This fabulous article first appeared in HOMME Magazine (inauguaral issue 2006 ) as a contribution by ‘A Special Correspondent From The Klang Valley’. It’s over a decade since we published this fascinating essay, which created much hype and attention, it led to a program on Malaysian satellite television ASTRO called ‘The Metrosexual’ and it became the catalyst to re-introduce myself to the original creator of the term ‘Metrosexual’ – British journalist – Mark Simpson. We had been childhood friends in the 60’s and 70’s.
THE ‘METROSEXUAL’: Poseur or Pooftah?
“Yes, the term has hit our shores. But what does it mean? Most people I spoke to regard ‘this man’ as some sort of urban super queen, complete with lycra tights and a purple velvet cape. But this first impression could not be further off the mark. The term’s Latin root ‘sex-‘ is misleading. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation as does ‘homosexual’ or ‘heterosexual’. But it has everything to do with velvet capes.
As with all things poofy, it originated from England. The word was coined by British journalist Mark Simpson in his article ‘Here come the Mirror Men‘ (1994) in the British daily, the Independent. Simpson describes metrosexuality as the ‘trait‘ of an urban male who lives within easy access of a metropolis where all the best shopping, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. The metrosexual is affluent and often professional. He has a strong aesthetic sense and is virtually infatuated with his looks and lifestyle. He demands the best in everything personal particularly, exorbitantly expensive clothes and equally expensive haircuts. And you will know the metrosexual man when you see him. The look is unmistakable: it can be found in the metrosexual gospels: GQ, FHM, Esquire and now, in our very own HOMME.
He is, however, not exclusively queer or bent. Just because a man knows the difference between taupe and mauve or a daisy and a daffodil does not make him a fairy. Remember “Bond, … James Bond”? He really is very ‘metro’: Brioni black-tie; a flute of Bollinger ’59; Aston Martin. He is never seen with a beer (unless it’s a Tiger). But I dare you to call him a pondan (‘gille–tòine‘ to Connery) when he asks for that martini, ‘shaken not stirred’. He’ll rip your heart out with his tweezers.
In fact, Simpson in a latter article, regarded the athletic David Beckham as his star metrosexual. The ‘Becks’ formula is nothing less than award winning: sarongs, ‘tricky’ haircuts and pink nail polish make the image of a fashion guru adored by boys and girls alike. Pose for a gay magazine? ‘Love to’ says Becks. As long as ‘he’ is worshipped, it really does not matter who does the worshipping, does it?. In terms of golf, the metrosexual scale would rate Lindeberg-clad Camilo Villegas and Saville Row’s Ian Poulter as the worlds’ two top golfers while relegating Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh to Q-School. But it is the actors who are the real world leaders, what with metrosexual icons Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and metrosexual-supremo Jude Law.
With such pedigree, it is no wonder that the metrosexual has now burst through closet doors. And he looked great doing it.
Some people, however, suggested that there was no ‘burst’ at all. This man, they say, has been around for a while. ‘Metrosexual’ is just a new word for a new era; he is simply a man with taste or style who knows about fashion, art, and culture. The on-line Urban Dictionary provides an elegant definition of this version of the metrosexual: “A metrosexual is a man that, unlike the historical habits of the average male, showers daily. He is a man that has lack of ignorance and arrogance towards others, women specifically. He does not always spend large amount of money on cloths, which is a common misconception. He merely takes pride in his appearance and is a gentleman in all matters of the definition. A metrosexual is a man that knows masculinity is not about being rude and dirty, but being a well dressed, well groomed gentleman. Men not of this stature commonly mock these characteristics due to their own insecurities and jealousies. Those that lack the capacity of style and cleanliness have difficulty accepting the metrosexual concept.”
I must agree. A ‘gentleman’ and a ‘metrosexual’ are not one and the same. There is more to metrosexuality than merely being properly groomed. For example, a true metrosexual would never, ever, allow nasal hair to be exposed; nor would he go to a barber’s (highlights are unavailable). In theory, a gentleman could do both. Conversely, a pukka gentleman would never wear pink nail polish nor refer to hair and facial products as ‘product’. A point well made, I think.
There is also a misconception as to the sexual orientation of the metrosexual. Dan Peres of Details magazine (another gospel) thinks, as do Webster online and many others, that the metrosexual is exclusively straight.
I must defer to Simpson’s definition which suggests that the sex of the metrosexual’s partner, whether female, male or even something in between, is wholly immaterial. By his definition, ‘metrosexuality’ is more a state of mind without physical or sexual qualifications. One cannot have a ‘metrosexual experience’ in the same sense as a ‘homesexual experience’. The closest, perhaps, is eating truffle penne at Café Café in a new pair of Pradas while feeling certain that you are being ogled. Therein lies the clue. You don’t need anyone else to have the idyllic metrosexual experience; in fact, having it with someone else would ruin it. Yes, that’s right. The metrosexual is his own love object.
