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So long, metrosexuals: Welcome to the Menaissance

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By William Loeffler
Sunday, May 23, 2010
 

Metrosexuals, take note: The party's over.

The man's man is back. And he's had enough of unisex salons, simpering emo music and the emasculating kryptonite of the Oprahsphere.

Or so say a spate of ads, books and websites that hail the emergence of the retrosexual, whose attitude and style hearken back to the strong, silent type of the '50s and early '60s.

The retrosexual keeps things simple. He does not own more hair and skin care products than his wife or girlfriend. He does not "accessorize."

Think Don Draper, the dapper, jut-jawed executive played by Jon Hamm in the AMC series "Mad Men." He may be a philanderer, but you won't find a pink shirt in his wardrobe. Like the dark hero characters of ex-spy Michael Westen in "Burn Notice" and U.S. Marshal Raylon Givens in "Justified," "Mad Men" presents alpha males who live unapologetically by their own code.

Draper embodies the same manly values outlined in Dave Besley's 2008 book, "The Retrosexual Manual: How to Be A Real Man" (Prion; $24.95). Draper deals with crises head on. He possesses resilience, a virtue that was the subject of a recent multipart dissertation on www.artofmanliness.com.

This "menaissance," as one blogger called it, is old wine in a new bottle, says Gordon Coonfield, associate professor of communications at Villanova University.

"Actually, it is the result of clever marketing and not much more than that," he says. "That doesn't make it any less real for the people who take it up."

Indeed. Last fall, Brooks Brothers debuted the limited edition Mad Men Suit for $998, a two-button, thin-lapeled sharp gray number whose retro stylings recall the show's early '60s milieu. The suit quickly sold out.

A number of men's products have also capitalized on the trend. "Smell Like a Man, Man!" says a buff, shirtless dude on an Old Spice body wash commercial. And a Miller beer commercial features a model-pretty female bartender who puts down a male customer for carrying a purse.

Nancy Patrus, owner of the Middle Road Barbershop in Richland, bought the business in January. She intentionally kept it a guy sanctuary. With its Elvis and gas-station memorabilia, few would mistake it for a salon.

"I think they're being neglected," she says of guys. "There's many, many shops that cater to women. But the old-fashioned barbershop is gone, and I wanted to bring it back."

While it's obviously her business to groom men to look presentable, she thinks the metrosexual trend has gone too far. Why, for example, do guys feel the need to wax their chests•

"Younger men, unfortunately, feel the same pressure that women have felt," Patrus says. "Before, men were satisfied with just being men."

Susan Shaprio Barash, who teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College, says the lingering recession has more women yearning for the reliability and stability of a bring-home-the-bacon kind of guy -- without the chauvinism.

"Since the downturn, because things are in shambles, women really want manly men," she says. "Just because there's this climate of insecurity, women really want strong men. That's why 'Mad Men' is so popular."

The flawed alpha males of "Mad Men" and "The Sopranos" are accepted in large part because of the writing on the shows is so good, says Brenton J. Malin, assistant professor of communication at the University of Pittsburgh, and the author of "American Masculinity Under Clinton" (Peter Lang Press, $29.95).

But their creators don't necessarily glorify them. "Mad Men," for example, is set in the antediluvian era just before the Kennedy assassination and the Beatles. Part of the irony is that Draper and his swaggering white male buddies are about to be knocked from their perch by the social upheavals of the '60s.

"The assumption was that they were commenting on masculinity and not just presenting it," Malin says. "They 're celebrating it in certain ways, but they're critiquing it in certain ways."

 

 
 


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