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Do Men Present For Other Men?

If there’s one thing I want to stop seeing 2021, it’s dressing for the male gaze — from both women and men.

Though it’s been well over six months, Harry Styles’s Vogue cover still lives rent-free in my mind. (I even wrote two college papers about Harry last semester.) He’s come such a long way on his fashion journey, and seeing as he’s the first ever male solo US Vogue cover star, his blue ruffly dress is now a part of fashion history. However, this look had its fair share of haters, notably conservatives crying out to “bring back manly men.” Apparently Candace Owens doesn’t think feminine clothing meshes with being an alpha male. 

But part of being an “alpha” is being able to pull girls, right? Because if so, the blue dress only shot Harry even further up the pack. Fans of all genders thirsted left and right, and again, I can’t stop thinking about this cover. For many, the dress (along with Harry’s other forays into more feminine clothing) just make him more attractive. 

In fact, it seems that lots of girls just generally dig guys in feminine clothes. There was even a popular TikTok thirst-trap trend a while back where guys were wearing maid outfits and I, for one, wouldn’t mind if it returned. Obviously the skirts and makeup aren’t what is considered traditionally “masculine,” which can imply that they don’t make men as desirable. But we have proof now that that isn’t true. 

Most men still wear “traditional” clothing that doesn’t make them stand out, but who is that really for? Do girls really like cutoff shorts and polos, or do you just want to blend in? It’s becoming clear that men possibly just present for other men, but ultimately, should we be presenting for anyone at all? 

College Students Weigh In

When I ask you to think about how it is guys present themselves online, what pops up in your mind first?  Is there a distinct lack of smiling? Are they holding a fish? Can you spot some douchey-looking photo next to a fancy car or on a yacht? Speaking as a woman, I find none of this attractive (if anything, they’re turnoffs), but what do others think? 

Cat, 19, says she prefers men who “experiment more with fashion and aren’t afraid to express themselves with what they wear.” Kit, 17, seconds this, saying they prefer “more feminine and androgynous men.” 

I generally hold these opinions too — so do many others — but Cat thinks maybe something got lost in translation. She recalls talking to a guy online who tried to guess what her “type” was. “He sent me a picture of a basic-looking ‘dudebro’ in a t-shirt and sweatpants, which isn’t my type at all,” she tells Her Campus. It’s possible then that many men assume that women look at men the way men look at men; in other words, through the male gaze. The male gaze dictates that men should be classically “manly”: strong, stoic, and not too invested in clothes, since that’s a stereotypically feminine pursuit. 

All Sexed Up

Federico, 22, brings up an interesting point about male sexualization. “It’s so much harder to sexualize my body,” he tells Her Campus. “I feel like broadly a femme-coded body is more easily sexualized. Most women’s clothing is made to highlight ‘sexual bits,’ whereas men’s clothing is less so.” It’s certainly true that female bodies are hypersexualized, and that’s thanks to the male gaze, but I don’t know if women who like men necessarily want to see sexualized male bodies in turn. Federico attests that he doesn’t feel the need to sexualize his body, but I can understand why some men feel that they might. Men are constantly seeing objectified versions of women, so it’s logical to think that turning the tables works just the same. 

In other words, what men think is presenting for women is maybe just presenting as the (hypermasculine) male idea of what women want. How many guys have you seen on Instagram or Tinder aggressively flexing their abs or biceps where they just didn’t look totally comfortable? Those pictures make me cringe. Just because men want to see women’s bodies on display doesn’t mean I want to see theirs. I’d rather just see an aspect of your personality or a photo of you doing something you enjoy to see what we have in common. (On that note, allow me to plug @hotdudesreading on Instagram.)

“Alphas and Betas” 

Kit has another theory that explains the countless muscle photos: guys aren’t trying to impress girls, they’re just trying to intimidate each other. “Men [who like women] are generally more worried about outdoing other men than they are about impressing individual women,” they explain, “at least that’s what it looks like to me as an observer.” Kit also referenced the recent “logomania” craze and how they noticed how much more men followed that than women. “Showing off how expensive your clothes are is a way to assert dominance over men and peacock for prospective women.” 

