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Do Men Still Own Fashion?

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[Dutch Guards, Officer, 1662-1668.], Digital ID 831124, New York Public LibraryI’m wondering if I’m the only one who thinks that men get a better deal from the fashion industry? Historically, men did own fashion: peacocks out-strutted peahens every time. The NYPL exhibition “A Rakish History of Men’s Wear” told the story of how men were the fashion leaders until the early modern era, coinciding with the birth of haute couture, and then gave up their primacy to women. 

With sufficient perspective, however, I wonder if men just didn’t take a roundabout way into a new form of fashion dominance. Other social and costume historians have been pursuing the same theory, with varying conclusions. One of the best studies is by Tim Edwards, Men in the mirror: men’s fashion, masculinity and consumer society. This 1997 publication traces the often surprising emphases placed on modern masculinity through the 20th century, and how the workplace shaped clothing choices.

And, if I want to be devilish, the recent outcry about skinny male models at the New York Fashion Week shows brings a new speculation to mind. While anorexia and eating disorders occur in young men, too, this phenomenon is most usually attributed to the immense social pressure placed on girls and women to be fashionably thin. Could we be heading to an “equal opportunity” attempt to point out this problem with men? The fashion industry gets blamed for many things. Is super-skinniness a new problem for the opposite sex?

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Is skinny more real than beefcake?

Super-skinnyness may be a new extreme, but at least it makes the models seem more real than the super-chiseled, six-pack abs of the previous breed of model.

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