I had a vague notion of what the term “metrosexual” meant: trendy men with tailored shirts in their closets and hair pomade in their bathrooms, image- and culture-conscious guys who can tell you about “Sex and the City,” interior design and musical theater. But they’re straight. I had ideas about who might be one, too. But when I mentioned one name to a mutual friend, I was shot down.
“He’s not trendy enough,” the mutual friend said.
I asked someone else. But she shook her head, too, explaining that she had just seen the man in question. He desperately needs a haircut, she explained. He’s not a metrosexual.
Yalies willing to call themselves metrosexuals — sometimes grudgingly, sometimes laughingly — tend to ascribe certain general characteristics to the archetypal metrosexual: he cares about his appearance, pays attention to grooming, tends to be cultured. He’s probably been mistaken for gay. But some so-called metrosexuals are uncomfortable with the term, and many are eager not to let something so “superficial” define them.
The term “metrosexual” has been around for years but entered popular slang this summer after The New York Times published an article about straight men “willing — to embrace their feminine sides.”
Gay writer Mark Simpson coined the term in the mid-1990s. Simpson meant it satirically — he argued that consumer culture promoted the idea of the sensitive man who shopped and spent lots of money on grooming products, because traditional men did not spend as much. With more men getting manicures, facials and eyebrow waxes, even “malons” — male salons — are popping up around the country. While the trend seems class-based, it certainly originated as an urban phenomenon.
Russell Eida ’05, a native New Yorker, said he and his best friends have been discussing whether or not he fits the bill. He has never gotten a manicure, but he’s gone to tanning salons. Men have hit on him. He’s always had an interest in “taking care of” himself. Toward the end of high school, he developed an interest in dressing well. It was a sort of hobby for someone who wasn’t an athlete and was uninterested in the rave scene many of his friends were into. He would love to get his hair cut in a salon, but — like many other things often used to characterize metrosexuals, he said — it’s out of his college student price range. So he gives his barber detailed instructions about what he wants.
“I watch ‘Queer Eye,'” he laughed, referring to “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” a reality television show in which the “Fab Five” of gay men give a straight man a makeover. “But I know a lot of the things before they say them.”
Wearing a textured white button-down shirt (Club Monaco, he laughed when I asked him about it), light-but-not-too-light J.Crew jeans — an outfit similar to one the Fab Five gave one straight guy — Eida explained that his reasons for maintaining his appearance lie deeper than vanity.
“It’s the idea that you want to look respectable, you want to look like you take care of yourself,” Eida said.
Justin Cohen ’04, who said friends tell him he is a metrosexual but he finds the term “nebulous,” agreed that dressing well is not necessarily as superficial as it seems. For him, he said, it’s about presenting himself in a mature way and affording people respect.
“In a competitive environment like Yale, I think it’s appropriate to dress the part of somebody who’s not 16,” Cohen said. “I’m the kind of person who does think you shouldn’t go to a seminar class in your pajamas — It gives the impression that you care more about what you’re doing if you dress well.”
Cohen admitted he enjoys shopping. His female friends fight over who gets to go with him, he said. He and an old girlfriend went to the outlet mall on her birthday. Ostensibly, Cohen laughed, it was a treat for her, but they both knew he wanted to go. But he said immaculate grooming is of no particular concern for him, and he has never been mistaken for gay. He said he half-expected male friends with limited talent for interior design to call his suite in Lanman-Wright Hall “gay” (it’s immaculately painted — dark brown for the front room, light green for the bedroom — curtained, and decorated with real artwork), but none of them did. When one girl told him she thought it was “really gay,” Cohen said, he was offended.
“What does that mean?” Cohen said.
With “metrosexual” on its way into the popular lexicon, use of “gay” to describe rooms, clothes or behavior could be on its way out. Cohen said he thinks having his “type” defined is “a bit of a relief.”
“It makes it easier to explain yourself,” he said.
But both Cohen and Eida said they are wary of letting metrosexuality overtake their personalities.
“The idea of letting the whole thing define you is going a bit too far,” Eida said.
Some men who have certain metrosexual traits do not identify with the term. An interest in musical theater and the arts, for example, could be sufficient to get you labeled.
“I will pass for gay in a lot of people’s eyes,” Chris Grobe ’05 said. “I know who Chita Rivera is; sometimes that’s enough.”
Grobe, who is currently the lead in the Dramat Fall Mainstage Production “Floyd Collins,” said men in musical theater are continuously confronted with stereotypes that their interest is “gay.” But, he said, the recent media attention to the phenomenon of metrosexuality is a good thing because it plays up positive characteristics of the stereotypical gay man.
But James Huerta ’05, who said friends have called him a metrosexual, said he believes that the term’s obvious derivation from the word “homosexual” reinforces the stereotypical link between homosexuality and male vanity.
“The morphology of the word is stupid,” Huerta said. “You don’t want to have sex with cities.”