From 'metro' to retro

Suddenly, metrosexual is a dirty word, and the guy's guy is back in style.

October 04, 2005|By DAN THANH DANG | DAN THANH DANG,SUN REPORTER

It did not take long for the Manly Man Mutiny to begin.

Just as some of their brethren began feeling comfortable enough to share pointers about a new diet or where to get super-soft but nonpleated khakis or a really good manicure, the counter-revolution began.

Suddenly, it's cool to be a man again. Not just any kind of man, but a meat-eating, beer-drinking, belching, football-watching, T-shirt-and faded-jeans-wearing, "you should count yourself lucky I use deodorant" kind of man.

The metrosexual backlash has begun.

"It's a dirty word these days," says Rose Cameron, senior vice president and director of planning at Leo Burnett, a Chicago advertising agency that recently conducted a global study on the changing face of masculinity. "Men don't want to be perceived as metrosexuals. The word has been misconstrued to have almost an effeminate edge to it."

The word first emerged in 1994 to describe a man who cared about his appearance and style in a manner that fit gay stereotypes. But by 2002, the term evolved to describe mostly straight men who live in urban areas and have plenty of money to spend on vanity products.

In a sense, it's a backhanded compliment to metrosexuality that a backlash has brewed against it. For a while, it seemed there was no end in sight for this trend of snazzy-looking males who spend their money on "product" - as they came to call their multiple hair gels and shampoos - man purses and pedicures.

But now, the foppish tide has turned.

Take Milwaukee's Best Light. Miller Brewing's new line of beer commercials involves a g-normous beer can falling like a cartoon safe on men when they are caught dabbling in un-guylike behavior - wearing matching outfits with a girlfriend, getting distracted from a car engine by a cute, fluffy dog, walking away from a card game to call the missus. As the beer can crashes down on top of the wayward dude, the catchphrase booms, "Men Should Act Like Men and Light Beer Should Taste Like Beer."

Or check out the new role model men have on mainstream TV. Jason Lee's My Name Is Earl, which recently debuted on NBC, centers on a rude and crude, unshaven, plaid-shirted, shifty-looking, low-life who unabashedly smokes, drinks and beats up on weaker men.

And, in a new Internet ad from Levi's 501 Jeans, titled "Uncomplicate," which has gained a loyal following: A virile man makes his way in a maddening world, where soap has become aromatherapy, gyms have turned into yoga and Pilates studios, and beer is all low-carb or no-carb. In a last grab at sanity, he runs home to clutch his worn 501s in a moment of relief.

As with any counter-revolution, of course, a manifesto is mandatory.

It can be found on a Web log, heretical ideas.com, written by a 26-year-old attorney in Kansas named Alex Knapp. To wit: Men should not spend more than five minutes fixing their hair. Hands should be unmanicured. Men should like bars, not clubs. Men should cook, but only manly meals like hamburgers, steak, shrimp, mashed potatoes and pasta. Men should not garnish. Men should drink beer or cocktails not more complicated than Jack and Coke.

It's a sentiment shared in the real world, too.

"I don't think anyone should aspire to being [metrosexual]," says Scott Richmond, 33, a Canton attorney who was strolling through Fells Point with his brother on a recent day. Both wore simple crumpled khaki shorts, flip-flops and T-shirts, free of snarky quips or hip designer logos.

The metrosexual term, Richmond says, "has less manly connotations to it ... I use soap, shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste. Guys shouldn't care too much what they look like."

Upon discovering that his younger brother, Chris, uses Herbal Essences shampoo, Richmond was quick to rib, "That's very womanly." (Pop star and major metrosexual Justin Timberlake, after all, is obsessed with his hair.)

Even as there is growing distaste of the metrosexual label, it's safe to say, as the brothers demonstrate, it's a trend that's neither black nor white. While the majority of men are not full-blown metros, neither are they knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. If anything, many men have learned to adapt by injecting tolerable trademarks of the trend into their lives, which has helped change some age-old stereotypes of masculinity.

These days, most men seem to have individual lines of demarcation that alert them to when they've gone too far, metrosexually speaking: It's OK to use hair gel, say, but don't wear brightly colored button-downs. Drink beer, but be discerning enough to enjoy a good wine. Watch Will & Grace, but always prefer football. Serve arugula for dinner, but know how to fix the dishwasher. None of these is set in stone, of course, but what's clear is that the modern man struggles with his manhood more and more.

The Leo Burnett Man Study found that 50 percent of 2,000 men surveyed worldwide said they are confused about their role in society - and the mixed messages they receive.

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