I note that a new TV series called Man Lab started this week, where James May sets out to save the male. I confess that I didn’t watch it, but according to my TV guide, ‘Captain Slow’ sets out to reconnect modern man with long-forgotten male skills. Modern man, it says, is in crisis. “Written off as a boozy underachiever who can’t multi-task, he has been cut off from his manly roots and has lost his identity and his way.”
I tend to agree. Recent years have seen a strange phenomenon where men seem to have become distinctly less, well, manly. Don’t get me wrong, I can see how a bit of softening around the edges couldn’t hurt. And there are clearly reasons why we men are less butch than in the past: our working lives are now far more likely to be spent behind a desk than doing sweaty, manly work down t’pit or in the shipyard. And on the whole, I’m quite glad about that.
This move to office work also means that men are now much more likely to work alongside women, which means that we have become a bit less course and a bit more particular about our appearance. Again, nothing wrong with that. However, I fear things may have gone a little too far, as illustrated by a recent conversation I overheard.
It was early evening and I was in a pub in Cheltenham. Nature had called, so I was recycling some beer in the gents when two blokes walked in. I would guess they were in their mid twenties and they had one of those conversations that young men tend to have: although ostensibly between themselves it is delivered loudly and with a swagger that indicates that it is really for the benefit of those around them so they can marvel at how cool they are. The conversation went something like this:
Bloke A: I reckon it’s going to be a blinder tonight, I’m gonna get s**t-faced.
Bloke B: Yeah you’re right, it’s gonna be legendary
what the hell’s going on with your hair though?
Bloke A: (looking embarrassed) I know, I got off work late and had to come out in a bit of a hurry. I didn’t have time to use the hair straighteners.
Bloke B: Dude, you’ve got to get your priorities right: there’s always time for hair straighteners!
What?? When did it become not only acceptable for blokes to use hair straighteners, but something that they would brag about? When I was that age – and it’s really not that long ago – as a bloke you were considered suspiciously poncey if you owned a hairbrush!
I blame the fashion and cosmetics industry. First of all it was women that were affected: it is a well rehearsed argument that the fashion industry is run by men who consider that the perfect body is that of a ten-year old boy, and therefore this is the preferred shape of the fashion model. Where fashion models go, so the rest of the populace inevitably follows.
Then they turned their attention on the men. Yes, there are still adverts showing hunky muscle-bound men wearing nothing but their Y-fronts, but mostly they seem to have decided that geeky is trendy – how else can you explain the reappearance of the cardigan as an acceptable item of male fashion. Again, perhaps I shouldn’t complain too much since my physique is closer to the geek than the athlete, but the upshot is that male models are now predominantly all skinny, slightly geeky looking blokes.
So the fashion industry has its hooks well and truly into the male market and much ker-chinging of tills no doubt followed. And then, ho-ho, thought the cosmetics industry; if they’ll buy into the notion of cardigans as a fashion item think what we can do.
And suddenly men are spending three hours every morning carefully styling their hair with mousse and straighteners trying to achieve that ‘just got out of bed look’, somehow entirely missing the point that if they’d stayed in bed for that extra three hours it would have occurred naturally. And then came guy-liner. Really??
And so we meet somewhere in the androgynous middle with men and women looking almost the same. Seriously, in some of those annoyingly trendy black and white French adverts for his & hers perfume, I often can’t tell which is him and which is her.
Maybe this is evolution and we are all destined to look the same. Or maybe the pendulum will continue to swing and within a generation we’ll be living in a world prophesised by the Two Ronnies in “The Worm that Turned”.