|As guys focus on grooming, marketers aim to emasculate male consumers, Kathy O'Meara writes|
I strolled past a man in a skirt recently - and no, he wasn’t a recalcitrant Jock claiming asylum in Ireland till the next rugger fixture. Granted, it was within the hallowed environs of Brown Thomas, where the perception of daily life is honeyed with enhancements. But still, this was in Dublin. Astonishingly, the chap sporting this unusual apparel didn’t look remotely gay, trannie or even undecided. He looked right, in a funny sort of way. He just fitted in with the zeitgeist - to be blunt, macho but metrosexual.
Perhaps I spend too much time consorting with actors. Gone are the days of furtive application of Leichner stage makeup behind closed doors. Now our thespian boys are quite happy to hang around the Mac counter discussing (with expertise borne out of long practice), the relative longevity of gel eyeliners over pencil, and – cross yourselves – testing them publicly. Most red blooded chaps are now familiar with at least two brands of facial moisturiser and would consider it ‘only sensible’ to cover up eye bags and late night after-effects with judicious use of concealer. And quite right too.
Why wouldn’t our fellows put their best side out to the world? In an age-obsessed marketplace it is surely sensible to take advantage of any and all cosmetic enhancements on offer. Dublin beauty clinics are reporting a steep rise in male customers seeking Botox, facial peels, eyelash extensions (yes, really) and intimate waxing procedures, so whether in search of eternal youth, beauty or just plain holding back the tide, the only game in town now for the boys seems to be glam in mantyhose and Muggs (male Uggs).
With the women’s beauty segment finally reaching saturation point, the obvious new prey for the marketers is him indoors. Even that bastion of feminine tromp d’oeil dressing – Spanx – is manufacturing underpants ‘with a better designed pouch’. Hmm… are we ladies setting ourselves up for some little disappointments? At any rate, it seems the real challenge for the male grooming market is how to educate the chaps themselves.
Irish men use stealth beauty products to correct imperfections rather than to enhance beauty (though it’s only a matter of time). Few are comfortable to hang around beauty halls (other than my actor friends, it seems). Most still see this as an assault on their masculinity. They would rather be seen buying haemorrhoid cream than anti-ageing serum. But with the beauty industry gearing up to the new trend like crazed lemmings, there is a dizzying array of products out there which demand expert orienteering.
Clarins Fatigue Fighter over L’Oreal flash bronzer? Neem hair oil over hair paste? Anti shine corrector over matte foundation? And what about Bliss rubberizing mask – sounds like something Superman would don in his phone box. Bit of a bewildering leap from 3500 BC when both men and women would use crushed ants’ eggs as eye shadow.
That’s not all. Hand in manicured hand with the getting gorgeous regime for our gentlemen friends comes getting in touch with one’s feelings. Public Displays of Emotion (PDEs) are de rigeur among all our virile community from Vladimir Putin to Ed Balls (chokes up at The Antiques Roadshow), and the sale of scented silken mouchoirs is climbing steadily (though watch the manscara chaps – bedhead eyes is not a good look).
Twas ever thus, slightly surprisingly. Despite our till now rather Victorian buttoned – uppedness about boys emoting, this lachrymose practice has roared manfully through the centuries. Men have always cried. Jesus wept. Yet the acceptability of male crying has varied across time and across culture. There are many references to man tears in ancient Greek and Roman legends. In Homer’s The Iliad there is no conflict between Odysseus’ heroic qualities and the inclusion of many episodes of his blubbing for home, loved ones, and fallen comrades, not to mention his missed chance with the Sirens. So, again, the stoic becomes the softy. Witness the recent Dragons’ Den meltdown with the hardnosed Gavin Duffy unable to hold back the tears, not to mention the veritable Niagara of melancholia shown by the boys on the Operation Transformation annual outing.
WELLUP IN TEARS
Gavin Duffy found one candidate’s story too much to take in a recent Dragons’ Den show. A man, who sought backing for his silicone wrist bands venture, was convincing and amusing. But when he explained how an investor, who promised him €20,000, had let him down, Duffy could not contain his emotion.
For the female of the species to empathise with her counterpart’s PDEs, the display must contrive to look attractive. Women need to experience a ‘Cor, let me at him/mother him’ moment. Thus the teary Daniel Craig or Gabriel Byrne in Sam Taylor Woods’ Crying Men beats Wayne Rooney’s gurning goal scoring moments hands down. Men still need to look hunky, strong and desirable to carry this off, not a snivelling car crash.
It’s about time the gents joined the ladies at their own game. Now that the balance has been struck in the boardroom and the boorish alpha male no longer exerts the same mysterious allure, it’s right for blokes to be judged as women are on their personal presentation, attention to cosmetic detail and kinship qualities.
Now, where’s my Timothy Spall poster?