I’ve definitely seen this behavior myself. The internet is also riddled with memes about “alphas vs. betas,” or “virgins vs. chads.” Sure, they’re silly memes, but guys often prioritize being an “alpha” among their fellow men over seeking women’s approval. Of course, that means presenting to male standards. Kit wonders if perhaps men assume that “by outdoing other men, [they] will be impressive to women.” 

Men’s Fashion, Traditionally 

When talking about fashion, the focus is often on what women are wearing, but men’s fashion has gone through some pretty interesting changes too. After some research, however, it became increasingly evident to me that male fashion has always reflected what qualities men of a certain period valued amongst themselves. 

Let’s look at 1950’s fashion as an example, which has some of the most exaggerated gender roles in recent history. The traditional male ideal body has broad shoulders and a narrow waist, so men bought boxy suit jackets that sometimes even fit them big purposely. They also kept a clean-shaven face to emphasize a sharp, masculine jawline. This is because after World War II, when women entered the workforce because men were off fighting, men wanted to come home and resume their provider status. The battlefield was testosterone central, but men wanted to feel just as manly back home. Were women attracted to this? Probably, but if you’re spending the 9-to-5 day at the office circa 1955, chances are it’s going to be mostly other men judging your appearance. And why wouldn’t you want to impress your coworkers? 

In short, fashion may reflect the ideal man, but it just reflects the ideal man… for men. And unfortunately, that usually means prescribing to standards of hypermasculinity. Hypermasculinity just puts men into a box only further enforced by clothing. Men have just as much of a right to to express themselves through fashion. Plus, if you think about it, it’s just plain misogynistic that we’re used to women wearing pants and shorts, but not men wearing skirts or dresses. Femininity isn’t degrading or less valuable than masculinity. 

New Ideas 

I don’t want to imply that there isn’t any hope for the state of menswear. Things are actually looking up, thanks in large part to Gen Z. For starters, skirts are slowly but surely making their way into menswear, and more men are open to trying out makeup. Male Gen Z celebrities are much more open to experimenting with genderbending fashion; some examples include Jaden Smith, Lil Nas X and Yungblud. It also seems like many Gen Z’ers don’t think gender roles should exist at all

I’d like to see gender roles go away as much as the next person, but that’s probably going to take a while. However, masculinity is definitely going through some positive changes. There’s a new emphasis on softness and emotional vulnerability (long live the softboi). Gillete’s “The Best Men Can Be” Campaign from a few years ago really highlighted how we can turn the “be a man” phrase into something positive and uplifting. 

Personally, I love seeing all of this. I genuinely hope to see more men expressing themselves freely (whether it be emotionally or aesthetically), and it makes me happy to see feminine clothing and attributes becoming increasingly more respected. Dare I say I even find it attractive, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that category. 

Put the “Self” in Self-Expression

Like I’ve said, myself and other women have been responding well to male fashion becoming increasingly androgynous, which totally debunks the idea that only “manly men” are desirable. However, in the end, I don’t think this matters. 

Should men present for other men? No, but I don’t think men should start presenting for female approval either. It goes without saying at this point that not every man is attracted to women, and even so, it’s still pretty patriarchal (and heteronormative) to send the message that guys should dress in a way that’ll get them as many women as possible. 

That also just defeats the purpose of style and self-expression, which is to dress for you. Frankly, presenting the way you want to is the only way of ridding any rigid and limiting rules — like toxic masculinity — out of fashion. Sure, it could potentially be freeing for a lot of guys out there to know skirts and makeup are becoming more acceptable among men, and that wearing them won’t necessarily ostracize them. However, to truly feel comfortable in your presentation, you need to know that the only approval that matters is your own. 

So go ahead and try on that dress, or stick to jeans if that’s what makes you feel more comfortable. Fashion is fun because fashion is unique, but if you want some universal advice, absolutely everyone looks good in eyeliner

Viviana Freyer

Bryn Mawr '24

Viviana Freyer is a student at Bryn Mawr College (Class of 2024!). She will likely major in English and is also interested in French, film, and art history. Her hobbies include reading, writing, listening to music, watching movies, and overanalyzing popular media.
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