The world is changing; the whole concept of what makes a man, what constitutes manliness and what is/isn’t acceptable of the male image is undergoing perhaps its biggest transformation in recent memory. As our attitudes change so to do our clothes, the social stigma and the attitudes of those around us. The way we approach our clothes, style and general body maintenance has come a very long way, but such movement has also led to controversy. Whilst developments in this field can for the most part be considered positive, there are also a few things that divide opinion, often leading to fierce debate.

Society has moved on sufficiently enough to make it more acceptable for men to care about almost every aspect of their image. No longer is their a need to rely on the age old idea of a man’s man – the kind of fearsome male that could fight off a bear, whilst holding aloft a fair maiden and who thought shopping was the sole domain of women.

Now men can groom and style, preen and pamper to their hearts content and the world doesn’t bat an eyelid.

Caring for yourself to this level makes you the exception to the rule; a man that stands out because he cares about his image, doing everything in his power to ensure he looks as good as possible. But just how far can we go?

The Debate – How Far Can We Push Masculinity?

The most obvious change in this attitude is how it is now expected of men to be on top of their image at all times. Looks have begun to play more of a part in this competitive world. First appearances are everything, we do not have time for second chances or the ‘get to know you’ phase – any man that lags behind with his image will get left behind.

But despite these new developments, just how far we can take the male obsession with image is still a big topic of debate. No one can deny that the relaxation of the social attitude has come from the fact that more and more men are taking a keen interest in the way they look and the clothes they wear, but the extent to which individuals immerse themselves in the world of fashion varies quite dramatically.

Whilst some can happily spend hours searching through photos of the big fashion shows, always looking to get the next big thing or push their style to another level, others are more interested in creating a consistent and classic image based on heritage and versatility than the trends (the style Vs fashion debate). You also have people that are very concerned by what they wear, but solve the problem by following the majority – dressing in whatever everyone else is wearing.

How far an individual delves into his image – how far they are willing to go to create their perfect idea – depends on the person, but it could well be argued that we are now reaching a tipping point.

As image conscious males, are we now taking this modern acceptance for granted, straying too far away from the traditional idea of what makes a man?

The Feminine Issue

The concept of manliness, particularly in this day and age, has become much harder to define. Is a man a rugged, hairy chested man’s man (as described earlier) or one that has managed to incorporate more feminine qualities?

The modern idea of a man is much more convoluted and the word feminine can crop up quite a lot.

One of my friends was recently complaining about his stubble making his skin itchy and dry; I promptly told him that he needed to start moisturising and his reaction was to exclaim that he wasn’t a girl and that moisturising was ridiculous. I replied that he would henceforth be banned from complaining about his itchy skin because he refused to do anything about it. One of my other friends got in on this moisturising is for girls action as well, but whilst it is plainly ridiculous, the point they raise is quite important.

We can all agree that there are essentials of body maintenance; we must shave (or trim our beards), wash our bodies and moisturise our skin to keep it healthy. But at what point do men stop? To what level can we ascend before we begin to push the upper limits of acceptability?

In recent weeks, we have had articles that have covered the topic of pedicures, make-up, body hair trimming, fake tanning and all manner of things designed to make us look our best. But which of these is unacceptable? Which of these (if any) pushes us too far away from any concept of manliness that still exists. Does having a shaved chest take away one of the manliest things around, hair, or does it make us more desirable to women (or men) who now prefer a smooth body?

Society might be able to accept some degree of male grooming, but at the back of everyone’s mind there must still be a pervading image of the rugged man – everyone’s knight in shining armour.

More and more we hear talk of the benefits of make-up, being able to hide the small blemishes that might otherwise blight our carefully considered outfits. But there is a big divide between those who have made this leap and those who have not, those who understand the need for make up and those whose idea of being a man prevents them from taking that final step. But which group has it right?

Top Grooming Products

Below you can find some of the top grooming products on the market. It is clear to see how far we have come; you will find everything from hair straighteners and styling gels to eye, lip and feet care products to anti-ageing specific solutions like overnight creams and hair loss solutions.

This explosion and exponential progression of the industry can only be a good thing if we want to look our best on an everyday basis – but do we really need tinted moisturisers, foot creams and make-up? It really all depends on your views of what makes a ‘man’ and what, ultimately, makes you feel your best:

  • Baxter Of California Slick Pomade 60mlBaxter Of California Slick Pomade 60ml
  • American Crew Hair Recovery Anti-hair Loss Shampoo 250mlAmerican Crew Hair Recovery Anti-hair Loss Shampoo 250ml
  • Ghd Gold Mini StylerGhd Gold Mini Styler
  • Burts Bees Shea Butter Hand CremeBurts Bees Shea Butter Hand Creme
  • Aveda Foot Relief 125mlAveda Foot Relief 125ml
  • Tweezerman Pedro Callus StoneTweezerman Pedro Callus Stone
  • Tweezerman Slant Tweezer Stainless SteelTweezerman Slant Tweezer Stainless Steel
  • Anthony Logistics For Men Ingrown Hair Treatment 70gAnthony Logistics For Men Ingrown Hair Treatment 70g
  • Clarins Clarinsmen Line-control Balm 50mlClarins Clarinsmen Line-control Balm 50ml
  • Brave Soldier Lip Defender 8gBrave Soldier Lip Defender 8g
  • No7 For Men Rapid Revival Eye Roll-onNo7 For Men Rapid Revival Eye Roll-on
  • No7 For Men Energising MoisturiserNo7 For Men Energising Moisturiser
  • No7 For Men Gradual Tan Face Spf 15No7 For Men Gradual Tan Face Spf 15
  • Guyliner Disguys Concealer – MediumGuyliner Disguys Concealer - Medium
  • Molton Brown Re-charge Black Pepper Body Wash 300mlMolton Brown Re-charge Black Pepper Body Wash 300ml
The Clothes

