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The Effeminate Man

March 30th, 2011

In an earlier post I addressed the fact that that male and female styles shared more similarities than distinctions. But fashion has become an aesthetic apparatus for policing the roles we accept. Furthermore, from the research I’ve conducted so far, androgyny appears to center around the unisex (a denial of or complete merging of gender), or the masculine woman and feminine man (a haphazard play of mudding and tangling gender) Several waves of contemporary fashion, varying in their relation from mainstream to subcultural, feature feminized apparel for men.  The looks also differ in their incorporation of feminine traits, some of which I will interpret below.

Beat (Mid 1940s to Early 1960s)

The stereotypical image of the Beat is some cool cat rent-dodger in a black beret listening to jazz and dreaming about Zen Buddhism. That image is partly right, but bordering on parodic.  In reality, the Beat image divided among that of the black hipsters and a dismissal of stiff suits for more relaxed fare (Welters 152).  Dizzy Gillespie personified the hipster look, which originated in the 1930s among jazz musicians.  Gillespie had three “sartorial trademarks [that] eventually entered the style vocabulary of the Beats entered: “beret, eyewear and goatee” (Welters 152-3), although Dizzy wore the second two out of practical function.  The glasses protected his sensitive eyesight and the goatee provided a barrier against his abrasive trumpet, which would otherwise irritate his chin (Welters 154). The second conception of Beat fashion was born out of the literature itself.  Male characters were clothed “in faded jeans, chino pants, T-shirts, frayed sweaters, worn shirts, old Army jackets and Levi jackets” (Welters 154) out of comfort and frugality. At first, the original Beats, Kerouac, Cassady, Ginsburg and so on, stuck mostly to conventional attire.  Once they dressed in accordance to their writing and the movement caught on, the media encouraged them to appear disheveled and dirty in photographs.  Women, by and large, were absent, both in the fiction and real-life, however their role eventually increased.  Nothing of the look itself necessarily indicates outright femininity. However, the Beats reacted against post-war conservatism and their free-wheeling ways angered white suburban America and its precise social etiquette.   Diana Trilling, wife of James Trilling, a literary critic and “solidly middle-class” (Welters 162) remarked of the Beats after attending a poetry reading at Columbia in 1959, “‘…so many young men, so few of them – despite the many black beards – without any promise of masculinity (Welters 159).’” Maybe not overly feminine in form, the Beats represented a threat to the male ideal according to 50s Americana.

Mod (Early to Mid 1960s)

Also known as neo-Edwardians, mod fashion ushered in the Peacock Revolution for men with “narrow pants” (Cunningham 194) and “softly tailored shirts, longer hair and shoes with pointed toes” (Tortora & Eubank 568).  Mods demanded greater variety in styles for men. Many items for Mod men had to be commissioned and custom-sewn because such fashions simply hadn’t infiltrated shops at this point (Steele 56). One of the tenants central to Mod “was the notion that males as well as females were entitled to wear handsome and dashing clothing” (Tortora & Eubank 535).  Rockers, a rough and tumble group fond of greaser hair and motorcycles, mocked the Mod men for their epicene sensibility; many homosexual jokes were aimed toward male Mods. Actually, Great Britain decriminalized homosexuality around 1967 (Steele 58), though the correlation between the Mod and sexuality has not been traced. But, Mods, thanks to their unabashed interest in fashion, sparked a “passion for clothes among British youth” (Steele 55), further exacerbated by rock and roll simultaneously exploding onto the music scene.  And by becoming more enveloped in fashion, Mods caused fashion theorists to question if men, in taking more evident care in their ornamentation, were reverting the gaze and becoming sex objects themselves (Steele 55). In any case, Mods supplied the basis for hippie apparel.

Hippie (Mid 1960s to Late 1970s)

