Men in the Mirror: Refashioning Masculinity
By Patrick Chen, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, May 11, 2012
What you wear certainly says a lot about you. The clothes we wear are not just for functionality, but also for performance. There’s a reason why suits are mandatory at interviews — they gives off an impression of confidence and capability. But when you take a man out of a formal setting like a job interview, a dilemma arises: Can and should a man be fashionable?
At Dartmouth, there are many men that subscribe to the classic “Ivy League look” — a button down, khakis and Sperry Topsiders. Yet there are others who wear flannel shirts and skinny jeans, while others channel simplicity by sporting a Dartmouth sweatshirt.
Fashion and masculinity are a complex duo, as they bring up conflicting societal ideas. There is the old notion that dressing well is feminine, which is only amplified by the fact that in college, hygiene and appearance become less of a priority. On the other hand, this is the 21st century, and the Ivy League practically started the trend of gentlemanly looks.
“I think most males here, whether they do so actively or subconsciously, care about how they look,” Ben Riley ’13 said. Riley pointed to commonly seen casual articles of clothing designed for men, such as lacrosse pinnies or snap-back hats, as examples of males paying attention to their appearance.
“I think that the stereotype that males don’t try to dress ‘well’ is very clearly false,” Riley said. “Even if its a guy wearing a pinnie, they’re wearing that pinnie for whatever reason — to present themselves in a certain way.”
Clark Moore ’13 also said he feels that Dartmouth men tend to care about the “aesthetic” of their casual looks.
In the past, Dartmouth males were so well-known for their fashion that a team of Japanese photographers once featured the College on the Hill in a 1965 book titled, “Take Ivy,” which showcased pictures of student fashion across the various Ivy League schools.
“I think recent campus events like Derby, where males are, for a lack of a better word, ‘forced’ to dress well, shows that men here have the capacity to dress nice,” Moore said. “It’s just a choice.”
The choice always comes down to comfort, Moore said. For Tom Woodford ’12, looking nice and still being comfortable is not a particularly hard thing to pull off.
“I can just put on something classic like a Patagonia and not have to worry about it,” Woodford said.
Riley also noted that males can easily ascribe to the foolproof standard of classic style.
“For guys it’s pretty easy,” he said. “You’re only dealing with shorts, pants, jackets.”
Many of the men interviewed also grappled with how to define and use the term “fashionable.”
“I define fashionable as being aware of the fashion trends and culture,” Moore said. “I’d say there are plenty of guys here that are stylish though — everyone has style.”
Both Woodford and Riley, however, recognized that few would say that the average Dartmouth male is fashion forward nowadays. “People don’t hold each other to a high standard compared to New York,” Riley said. “I think part of it is that we spend most of our time in a frat basement, so wearing nicer things — there’s an intrinsic danger.”
And then there is the tacit societal stigma toward fashion forward males. That is, people often associate feminine characteristics with those men who actually care about their appearance.
“I think there’s traditionally been an association between caring [about how you look] and effeminate qualities,” Riley said. “I think to a large extent that idea is disappearing. I think it’s becoming much more normal for men to care about their appearance.”
This stigma still lingers, however, not only on campus but also more broadly in our culture.
“I think there might actually be a pressure for guys to dress down,” Moore said.
Moore added that this stigma may not necessarily be limited to men, however.
“I don’t really know if it’s even a male versus female thing, though,” he said. “People who don’t know you are going to look at what you’re wearing and judge you. It’s a matter of perception. I want to present my best self to people.”
Apparently, as the link between one’s manner of dress and personal identity grows stronger, the phrase, “you are what you wear” is becoming true in the same way as the better known idiom “you are what you eat.”
“I 100 percent think that the clothes someone wears are a reflection of who they are as a person,” Riley said “It’s not the be all, end all, but it is inherently a reflection.”
Moore is a member of The Dartmouth Staff.