, this definition tends—according to some critics who see the metrosexual as being gay, straight, or bisexual—to be rather limiting.
Precedents Of The 18th And 19th Centuries
While the term metrosexual is a recent invention, the idea of the fashionconscious and appearance-obsessed young man possesses a much longer history in Anglo-American history. In mid-18th-century England, the term macaroni was used to describe men whose interests in extravagant powdered wigs, continental fashions and mannerisms, and elaborate forms of dress were thought to exceed the bounds of propriety. Similarly, the word dandy also came to be used to describe middle-class men like George Bryan “Beau” Brummell (1778–1840) who, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, aped the mannerisms and styles of the upper classes in Europe (most notably in Britain and France) and were known for their fastidiousness of dress and their obsession with appearance. These trends, which had their American counterparts, continued throughout the 19th century and culminated in the aesthetic movement, reflected most notably in the artistic poses and sartorial styles of people like the poet and playwright Oscar Wilde in Britain and the photographer Fred Holland Day, the architect Standford White, and even Mark Twain in the United States. These men, especially when they visited the western territories of the United States, might be negatively labeled as dudes, a term of ridicule usually applied to men who were criticized for their overly fussy forms of dress, speech, and, in some cases, gestures.
Precedents Of The 20th Century
The precursors to the modern metrosexual are equally varied in the 20th century. By the 1920s and 1930s, the appearance-conscious fashionable man could be found in several distinctive places. The bachelor, who was a prominent feature of the urban landscape by the early 20th century, took special pride in his appearance, as did the gangster and the Chicano and African American zoot suiter in the 1930s and 1940s. The image-conscious man also entered popular culture through literary characters like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and advertisements, especially for products directed at fashionable men, such as Arrow shirts. In the more immediate past, authors like Charles Hix (a stylist and journalist who wrote for Gentlemen’s Quarterly [GQ] and Playboy) set, in his 1978 book Looking Good, an impeccably outfitted stage for the modern metrosexual. Focusing on a masculine beauty regimen that included features on shaving, moisturizing, hair and beard care, and genital odor, Hix helped to establish, with this book, the current fixation with masculine attractiveness, a trend he furthered with the publication of Dressing Right (1979) and Working Out (1983). The current metrosexual emerged out of the commodification and marketing of this new masculine ideal, a trend that culminated in the publication, in 2003, of Michael Flocker’s The Metrosexual Guide to Style: A Handbook for the Modern Man.
The metrosexual’s rise has not, however, been viewed in an entirely unproblematic manner. Almost as soon as the concept was popularized in 2003, attacks from a variety of different sectors emerged. Most critiques, generated by men and women alike, focused on the problems associated with the feminizing tendencies of the metrosexual. One female contributor to the online ESPN magazine Page 2, for example, expressed open reservations about the “icky dude who’s in touch with his feminine side” and called for a “resurgence of masculinity.” Reservations about the metrosexual also appeared in a variety of popular cultural forms in the years after 2003, including the animated television series South Park; marketing campaigns for Burger King and Old Spice aftershave; and films like Talladega Nights (2006). In all instances, the message was clear: reject metrosexuality (and by implication the feminine) for an essentialized version of a true man, identified by some as a retrosexual. This reactionary figure—identified as a man who is aggressively and virulently heterosexual, sports-obsessed, macho, and ultimately unconcerned with fashion, refined manners, or beauty regimens—points to just some of the ways in which the emergence of the metrosexual has forged yet another crisis of masculinity in modern American society.