Hippie style emerged during a tumultuous period consumed by war and a movement for women’s liberation.  Consequently, Hippies, like other subcultures, continued to challenge traditional roles (Steele 72). Hippie style, like mod, advocated long hair for men “as a way of redefining ‘he-man’ masculinity” (Steele 72).  Growing out hair harkens back to the 18th century (and earlier) where men preferred shaggy locks as proof of health and indisputable virility. Additionally, Hippies claimed blue jeans and t-shirts in favor of their unisex, egalitarian ideology and popularized thrift stores as a new, unlikely source for fashionable garments (Steele 72). People, at least those involved outside the norm, became more comfortable of their bodies.  One of the owners of Granny Takes a Trip, a London boutique, recalls how their shop welcomed all customers from debs to pop groups and the store “was completely androgynous, we had only one changing room and the clothes were mixed on the rail” (Fogg 175). Moreover, men usurped jewelry as a female-specific item, particularly love beads and piece signs among other politically charged or eastern-influenced pieces.  Yet several businesses turned away gender-bending Hippies. The president of Tiffany’s, as quoted by the New York Times, mandated that “if we know a man is buying a necklace for himself, we will refuse to sell it,” (Steele 72), which subsequently affirms that the common view of the Hippie man, adorned in unorthodox garb disputing “social conformity and sexual restraint” (Steele 72), often “fascinated and sometimes horrified” (Steele 72) popular opinion.

Glam (Early to Mid 1970s)

Probably the most brazenly femme of all the subcultures here, Glam rock, or glitter rock, invokes an image of Marc Bolan or David Bowie fully outfitted in platform shoes, lamé and lurex and other showy accessories, like feather boas (De La Haye & Dingwall 62-3).  The androgynous play of Glam, full of “blatantly glitzy, futuristic, sexually ambiguous” (De La Haye & Dingwall 62) get-ups, sends the gender equilibrium into an unstable frenzy.  Male performers proudly donned extravagant, feminine costumes and distorted the gaze, if not heteronormative desire itself. Glam was rooted in theatricality; it “violated the taboo against men wearing cosmetics” (Steele 92) and any garment was up for grabs for Glam men. However, it is worth noting that ordinary men didn’t adopt the outlandish finery nearly to the same extent as the on-stage personas of glitter rock stars. Male onlookers at a concert might opt for bawdier apparel than normal, but in terms of everyday wear, Glam followers kept their ensembles toned down (Steele 92).  Platform shoes? Possibly.  Makeup? Highly unlikely. True Glam was a thing reserved for the entertainers and the performers.

Goth (1980s and after)

An offshoot of glam, Goths adored the macabre and the sinister, cut with a romantic edge.  Black, like many other subcultures, was a preferred color, because it signifies Goth interest in outsider, victimized status (Young 81) along with their fascination of death.  Robert Smith, of The Cure, epitomized Goth with his “massive hairdo and deliberately thick and improperly applied lipstick and eyeliner, looking both infantile and moody…” (Geyrhalter 218).  Again, Smith cites that he applies his makeup with the intent of showmanship rather than vanity (Geyhalter 219), perhaps a jab at the shallow feminine connections to face-paint and personal beautification.  Goth men, particularly Smith in this instance, subversively “suggest and flirt with the sexually ambiguous” (Geyrhalter 218) and are typically strewn along a bisexual spectrum due to their amorphous carriage.  Sure, Goths are dark and brooding, but their interest in the morbid and the maligned and their softened approach in comparison to the Punk, “renounces components of dominant notions of masculinity, achieving more flexibility in the performance of masculinity” (Goodlad & Bibby 344).  I selected Goth rather than Punk for this entry because the former insinuates a melancholic sentimentality whereas the Punks confront the mainstream with markedly more aggressive accoutrements, like faces punctured with safety pins and clothing ripped to shreds versus the gothic velvet and lace that pledges allegiance to Dracula (Young 79).

Preppy (Early 1980s and after) and Metrosexual (Mid 1990s and after)

The Preppy and the Metrosexual materialized during two different periods, however the Metrosexual lives in close relation to the Preppy.  Each considers themselves men of style, and who agree that image is everything.  While the Preppy opts for a more subdued, sporty aesthetic, the Metrosexual concerns himself with urbanity and hip trends.  Additionally, both crowds, out of the subcultures listed above, actually function within the mainstream. Preppy is based upon the affluent look of students at preparatory schools who esteemed “classic tweed blazers, conservatively-cut skirts or trousers, tailored blouses or shirts, and high quality leather loafers, oxfords” (Tortora & Eubank 604).  Today, Preppy style remains in vogue.  The Preppy man shares historical allusions with the crisp cravats, riding coats and immaculate tailoring of the dandy.  Dandies, like Beau Brummell, either lived among or aspired to such aristocratic grandeur, and their controlled attire permitted them to ascend the ranks and exude a nonchalant chic.  Likewise, a true WASP or a sycophant has access to Preppy style to pretend their way into a social group.  Metrosexuals, in contrast, advocate a slightly more pronounced style.  Articles concerning the advent of the Metrosexual have hailed him as a man unafraid of pink and ultra womanly pursuits.  As such, the Metrosexual exemplifies the spirit of the Macaroni, well-hemmed like the Dandy but considerably more flamboyant in his sartorial choices.

