Evolution of the Uomo

Men and fashion! Two words diametrically opposed at one time.

Men’s fashion! Two words fittingly analogous, in today’s times.

There is no awkwardness when discussing men’s fashion in modern times; no underlying innuendos questioning the sexuality of the fashionable male and no hints of being a dandy.

Being a dandy has wrongly acquired a negative connotation in our society. Actually a dandy has nothing to do with having feminine characteristics or traits. A dandy is a man devoted to extreme elegance in clothes, style and manners. In short a gentleman, an aesthetic man, an elegant man.

With Pitti Uomo in full swing in Firenze, men’s most important platform for clothing and accessories in fashion, I reflect upon the evolution of men’s fashion.

Over the years our darker sex has not lagged too far behind women in fashion. They are galloping fast towards the ramp like thorough bred race horses with blinders on their eyes.

In a recent study it was found that in Asia men far outnumber women in consuming high end luxury goods. This is quite an eye-opener, as we mostly associate women with fashion; it is women who are usually seen toting high-end designer brands; in fact fashion brands in the past have mostly targeted women with women walking the ramps for major fashion houses, women in glossy ad-campaigns and women as brand ambassadors.

Times have changed and men are evolving.

Let’s take a stylish swivel back on the ramp and see how men have evolved.

Historically masculinity is identified as a concoction of brawn, sweat, sinewy muscles, deeply etched facial lines, a rich baritonic voice and dark tanned skin. All these physical characteristics are a sign of strength, courage, fortitude and power. Men are supposed to be rough, tough and gruff. Anything less is too feminine and not “man enough.”

However, since times immemorial, even if sub-consciously, men have paid attention to their physical attributes. Even the cave man used bucolic tools to groom himself. It is an innate desire in all human beings to look good, despite the gender divide.

For example take men in ancient Rome. They were the epitome of masculinity, vigor and virility. They wrestled lions with their bare fists, what could be manlier than that? Outwardly, they wore a basic garment in the form of a tunic or toga strictly for the purposes of necessity and functionality. It was used as a cover-up for the statuesque Romans for decorum and protection against elements of nature.

Despite such outward portrayal of machismo, inwardly the Roman man did pay attention to his looks. He used cosmetics! Can you believe that, even though it was frowned upon. There was a light use of perfumes and “moderate” hair removal. Note: not full hair removal but moderate hair removal because hair, even in modern times is associated with a man’s masculinity.

The Roman man evolved. Let’s fast forward to the 50’s man. The stylish male with the hat, overcoat, perfect tie, a sartorial dresser indeed. Manly and well-dressed.

But wait; do I smell a whiff of sweet lime cologne? Yes, indeed! He is wearing cologne to ward off uninvited female overtures. He is using a cosmetic.

In the mid-50s rode in the Marlboro man, with the deeply etched masculine lines on his face (most likely as a result of nicotine exposure rather than any andric potency!) Nevertheless, born was the rugged, un-harnessed masculinity.

Advent of the mid-60s. Gone were the uptight suits and ties, in came the “far-out” generation. A chilled-out generation, reflecting the same attitude in the fashion sense. No dress-codes, no rules, no restrictions and constrictions. A psychedelic lifestyle with a psychedelic attire to “blow” your mind.

This blog cannot be complete without discussing the decadent 1970s disco era. A vestibular fashion era with aerial platform shoes and flared pants. John Travolta epitomized the juxtaposition of flared pants and the three-piece suit. A sartorial “flare” for sure!

Miami Vice marked new-age 1980’s fashion. The over-sized blazer donned oh-so casually over the t-shirt, the sockless feet in loafers became a cult fashion statement, still followed by the fashion victims stuck in the 80s.

I cannot move away from the 1980s without mentioning the raw sexuality of Mickey Rourke in 9 ½ weeks. The stubble, the piercing eyes, the dangling cigar and the come-hither smile heightened male sexuality to another level.

In the 1990s the tables turned. Women were not the only ones who portrayed sexuality; men romped in their skivvies too. The six-pack was no longer associated with a beverage and a male paunch was not a sign of wealth and success. Men hit the gym, started shopping at organic stores and became “eye-candy.”

From the 2000s and onwards men have come a full circle. They have reverted back to being a dandy. They use lotions and potions; eat diet products; work on problem areas at the gym; are androgynous; shop online at Barneys; get manicures and pedicures; get waxed, stripped, threaded and shaved. He is beautiful.

In fact, the gender divide has become so blurry that it is perfectly acceptable for a pouty, porcelain skinned male model like Andrej Pejic to strut down the runway giving Kate Moss a run for her euro! The uomo has evolved.