"I talk to my buddies in a way that wouldn't have been accepted a while ago," he explains. "You know, you hear girls say, 'That's a pretty dress. Where did you get it?' Well, now I can ask my buddy where he got that shirt without being embarrassed."
Talking to Devin and others, one senses a new tolerance for male vanity. At least from men. But I still had doubts. What about women? Do they really want a guy that cares as much about primping as they do? Would a woman in a bar rather find you staring tactlessly at her chest--or catch you checking your own reflection in the mirror behind the bar?
To find out, I sit down with the hippest couple in the room...or rather, the only couple that doesn't sneer openly at my cheap Panasonic voice recorder (sneer now, everybody, but trust me, the "media look" is going to be hot--think Jayson Blair: frumpy, devious). Jeff is a 32-year-old writer, with light blonde highlights and a vintage gym-class hoodie; Kella is a 34-year-old film editor, with a jean jacket over what looks to be a satin slip. Kella explains that despite her stubbly-chinned arm candy, she finds a man obsessed with fashion to be "creepy." She's disgusted by somebody who "pays too much attention to labels" and seems to be "trying too hard."
Jeff immediately counters, "Oh, that's not true. Men just don't admit [their interest]. They're self-conscious about knowing too much about fashion. But if we dressed like shit, you wouldn't look twice. Look, I know which labels look good on me. I'll spend $150 on designer jeans because I have a weird body shape. It's hard for me to find the money go-to look that I can fit into."
Kella isn't buying it. "If a guy says, 'I'm really into Kenneth Cole,' then he's gay, period. It's attractive when men don't care about fashion."
Hmm. The ladies want their men to care just enough to look like we don't shop at the Gap, but they don't want them to try too hard because that looks "gay." So what does queer America--long lauded as the best dressers among the tribe of men--make of the newly fashionable (allegedly) straight man? Have the likes of the Strokes and Pharrell Williams displaced the queer fashion icon?
With those questions in mind, I hit Jet Set on a Saturday night. I first run into D.W., a tall, thin 29-year-old designer in a red-and-pink-striped Western shirt with a pair of tan stretch-fabric pants. "This shirt looks great with jeans," he says, "plus it's a little cowboy look. And you can wear it with beige, you can wear it with brown, you can wear it with anything." D.W. thinks that gay men are still driving men's fashion because, unlike straight men, they aren't afraid of sticking out, even in Minneapolis. "I think [gay men] take more risks," he says. "I mean, you don't even see capri pants on guys here except for gay guys. But everywhere else people wear capri pants. And when I wear mine, everybody looks at me like, 'Why are you wearing capri pants?' Even girls ask, 'Why are you wearing capri pants?'"
James, a 30-year-old financial consultant with shoulder-length brown hair, gray slacks, and a windowpane print button-down, insists his gaydar is no less precise for the proliferation of fancy-looking straight decoys. "[Gay men] look like we're trying harder," James notes. "But it doesn't necessarily mean we're successful." He continues on an All About Eve note by claiming that "gay men have problems dressing age-appropriate."
"Old gay guys want to dress like they're 20," he continues. "At a certain point, you stop wearing Kenneth Cole and you start wearing Liz Claiborne."
In fact, straight or gay, most of the best-dressed men in town accessorize with a latent cattiness. Okay, I know it's not macho to whine about the burdens of being a modern man, but evidently I dispensed with that macho thing when I decided to squeeze myself into these Paper, Denim & Cloth brand jeans. Maybe you agree with social critics like Susan Faludi, who argue that we've been emasculated by a bitch of an economy that places less and less value on, you know, a set of cojones, forcing us to repackage the goods. Or perhaps you believe anxiety is being produced by the pressure to look good, from the media, your girlfriend, and the guy with the posh shoes across the bar. Either way, it seems men are taking it out on each other. And we do it primarily by disparaging the very fashion plate on which we all live.
At Bar Lurcat, I talk to Alex, a 36-year-old hairdresser, wearing a white shirt with a Nehru collar. "Men dress too sloppy in Minneapolis," he snips. Alex spends about $5,000 a year on clothing, and he considers himself to have the advantage of perspective. "I travel around the world," he says. "I see the way people dress and their fashions in different cities." He isn't completely without hope, however, for our metropolis' fashion future. Things would improve immediately, he says, if only "shorts were outlawed at bars and restaurants in the state of Minnesota."