While the profession of the male fashion and underwear model is a relatively recent invention, men have served as models for centuries, primarily in artists’ studios and academies. In the 18th and 19th centuries, formally trained artists regularly conducted studies of frequently nude, living models, both male and female. Artistic institutions, in this period, especially in European capitals like Paris and London, employed physically attractive models to teach students in life classes about the intricacies and aesthetic appeal of the human body. Generally humble in status and origins, many male models in these studios and academies held other jobs as soldiers, street boxers, or casual laborers.
Men In Advertising
The male model became increasingly important in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the rise of two distinctive developments: the emergence of photography and the growth of a print advertising industry that came to rely, increasingly, on images of celebrities and attractive figures to sell products and produce consumer desires. With the rise of the print advertisement as a new form of visual culture came the emergence of new kinds of male celebrities noted for their physical beauty and their appeal to—especially—female consumers. This was nowhere more apparent than in the case of the Arrow Man, an advertising gimmick first introduced in 1905 by Cluett, Peobody, and Company, the manufacturer of the Arrow detachable shirt collar. The model for this advertisement, the lover of illustrator Joseph Christian Leyendecker, created a state of near mania when, during one month alone in the 1920s, he received some 17,000 fan letters containing marriage proposals, offers of sex, and even suicide threats.
Physique And Underwear Models
Another development in male modeling during this period came from a very different source—the fitness craze inaugurated by physical culture experts like Eugen Sandow (1867–1925) and Bernarr Adolphus Macfadden (1868–1955). Some men, naturally endowed with fine physiques and attractive faces and followers of the movement, were able to build careers for themselves as physical culture models and fitness experts. Among the most prominent of these men was the New York-based Tony Sansone who had a modeling and personal fitness career that spanned from
1923 until the 1960s. Born in 1905 to Sicilian immigrants, Sansone was a convert to physical culture by the age of 14 when he began to run in Brooklyn parks, do countless chin-ups, and practice acrobatics. By the 1920s, Sansone was posing as a model for sculptors connected to Gertrude Whitney Vanderbilt and posing for physical culture magazines and books. Known for his classical and statuesque beauty, Sansone quickly became a sensation, inspiring rhapsodic celebrations by Charles Atlas, himself a specimen of supreme physical fitness, who labeled him the most beautiful man in America. By the latter years of the decade, Sansone’s success as a physical culturist led to his appearance in plays and films and to the sale of his image in popular magazines.
The 1930s and 1940s brought about several important shifts that had a direct bearing on the experiences of male models. With the growing popularity of magazines like Esquire (f. 1933), marketed directly to men, new opportunities for male models began to emerge. While some men began to earn decent incomes, in this period, as professional models, many advertisers relied on images of soldiers, as an idealized version of masculinity first celebrated in propaganda posters and advertisements for products like Ivory soap during World War I, and Hollywood actors to peddle a broad range of American goods.
In the 1950s, a staple of the modern male modeling industry—the underwear model—began to appear with some regularity in print advertisements. Spurred, in part, by the development of swimwear-inspired men’s briefs, underwear companies like Cooper and Sons and Jockey International began to rely on images of men, stripped down to their underclothes, to sell these new products. While advertisements for underwear in the 1950s remained largely sanitized and asexual and most male models continued to wear conservative suits and sportswear in magazines, catalogues, and newspapers, this emphasis on the scantily-clad male body led to new possibilities for those men interested in pursuing a career before the camera. By the 1960s and the 1970s, the eroticization and commercialization of the nearly nude male body presented opportunities for emerging modeling stars like Tony Sanchez and Jack Scalia. This decade also witnessed a dramatic rise in the significance of a new kind of modeling agency that dictated the terms of modeling contracts more specifically and began to represent men with much greater frequency. According to one estimate, the growing importance of male modeling led, by 1978, to several top agencies in New York reporting that their men’s divisions were now responsible for up to one-third of their annual income.
Men’s modeling was revolutionized in the 1980s as several companies, including Calvin Klein, began to rely on appealing images of well-developed and well-endowed men to sell products to both women and increasingly powerful gay male consumers. In 1983, at the very moment when Jockey International had revolutionized men’s underwear sales by relying on revealing photographs of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer in skimpy (and often quite colorful) briefs, Calvin Klein plastered New York City buildings and buses with a Bruce Weber image of Olympic pole-vaulter Tom Hintinauss in white briefs. Since this campaign and others selling, most notably, male fragrances, male models have figured prominently in American culture as a new, and highly erotic, form of celebrity.
This celebration of the male body and face as a prominent feature of consumer culture in the United States continued in an unabated fashion in the 1990s as magazines like GQ (f. 1957) and Men’s Health (f. 1987) celebrated the male form, relied on partially clothed images of men to sell products and increase subscriptions, and contributed further to the male model’s meteoric rise. As their stars rose in the final decade of the 20th century, new male modeling icons emerged in magazines, in television advertisements, and on runways, including Mark Vanderloo and Marcus Schenkenberg. The popularity of male models has continued into the 21st century, fueled by the reality television craze, which has offered viewers titillating images of the male model in popular shows like Manhunt: The Search for America’s Most Gorgeous Male Model (2004) and Make Me a Supermodel (2008).