A “new” Masculine Ideal?

It may be considered bad form for a newspaper writer to cop to reading another publication, but I don’t mind fessing up to being an ardent devotee of the ol’ “Gray Lady.” I make time each weekend to greedily devour The New York Times.

Skimming over the fashion and arts sections, I tend to spend most of my reading on the harder news and views of the day. But this Sunday was something different.

In the “Style” section was a spread featuring the growing trend of fashion designers transitioning from frail boyish models, who have dominated the scene in recent years to something a bit more solid and masculine.

Guy Trebay, author of the article, explained that the current ebb in the economy has encouraged many designers to tap into the psychology of “work.” That is, many are ditching slim and youthful for strapping and even a bit grizzled.

Quoting remarks from the publisher of a popular men’s magazine, Trebay makes the argument that, in times of economic crisis, customers will often look for a brand that best represents stability and productivity.

Namely: strong male figures who look presumably like they hold a job and can provide a living for those in their care.

At one point in the article, another authoritative source intones that, when the economy was flush, consumers were content to indulge designer subversions of age and gender expectations. But this was before “the recession lodged in the landscape like an errant iceberg taking its own time to thaw.”

The result is that they are falling back into the “old notions of what it meant to be a man or to look like one.” Imagine that! Coming from the haute couture and avant-garde of high fashion of all places.

Of course, where they start and where they finish with such an idea is going to vary wildly from someone like me and probably many of you as well.

All of that notwithstanding, there’s something important here.

Like Oscar Wilde, I would sardonically attest that fashion, it seems, is a form of ugliness so intolerable that it must be changed on a regular basis.

Human culture is so fluid that it reflects the ideas of its day far more than it drives them. However, I believe that it can also reflect aspects of humanity that are more universal and timeless than mere fashion.

There are a number of young men who put considerable trust in my counsel, whom I am laboring to mentor in how they should make that great “changing of the guard” from residing in the house of the father to establishing a house of their own.

For them, the teachings of our culture are convoluted, where they are not outright contradictory. They want to be strong, while yet not understanding true strength. They confuse masculinity with machismo, humility with frailty.

All of this before a culture that flatters their baser instincts while catering to what vestiges of conscience they might possess.

I suppose I believe in an archaic model for manhood, one that is so archaic that it is timeless. For its fundamentals are rooted in the very fabric of our nature and supercede both culture and time.

Verily, it seems humanity will, when the chips are down, find something of solace from days long passed.

Even now, as there remains so much in doubt, and the way is obscured with a heavy mist of doubt. May there come a return to the ancient paths.

May more seek this path, walk in it, and find rest for their Souls.

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