Men in Pink


Men in Pink

Polished and cute is a good description of the new sexy in men. If the recently concluded men’s fashion week is anything to go by, men are not only dandy these days, they are candy too. Literally. What else are you supposed to glean when designers send out male models, show after show, in orange jackets, polka-dotted shirts and ties, pink waistcoats, floral shoes, neon bags, or slouchy shorts in colours that will make Benetton go red in the face? If someone has a beard, the look is softened by a plunging top (not shirt) revealing a moisturised, shaven chest. If it is a beefy body, it is packaged in baby pink. Even the body language of male models is passive. They seem unhurried and unstressed without any urgency of purpose. Most look like they have all the time in the world to sit at a beach in the French Riviera wearing designer boxers, sipping vintage wine. Draped in fluid fabrics, glossy, cutsie men have just arrived.

Or have they? Rolling our eyes to gush over a man’s mauve moccasins and saying, “He is so cute”, may be smart party behaviour. But, if designers think that women want to be swept off their feet by a man who looks like a flower, or bury their noses in purple polka dots, they may have it wrong. Women still want a bouquet from a “man”.   Machismo, rugged looks and a strong masculine flavour is the stuff of women’s fantasies. Even today. Fashionable correctness be damned, when a man does not look like a man, the female, heterosexual gaze has a dilemma. This is an elegy then, for the Raymond’s man. For the protective masculine ideal who dressed his part in sharp suits, crisp shirts and leather shoes. How come he is completely overtaken by the soft dresser on the ramp?

I must be regressive, you suspect. Well, if that’s what you call an open admiration for the “Me Tarzan, You Jane” fantasy. It is a stimulating game in real, even if modern women don’t easily admit to it. Didn’t I read about androgyny then? Or, why must the new-age man must loosen up so that he can change diapers and whip up an Espresso while his partner enjoys a post-coital cigarette? I have. It is easier for men to explore a shift in gender roles in “easy clothes”, argue the pundits. It still doesn’t add up. Not in India. When a heterosexual man wears a lilac scarf to a boardroom meeting, there is a blurring of sexual identity. It may create mis-cognition, especially since dressing softly was largely the preserve of gay men. “It is an age of ambi-sexuality,” purrs a gay friend. “Who is to decide that a man in black and grey is sexy and a man in pink is not?” he asks. I disagree. It will take some time yet, for gay and heterosexual symbols to merge and become one. At the moment, they are distinct.

Even when you take the argument out of the head and into the market, the fashion runway seems far removed from reality. Shirts with paisleys the size of dinner plates may suggest creative liberation, but such menswear doesn’t translate into market currency. Informal dressing is one thing, screaming fuschia another. When did we last see a man in the office, the gym, a bank or a grocery store, dress like that? Does your boss, boyfriend, son, father, real-estate agent or college professor dress in a lime-green jacket with capris? Designers themselves, like Rohit Gandhi, Rahul Khanna, Varun Bahl, Karan Johar, Shantanu and Nikhil, David Abraham, Rajesh Pratap, Tarun Tahiliani and JJ Valaya wear black shirts, classic jackets or blue jeans. But when they design, they drift into semi-convincing territories. Do they only target experimental dressers and leave formal wear to premium brands and the wedding market? Or is it easier for them to be creative and “fun” when they move out of the Italian stereotype of trouser-shirt-blazer to a canvas where there are no full stops in colour or shape? Both could be simplistic assumptions. That’s why it doesn’t add up.

Fashion is about the future, it is also fantastical, but it may be important to ask whose fantasies are being lived out. They certainly don’t seem to include those of the heterosexual woman genuinely interested in men’s clothes, not just in men wearing interesting clothes.