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Metrosexual is a neologism, derived from metropolitan and heterosexual, coined in 1994 describing a man (especially one living in an urban, post-industrial, capitalist culture) who is especially meticulous about his grooming and appearance, typically spending a significant amount of time and money on shopping as part of this. The term is popularly thought to contrast heterosexuals who adopt fashions and lifestyles stereotypically associated with homosexuals, although, by definition given by the originator (see below), a metrosexual "might be officially gay, straight or bisexual."
Metrosexual man, the single young man with a high disposable income, living or working in the city (because that’s where all the best shops are), is perhaps the most promising consumer market of the decade. In the Eighties he was only to be found inside fashion magazines such as GQ. In the Nineties, he’s everywhere and he’s going shopping.
However, it was not until the early 2000s when Simpson returned to the subject that the term became globally popular.
The advertising agency Euro RSCG Worldwide adopted the term shortly thereafter for a marketing study. Sydney's daily newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, ran a major feature in March 2003 titled "The Rise of the Metrosexual" (also syndicated in its sister paper The Age) which borrowed heavily from Simpson's Salon.com piece (but failed to acknowledge this or mention Simpson). A couple of months later, the New York Times' Sunday Styles section ran a story, "Metrosexuals Come Out." The term and its connotations continued to roll steadily into more news outlets around the world.
Though it did represent a complex and gradual change in the shopping and self-presentation habits of both men and women, the idea of metrosexuality was often distilled in the media down to a few men and a short checklist of vanities, like skin care products, scented candles and costly, colorful dress shirts and pricey designer jeans. It was this image of the metrosexual—that of a straight young man who got pedicures and facials, practiced aromatherapy and spent freely on clothes—that contributed to a backlash against the term from men who merely wanted to feel free to take more care with their appearance than had been the norm in the 1990s, when companies abandoned dress codes, Dockers khakis became a popular brand, and XL, or extra-large, became the one size that fit all.
A 60 Minutes story on 1960s-70s pro footballer Joe Namath suggested he was "perhaps, America's first metrosexual" after filming his most famous ad sporting Beautymist pantyhose. Simpson has called Joe Namath "America's abandoned metrosexual prototype", leaving the field open for later Brit metro imports such as Beckham.
When the word first became popular, various sources incorrectly attributed its origin to trendspotter Marian Salzman, but by Salzman's own admission Simpson's 2002 Salon.com article was the original source for her usage of the word, which she had "updated, based on a more commercial take on the now".
Over the course of the following years, other terms countering or substituting for "metrosexual" appeared. Perhaps the most widely used was "retrosexual," which in its anti- or pre-metrosexual sense was also first used by Simpson. However, in later years the term was used by some to describe men who subscribed to what they affected to be the grooming and dress standards of a previous era, such as the handsome, impeccably turned-out fictional character of Donald Draper in the television series Mad Men, itself set in an idealised version of the early 1960s New York advertising world.
Another example was the short-lived "übersexual", which was coined by marketing executives and authors of The Future of Men, and was perhaps inspired by Simpson's use of the term "uber-metrosexual" to describe David Beckham.
Simpson has argued that from the beginning the appropriation of the metrosexual concept by American marketers such as Salzman in 2003 was always about trying to straighten men out.[clarification needed] Simpson's original definition of the metrosexual was sexually ambiguous, or at least went beyond the straight/gay dichotomy. Marketers, in contrast, insisted that the metrosexual was always "straight" – they even tried to pretend that he was not vain. However, they failed to convince the public, hence, says Simpson, their attempt to create the uber-straight ubersexual.
Narcissism, according to Simpson, plays a crucial role in the metrosexual concept. In his book Male Impersonators, 1994 he explains why understanding narcissism is vital to understanding modern masculinity. Citing Freud's On Narcissism, which analyzes the psychological aspect of narcissism and explains narcissistic love as follows:
A person may love: (1) According to the narcissistic type: (a) What he is himself, (b) What he once was, (c) What he would like to be, (d) Someone who once was part of himself.— Sigmund Freud , The major works of Sigmund Freud
Female metrosexuality is a concept that Mark Simpson explored with American writer Caroline Hagood. They employed the female characters from the HBO series Sex and the City in order to illustrate examples of wo-metrosexuality, a term Hagood coined to refer to the feminine form of metrosexuality. The piece implied that, although this phenomenon would not necessarily empower women, the fact that the metrosexual lifestyle de-emphasizes traditional male and female gender roles could help women out in the long run. However, it is debatable whether the characters made famous by "Sex and the City" truly de-emphasized female gender roles, given that the series focused a high amount of attention on stereotypically feminine interests like clothing, appearance, and romantic entanglements.
