Monday, January 9, 2012

Open letter: Pocket squares are the new tits

To all men interested in men's magazines and men's fashion
By Ms. Jo-Ann Furniss
Published in Fantastic Man No 14



Dear sirs,

It has recently come to my attention that something pernicious is going on in contemporary culture that is a further onslaught on the male psyche. It is something that is inspired by men's magazine publishing and concerns the state of men's dress.

When FANTASTIC MAN came along in 2005, the wry spirit, its sense of irony and approach to oddball features felt like something new. This kind of cultural archaeology, the championing of male egoists — those masculine Norma Desmonds — was for me the greatest defining feature of the new publication. The frame of perfectly acceptable white shirts, Windsor knots and hand-stitched shoes essentially offset such dementedness, but for me, they were not at its heart.

And yet look where we stand today in the wider field of men's publishing and in men's fashion in general. The aping of stylistic language garnered from Fantastic Man has become more pervasive in men's publishing of late. It is a language that has been emptied of all context and meaning and has essentially lost any facility for dementedness or wit in the wider realm of magazines and fashion. Instead, there's a crushingly conservative approach to the men featured in these publications and to the men reading them... All in all, it's a patronising pandering to the middlebrow and conventional, using, above all, the Trojan Horse of the 'Gentlemen's Wardrobe'.

The navel-gazing drivel of sartorial rules — as if implying some sort of intellectual rigour — has actually replaced any intellectual rigour with dictates befitting the model 1950s housewife being informed how to iron correctly. Such straight-faced 'masculine' dictates are actually contributing to a particular 'feminisation' of men. Men are being 'feminised', not because they are now wearing moisturiser or are obsessed with 10 tips for a flat stomach garnered from 'Men's Hypochondria', but because they are now being treated in the same one-dimensional, stereotypical, dumb-ass way that women have been treated for many, many years. Fortunately most women can see through this crap — so long has it been inflicted on us — and ignore it. My concern is that men, so unused to being constantly treated like utter morons, are taking too much of it to heart. Publishing and fashion are now moving into the realms of the Male Eunuch. And the Male Eunuch apparently likes to dress like BERTIE WOOSTER, hiding any real manhood/humanness under cartoonish layers of garish and scratchy tweed.

This journey of the 'plastic dandy' was started in the mid '90s, 1996 to be precise, the year when a battle for smart popular culture was essentially lost. At that point 'Loaded' magazine was two years old and at its peak. It, too, had started with an original agenda and still had one at that point. The problem was that it had been around long enough for other publications to take on its stylistic language, gradually emptying out all context and meaning, wit and irony. Seem familiar? The forces of conservatism were taking hold in a different way. It was decided that all that wit, weirdness and irony was simply getting in the way of men looking at women's tits.

This ludicrous, moronic, simplistic notion of masculinity has had a massively detrimental effect. And now it is happening again — but with pocket squares instead of tits. As a female stylist said to me recently about those questions of detail and sartorial rules, "Well, men like those sort of thing." And as I replied, "Well, men really like tits as well. But they should not be wholly defined by their tit-liking. Pocket handkerchiefs are the new tits!" I was getting somewhat hysterical at that point.

After the tsunami of mammaries that seemed to obliterate any idea of men being actually quite complex creatures, came the desperation in British men's publications to be 'classy'. At the big publishing houses, with sales dropping through the floor, it was finally noticed that men were kind of bored with what could be called 'porn for cowards'. But these editors were also living in fear of the phenomenon that is 'Men's Health'. It appeared that men were now much more interested in looking at topless men, rather than topless women. It shook a lot of these editors to their desperate-to-be-seen-as-hetero core. The answer? Pocket fucking handkerchiefs. The most uniform, blatant, asexual, prissy and prudish of men's accoutrements was elevated to a frightening level in the most various of contexts.

You might have noticed, but men are rarely allowed to be sexy anymore. And if they are presented in such a way, it is dismissed as 'homoerotic' in publishing houses where they use a thesaurus and 'bloody gay' in the ones that don't. This is a load of insulting rubbish, both in its derogatory and over-anxious dwelling on sexuality and the idea that men reading magazines, no matter what their sexuality, cannot possibly be confronted by sexually charged imagery featuring other men. All those naked females in women's titles don't have the female editors up in arms about shoots being 'too lesbian'. And who, pray tell, do they think are the men shopping in ABERCROMBIE & FITCH?

I see this as one more step in the emasculation of men. Men can no longer be real sexual subjects and objects, only genital-less repositories for hand-stitched knick-knacks and the 10-best buttondown shirts. Thank God for the iconic, shameless, fearless male celebrities who go against this grain and pave the way for a new kind of male liberation in magazines. I thank you, Mr. DAVID BECKHAM, Mr. BRAD PITT, Mr. MARC JACOBS and Mr. TOM HARDY for knowing about good photography, understanding how to use your sexuality, taking your clothes off and just not giving a fuck. I also thank all of the truly demented, egotistical men who have appeared in this magazine, unafraid to speak for themselves and in fact be themselves, defying convention and bloody obnoxious sartorial rules.

In my opinion, instead of bras, it is time for men to burn their pocket squares.


JO-AN FURNISS
London, August 2011

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