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3.21.2004

Men's Grooming . . . Ubi Ecclesia?

By John O'Connor, fashion victim

Yesterday we had a perfect spring day where I am living (Kansas City) and, since it was a Saturday, I persuaded myself to spend some time traipsing around outdoors. Coming back from errands, I stopped in at an estate sale on a whim. My friend Heather stopped in also by chance, and we rummaged happily together. One peson's trash is another person's bric-a-brac.

We met two male friends of Heather's, a gay couple who have been written up locally because they are raising children together. Briefly, I felt the foundations of western civilization give way but then, realizing that they were not in fact married, I soon regained my equilibrium.

Almost as shocking was how well groomed they were. These guys were clean enough for lab work, neither had a hair out of place, and they almost radiated physical cleanliness. That right there (especially in a midwestern context) tells you that they are probably not hetero.

I find myself wondering if this is the Next Big Thing for American men. When you consider all the things gay guys have pioneered, which are now mainstream (earrings are the classic example, there are others), it seems possible. It seems silly that being conspicuously clean would be a "gay" thing. And I wonder if there is a Darwinian advantage for men who are cleaner and neater. A recent news story about shaving suggested that there might be.

The answer, I think, boils down to a couple main factors. One, will American women reward straight guys for being well groomed. Two, will guys in general figure this out. The fashion for grunge in music certainly seems to be past. Perhaps the fashion for grunge in personal attire will also pass.

Weekend before last, I happened to go the KC Gem and Mineral Show, and bumped into someone from the United Nation Of Islam who was helping to escort a busload of UNOI kids. These kids were clean, neat, well-groomed, quiet, well-behaved, and conspicuouly well-dressed. It was terribly impressive. I have never believed that clothes make the man, but seeing these kids last weekend, and then this couple this weekend, I am not so sure. The phrase "young adults" is usually an oxymoron, but in the case of the UNOI kids I am not so certain.

Fashion wise, this could be the thin edge of the wedge. In the natural world, the male often has brighter plumage. In the realm of history, it is easy to recall times when male vanity led to dandyism on a large scale. It seems to me that we may be in for a new era in which male vanity -- admittedly a small and limited force -- comes out of the closet, so to speak, and begins to insist on quality skin care.

Comparing the UNOI troops to the other people at the show (most of whom had chosen -- for purposes of the weekend only I am sure - to impersonate residents of Eastern Jackson County, Missouri), one begins to see how vanity and pride can be positive influences on the society as a whole. There are certain sins against society which someone who is proud of his appearance will simply not commit.

Will American men develop into updated versions of 18th century dandies? Stay tuned.

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