Traditional masculine norms, as described in Dr. Ronald F. Levant's Masculinity Reconstructed are: "avoidance of femininity; restricted emotions; sex disconnected from intimacy; pursuit of achievement and status; self-reliance; strength; and aggression; and homophobia."
Statistics, including market research by Euro RSCG, show that the pursuit of achievement and status is not as important to men as it used to be; and neither is, to a degree, the restriction of emotions or the disconnection of sex from intimacy. Another norm change is supported by research that claimed men "no longer find sexual freedom universally enthralling." The most important shift in masculinity is that there is less avoidance of femininity and the "emergence of a segment of men who have embraced customs and attitudes once deemed the province of women." What is accepted as "masculine" has shifted considerably throughout the times, so the modern concept of how a man "should be" differs from the ideal man of previous eras. Some styles and behaviors that are today considered masculine were, in the past, part of the woman's domain (e.g., knee britches, makeup, jewelry).
Changes in culture and attitudes toward masculinity, visible in the media through television shows such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Queer as Folk, and Will & Grace, have changed these traditional masculine norms. Metrosexuals only made their appearance after cultural changes in the environment and changes in views on masculinity.
Simpson explains in his article "Metrosexual? That rings a bell..." that "Gay men provided the early prototype for metrosexuality. Decidedly single, definitely urban, dreadfully uncertain of their identity (hence the emphasis on pride and the susceptibility to the latest label) and socially emasculated, gay men pioneered the business of accessorising—and combining—masculinity and desirability."
But such probing analyses into various shoppers' psyches ignore other significant factors affecting men's shopping habits, foremost among them women's shopping habits. As the retail analyst Marshal Cohen explained in a 2005 article in the New York Times entitled, "Gay or Straight? Hard to Tell," the fact that women buy less of men's clothing than they used to has, more than any other factor, propelled men into stores to shop for themselves. "In 1985 only 25 percent of all men's apparel was bought by men, he said; 75 percent was bought by women for men. By 1998 men were buying 52 percent of apparel; in 2004 that number grew to 69 percent and shows no sign of slowing." One result of this shift was the revelation that men cared more about how they look than the women shopping for them had.
However despite changes in masculinity, research suggests men still feel social pressure to endorse traditional masculine male models in advertising. Research by Martin and Gnoth (2009) found that feminine men preferred feminine models in private, but stated a preference for the traditional masculine models when their collective self was salient. In other words, feminine men endorsed traditional masculine models when they were concerned about being classified by other men as feminine. The authors suggested this result reflected the social pressure on men to endorse traditional masculine norms.
In its soundbite diffusion through the channels of marketeers and popular media, who eagerly and constantly reminded their audience that the metrosexual was straight, the metrosexual has congealed into something more digestible for consumers: a heterosexual male who is in touch with his feminine side—he color-coordinates, cares deeply about exfoliation, and has perhaps manscaped. Men did not go to shopping malls, so consumer culture promoted the idea of a sensitive man who went to malls, bought magazines and spent freely to improve his personal appearance. As Simpson put it:
For some time now, old-fashioned (re)productive, repressed, unmoisturized heterosexuality has been given the pink slip by consumer capitalism. The stoic, self-denying, modest straight male didn't shop enough (his role was to earn money for his wife to spend), and so he had to be replaced by a new kind of man, one less certain of his identity and much more interested in his image – that's to say, one who was much more interested in being looked at (because that's the only way you can be certain you actually exist). A man, in other words, who is an advertiser's walking wet dream."— Mark Simpson , Salon.com
This commercial vision is also adapted in television's metrosexual archetype, Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, in which the gay presenters instructively transform the appearance of the straight guy—but largely avoid dealing with his personality.
In contrast, there is also the view that metrosexuality is at least partly a naturally occurring phenomenon, much like the Aesthetic Movement of the 19th century and that the metrosexual is merely a modern incarnation of a dandy. Simpson has strongly rebutted attempts to suggest that metrosexual is 'just a dandy':
In 2011 Simpson published the ebook Metrosexy - A 21st Century Self-Love Story, billed as 'A biography of the metrosexual. By his Dad'. It argues that the profound impact of metrosexuality on our ideas of masculinity and femininity and sexuality itself has been obscured by the media's effusive but largely 'skin-deep' coverage of it.
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