And there were others before him.
If Narcissus was the first, then the 19th century English ‘dandy’ must be the quintessential metrosexual. Significantly, it was his aristocracy that allowed him sufficient leisure time to fuss over his looks. Of dandyism, Thomas Carlyle (Sartor Resartus, c. 1832) wrote: “A Dandy is a clothes-wearing Man, a Man, whose trade, office and existence consists in the wearing of Clothes. Every faculty of his soul, spirit, purse and person is heroically consecrated to this one object, the wearing of Cloths wisely and well: so that the others dress to live, he lives to dress …” And now, for all this perennial Martyrdom, and Poesy, and even Prophecy, what is it that the Dandy asks in return? Soley, we may say, that you would recognise his existence; would admit him to be a living object; or even failing this, a visual object, or thing that will reflect rays of light …”.
There you have it, the dreaded ‘trait’. They were poseurs who must be adored.
The dandies were a limited breed, though. So too were the effeminate followers of style gurus David Bowie and Brian Ferry in the 1970’s (the 70’s glam rockers had no taste and accordingly do not deserve mention). The 1980’s saw the birth of a small community of metrosexuals known as the New Romantics and their Mecca, the Blitz Club. The Human League, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet all showed ‘the trait’ but with no fixed sexual orientation.
However, it is the explosion of male vanity at the turn of the last century that is difficult to explain. Some say it is the result of the ‘technological’ phenomenon that gave the middle class urbanite more leisure time to become as poofy as his aristocratic predecessor. I think the real boom probably came post Bruce Webber’s 1990’s Calvin Klein underwear campaign, although I never really looked. The result? It was okay to wear Calvin Klein but more importantly, men wanted to look like the guy in the ad. All men did, straight, bent and the ever so slightly crooked. The point being that sexual orientation is irrelevant.
The answer is therefore a resounding ‘poseur’ not ‘pooftah’.
As we speak, the fashion pundits have decreed that the metrosexual has now evolved into the ‘ubersexual’, from the German über (superior) and the Latin sexus (gender), coined by the authors of the book Future of Men – O’Reilly, Matathia & Salzman (2005) as a neologism for a patriarchal conception of masculinity’. Yer whot? He is probably a refined metrosexual, more confident and closer to traditional notions of manhood than the former term. An evolved species of man, so to speak. George Clooney, to be exact.
Does this mean that the evolution of ‘man’-kind has moved towards traditional machismo? Will we see the resurgence of the classic American alpha male a la Rock Hudson … er, Montgomery Cliff? Or even, oh what the heck, Frank Zappa’s Bobby Brown? Well perhaps not.
Certainly, Stacey Pressman of ESPN (2005) feels that the metrosexual simply looks wrong, just as a female bodybuilder looks too masculine. She suggests that if a man wants to get in touch with his ‘feminine side’, he should try breast feeding; a stroppy but understandable appeal perhaps, for more American testerone and less Yankee botox. Clearly, she prefers the ‘retrosexual’, another Simpson term for one who reject being finicky about physical appearance.
Well, I can understand the woman’s distaste for ‘he who exfoliates more than her’. Yes, there must be something very irritating about a man who entertains guests by effortlessly cooking a perfect risotto from scratch, with a crisp Montrachet never out of reach, and again, in perfectly pressed Prada. Then there is the dark side: a man who moisturises regularly and insists on a pedicure once a month? Erww. Or a man who, throughout dinner, prefers his own reflection in the restaurant window to you? Unbearable, maybe. But it is a sin for a man to happily spend hours pouting in a mirror like the heiress in the home video that we never saw. It is the deadliest of all the 7 sins. It is vanity.
Death punished vanity by being broken on the horrifying Catherine wheel. Life is really no less merciful. Its punishment is the inescapable and utterly ruthless effects of ageing. “If 30 is 45 in gay years, then 26 is retirement age for the metrosexual and no amount of biotechnological, rehydrating, whale sperm dermo-care or dodgy swiss injections can alter that.” Jonathan Trew, ‘I love me so much’ (The Scotsman, 2002). It must be a terrible thing to have been young, beautiful and adored and then suddenly ‘withered, wrinkled and loathsome of visage’. Such is the haunting vision of Dorian Grey in death and a grim warning to all metrosexuals. Indeed, one is hardly surprised that Nemesis’ curse on Narcissus led him to fall in love with his own reflection. And as with the Greek prototype before him, the ardent metrosexual is perhaps doomed to waste his days in awe of his own decaying reflection …
Ahh bollocks. Oh to be Johnny Depp for a day.”