Alongside this issue of femininity, we must also consider the actual clothes we wear. How does the way we dress impact on the world around us. Does our sense of style and our desire to dress impeccably well, often in a way that only a select few will truly appreciate, alienate us from society?

Do we push ourselves too far with our personal styles? I’m sure that many of you are guilty of never really being able to relax because you are permanently thinking about the way you are dressed. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that this could be seen as a bit vulgar, unnecessary, vain or inappropriate. Whilst first impressions are important, it is certainly possible to over-obsess with image.

I for one know that the vast majority of people think I’m a bit of a loser for combing my hair as I walk along the street. What I feel is completely necessary (and secretly a bit cool) others find ridiculous. I can see their point – we all like to look good, but it shouldn’t start to dictate our lives.

Peer pressure is also a massive factor in how far we are willing to go. If all your friends are doing something then you don’t want to be the one that gets left out. On the other hand, if your friends don’t like a particular style/item then you probably aren’t going to wear it. This applies to almost every aspect of the male image – from clothes to grooming, from the obvious to the more obscure.

This pressure is a limiting factor on either side. On the one hand, it prevents you from dressing a particular way or partaking in a particular grooming regime because you know it wouldn’t fit in, but it also means you do something else because you know it will work within your group.

The boundaries of acceptable fashion are increasingly being blurred and style is constantly being pushed to its limits. You could argue that the edge of what is acceptable is now being pushed just for the sake of it, in order to be so different that no one else can come close to you. One only has to take a casual browse through street style blogs or lookbooks to see where fashion is going, but is it all necessary?

In the real world, taking your obsession with your image too far is just as bad as not doing anything with it at all. There must be a balance between the need to look good and the relaxed acceptance of your body as it is. There is a clear divide between taking care of yourself and becoming a social pariah because of the way you create yourself.

Constructing your perfect image is about striking a balance. Make the most of a renewed and accepting society, but don’t take this new freedom for granted by stepping too far from the basic elements that make us men.

Product Picks

To help illustrate my point, here is a selection of product picks that will tickle the fancies of anyone looking to make a menswear statement as well as cater for those that want something a little more reserved and classic.

  • Asos Oxford ShirtAsos Oxford Shirt
  • Levis Monochrome Blue 2 Worn In 511 Slim JeansLevis Monochrome Blue 2 Worn In 511 Slim Jeans
  • Topman Nautical Blue Skinny ChinosTopman Nautical Blue Skinny Chinos
  • J.crew Waffle-knit Shawl-collar Cotton CardiganJ.crew Waffle-knit Shawl-collar Cotton Cardigan
  • Topman Burgundy Swallow Print Short Sleeve ShirtTopman Burgundy Swallow Print Short Sleeve Shirt
  • Allsaints Cargo Biker Leather JacketAllsaints Cargo Biker Leather Jacket
  • Allsaints Spires BlazerAllsaints Spires Blazer
  • Reiss Varnish Long Sleeve Mercerised PoloReiss Varnish Long Sleeve Mercerised Polo
  • Oliver Spencer Fair Isle-sleeved Wool-blend Bomber JacketOliver Spencer Fair Isle-sleeved Wool-blend Bomber Jacket
  • Worland White Paisley Pocket TeeWorland White Paisley Pocket Tee
  • Our Legacy Mens 1950s Great SweatOur Legacy Mens 1950s Great Sweat
  • Asos Skinny Cord ShortsAsos Skinny Cord Shorts
  • Grenson Tan Grain Leather William BroguesGrenson Tan Grain Leather William Brogues
  • Nike blazer High VintageNike blazer High Vintage
  • Reiss Brunswick Smart LoafersReiss Brunswick Smart Loafers
  • Uniform Wares 150 Series Slim Steel WristwatchUniform Wares 150 Series Slim Steel Wristwatch
  • Asos Mustard Plait BeltAsos Mustard Plait Belt
  • L.g.r. X Oki-ni Limited Edition Maputo SunglassesL.g.r. X Oki-ni Limited Edition Maputo Sunglasses
Final Word

Now it’s time for your thoughts:

  • How far do you think men can go?
  • Has male grooming gone a bit too far?
  • Has menswear started to push unacceptable boundaries?
  • What is your idea of a MAN?
  • How do you think society has dealt with the shift in attitudes? Do you think there actually has been a shift?
  • Do you feel that some men take things too far?
  • What are your thoughts on male make-up?

Let me know in the comments below.