In an era where male fashion and style influencers are ubiquitous, why was caring about your appearance seen as feminine only a decade ago?
A decade ago, I became a brother at one of the many fraternities on my college campus. (Hi! Yes, a Millennial speaking.) One of my biggest claims to fame was my sense of style. Looking back at photos of the red and black flannels tied around the waistband of my skin-tight Levis, I have to ask—how the hell was I crowned “Most Stylish” out of almost a hundred brothers?
In the sea of American flag Chubbies shorts, fluorescent polo shirts, and worn Sperrys, it made sense. In addition to my official title of Executive Council Treasurer, I was given the unofficial title of Merchandise Chairman and the self-proclaimed moniker of “Brother Makeover Guru,” which entailed taking pledges to get haircuts and go shopping. Think IRL Queer Eye for almost a hundred straight males who pretended to be colorblind. I truly can’t make this up. (Yes, I was the only queer guy in the fraternity. Yay, diversity!)
As I reflect on my college years, I realize that even as recently as 10 years ago, having any sort of style or paying any amount of attention to your appearance as a man was still a trait associated with the queer community. At best, you got the adjacent crowd favorite—“metrosexual”—which in 2013 could only be defined as “presenting as gay but probably isn’t.”
But even in 2013, the concept of “metrosexuality” felt outdated. While it was quite flattering to be chosen as the style guru for my entire fraternity, (a wise decision, if I may say) I'd argue that my sexuality held no sway over my personal style. It was a part of my identity, certainly, but I firmly believe that everyone possesses a unique taste that can flourish through confidence, and what has traditionally boosted men’s confidence in their appearance has changed over time.
Many decades ago, it was a status and social symbol for men to wear a suit every day. Those men commanded respect because they met a standard that others thought looked, well, manly. In the decades since, we’ve seen a slow but steady retreat from that classic look. Guys started taking risks with their style, throwing in more colors and some extra flair: think '70s with those groovy jumpsuits and bell bottoms, or the '90s with the low-rise baggy jeans. Even then, creative risks were reserved for celebs and pop stars, not your average Joe. Michael Jackson or Prince in a colorful jumpsuit? Totally cool. But if a co-worker showed up in the same getup, people suddenly questioned his sexuality.
Gender norms are nothing new—but over the past 20 years, average men caring about their appearance became “gay,” and sloppiness became the norm. As if color or form was inherently an association with queerness and any association with queerness was taboo. The distinct lack of effort in appearance became a clear signal that you were a red-blooded man; too busy with manly things to think about fashion.
Given this, it’s understandable that my showing up to a rush event with cuffed Abercrombie denim and Lacoste cardigan was like waving a flag that said, "Yep, I’m batting for the team.”
So what changed this perception? In a word—INFLUENCERS. At least from where I sit.
In the last 10 years, we’ve seen the men’s style and grooming space on social media explode. There have always been men to look to for fashion inspiration, namely celebrities. But was little ‘ol college Pare sacrificing his weekly rations of Top Ramen to save for the Louis Vuitton top styled on GQ’s 2013 Man of the Year Pharrell Williams? Rhetorical question.
From the early days of social media, I saw a new class of lifestyle and fashion influencers like Jair Woo, Marcel Floruss (One Dapper Street) and Jose Zuniga (Teaching Men’s Fashion) focusing on accessibility for the common man. These male fashion and style influencers made the everyday man—even the straight ones—feel stylish without self-consciousness. It wasn’t just rich celebrities with (probably) queer stylists who got to look good. Today, young men have style creators to look to for accessible inspiration, fashion with no significant barrier to entry. This focus on attainability has led to a marked shift in the world of men’s fashion.
These types of casual creators revolutionized what it meant to be a man with style and paved the way for men to feel confident in their own style choices. Think of content themes like “5 Pairs of Shoes No Man Should Live Without,” featuring a $45 pair of classic Converse High Tops. Male fashion creators helped the normal guy feel seen, opening the floodgates for the men’s style space on social media.
Did you know that now 52% of Instagram users identify as men? Social media has put mens style in the forefront, with #MENSSTYLE and #MENSFASHION garnering over 8.5B views on TikTok. According to the Fohr platform, 5,602+ creators included “Men’s Style” in the About Me sections of their social profiles.
The audience is there, and it’s evidenced in the growing list of subcultures and niche-style fusions. From two distinct styles of preppy and athletic blending into #Prepleisure and street style making its way into what was previously known as Business Casual, men continue to innovate in the style space of 2023 with no evidence of slowing down.
We’ve always looked up to well-dressed or highly groomed men; whether we knew it or not. We voted for them in political elections, asked them to be our mentors, respected them as our leaders, and even admitted to a few celebrity “man crushes.” Want to know why Suits is my all- time favorite show? Not because of my intense fascination with M&A law, but because I got to see well-dressed men being taken seriously for doing what they do best.
Social media has changed that for all men. I no longer need to look to my favorite actor or celebrity for style inspiration. I can look towards my male peers who exhibit confidence in their content and whose style I see as equally aspirational and attainable. Sexuality no longer factors into the equation or casts an oppressive shadow on men’s sense of style—and that’s the type of influence I’m here for.
Parish Hayes is a Creative Strategist at Fohr as well as a men’s lifestyle creator @pareagonia. If you want to chat men’s style or creative strategy with him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.