These aren’t all the available examples of the effeminate man.  I did skip over a few, such as New Wave/New Romantics and Grunge. But of the ones I covered, what exactly is the importance of all these facets and branches of effeminate male style?  Well, it hints that the effeminate male, a seemingly elusive creature in comparison to the masculine woman, has existed previously and continues to surface, though is possibly less identified.  Effeminacy in males nowadays remains a reproachable offense.  With the masculine woman reaching greater (but not total) acceptance thanks to dislodged taboos and a slow increase in opportunities for females, the feminized male symbolizes the downfall of a western, patriarchal society.

Works Cited:

Cunningham, Patricia A. “Dressing for Success: The Re-Suiting of Corporate America in the 1970s.” Twentieth-Century American Fashion. Ed by Linda Welters and Patricia A. Cunningham. Oxford: Berg, 2005.

De la Haye, Amy and Cathie Dingwall. Surfers, Soulies, Skinheads & Skaters: Subcultural Style from the Forties to the Nineties. New York: Overlook Press, 1996.

Fogg, Marnie. Boutique: A ’60s Cultural Phenomenon. London: Mitchell Beazely, 2003.

Geyrhalter, Thomas. “Effeminacy, camp and sexual subversion in rock: The Cure and Suede.” Popular Music, Vol 15 No 2 (May 1996) pg. 217-224. Cambridge University Press. <>

Goodlad, Lauren M.E. and Michael Bibby. Goth: Undead Subculture. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Steele, Valerie. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank.  Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress.  5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010.

Welters, Linda. “The Beat Generation: Subcultural Style.” Twentieth-Century American Fashion. Ed by Linda Welters and Patricia A. Cunningham. Oxford: Berg, 2005.

Young, Tricia Henry. “Dancing on Bela Lugosi’s Grave: The Politics and Aesthetics of Gothic Club Dancing.” Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research Vol 17, No 1 (Summer 1999), pg. 75-97. Edinburgh University Press. <>

Image Credits:

“Adam Ant.” Photo. 19 August 2008. 28 March 2011. <>

“Andre 3000.” Photo. 4 July 2010. 14 May 2012. <>

“Boy George.” Photo. 16 May 2010. 29 March 2011. <>

“Beau Brummell.” Illustration. 22 September 2010. 29 March 2011. <>

“Dave Vanian.” Photo. 29 March 2011. <>

“Dizzy Gillespie.” Photo. 21 October 2008. 28 March 2011. <>

“Hippie Guy and Girl.” Photo. 22 March 2011. 29 March 2011. <>

“Jack Kerouac.” Photo. 12 April 2010. 28 March 2011. <>

“Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Velvet Goldmine.” Photo. 14 December 2010. 29 March 2011. <>

“The Kinks.” Photo. 31 January 2011. 29 March 2011. <>

“The Kinks Album Cover.” Photo. 3 November 2007. 29 March 2011.>

“Macaroni.” Illustration.  4 February 2010. 29 March 2011. <>

“Marc Bolan.” Photo. 7 December 2009. 29 March 2009. <>

“Pretty in Pink.” Photo. 13 October 2010. 29 March 2011. <>

“Prince.” Photo. 23 November 2009. 29 March 2011. <>

“Robert Smith.” Photo. 1984. 29 March 2011. <>

“Ziggy Stardust.” Photo. 30 June 2010. 29 March 2011. <>

Penn, Irving. “Early Hippie Group, San Francisco.” 1967. 29 March 2011. <>

One Response to “The Effeminate Man”

  1. I have read your survey with the utmost of pleasure. You created an article on a difficult subject without any sarcasm or sensationalism. I am a man who loves makeup and since I retired wear some every day (very cautiously) That is the point of this letter: what can we do to have ‘The mman in the street” accept us, without us feeling criticized? The rage of nailpolish for men was badly handled and died a sad death. I love nailpolish and wear it every day, but take it off for family visits. I am looking for a blog of effeminated men to discuss these matters. is there any future for us? whoever feels like me, answer.!! F..B.

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