Attack of the Metrosexuals
by Ed Goldman
Posted on November 2, 2006
Photography by Rudy Meyers
Burly comedian Bernie Mac is one, though he hates the word. Michael Chiklis, the Emmy Award-winning star of one of the grittiest cop shows on TV, “The Shield,” says he “almost passed out” from pleasure the first time a pedicurist began to rub his feet. Raspy-voiced film and stage star Alec Baldwin told People magazine, “Basically I’m gay, except for the sex-with-men part.”
Want more? Here’s an admission from wrestler-turned-movie-star The Rock (if you know him well, you probably just call him The): “I exfoliate. It’s very important to use some good product on your face.”
The “product” may well be on your face, but the concept—straight guys suddenly pampering themselves—is definitely in your face.
Welcome to the era of the metrosexual—or as I like to call it, the He Decade. Just as neighborhood barbers purchased blow dryers and reinvented themselves as hair stylists 30 years ago (simultaneously tripling their prices), salons, spas and cosmetic counters catering to heterosexual men have become as ubiquitous as Starbucks.
In some parts of the country—not Sacramento (not yet, at least)—metrosexuality is being touted as more than just derm-deep. It’s encompassing everything from clothes to cars to interior design and that most elusive of terms, lifestyle. “I’ve heard the word ‘metrosexual’ for about a year and I must admit, it’s one I can relate to,” says Kemble Pope, 26, a Texas-born ex-Marine currently finishing up his final semester at Sacramento City College. “But I think it’s an odd term, because nobody has clearly defined it. For some people, it probably means someone with a large amount of disposable cash, trying to affect the habits and style of wealthy gay men in order to attract women.
“I’d prefer it if the term reflected a little more depth,” he continues. “To me, it should be about more than grooming and dressing yourself correctly, or being knowledgeable about in-vogue topics. I want it to be about being worldly, or cosmopolitan. It should be about having a refined masculinity, not just being a fop.”
Pope—who starts UC Davis in June—says that being a metrosexual also means staying in shape. But there’s a limit: “I work out and I’m always trying to improve myself. But I am not now, nor will ever be, one of those ‘ripped’ Abercrombie & Fitch guys.”
Most observers credit the catchall “media” (TV, films, music videos) for guys’ sudden interest in themselves. Take the premise of the runaway television hit, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”: Every week a group of gay men, dubbed The Fab Five, descend on a lumpy, straight schnook. By introducing him to the apparently never-before-considered concept of taste—in clothing, décor, hairdo, skin care, food, wine and culture—they remake him as a stylish, straight schnook.
But Bill Hoshall, who owns a self-named salon/spa in Folsom as well as a traditional hair salon in Carmichael, says that the recent influence of television is only part of the story. “Guys see TV stars and athletes who pamper themselves and they think it might be OK to do it themselves,” he says. “But this has been going on for a long time. When I opened my first salon about 20 years ago, men were into looking good but were in the closet about it. I used to have guys who’d make appointments with me for the end of the day, just before or just after the salon closed. Usually, they just wanted their hair colored to help them drop a few years. But they were very embarrassed about it.”
Coming to Terms
Not any more. If guys are red-faced about a spa appointment these days, it’s probably because they were in need of a soothing facial (before the appointment) or just had a bronzing (at the appointment).
To cast a clear eye on the straight guy—and to better understand what makes Sammy’s eye cream run—maybe we should first define what a “metrosexual” is not.
He is neither the most attractive member of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce nor someone who gets inappropriately frisky on the famous subway in Paris.
The most likely reason he’ll announce he’s coming out of the closet is so he won’t bump you in the eye with the door. Which is to say, he’s probably straight. He simply doesn’t think his heterosexuality is threatened by his vanity. In fact, he often views his vanity as a career move, figuring that most people would rather do business with or date someone who’s stylishly coiffed, evenly tanned and impeccably manicured than with, say, Marilyn Manson. So he spends time and money on himself. He works out. He gets massages and facials. He dyes or replaces his hair (sometimes under the dubious assumption that having a Chia Pet dozing on his scalp is preferable to a combover).
Not surprisingly, the most visible metrosexuals in Sacramento are in the media and elected office. For these guys, looking good equals livelihood. We have everyone from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—he of the burnished bod and burnt-sienna hair—to state Sen. (and comb-over king) John Burton. From UPN’s charming changeling Mark S. Allen to KOVR-TV’s Paul Joncich, who manages to be even dimplier than Stan Atkinson was in his prime.
For men whose faces aren’t their fortunes, however, metrosexuality may be an entertaining stew whose main ingredients are health and self-esteem. “Whenever I hear the term ‘metrosexual,’ I think of it as indicating someone much more over the top about his appearance than I am,” says Steve McLaughlin, 26, who works for the Mercury Insurance Group.
“I don’t really do much more than try to make myself look presentable and hold myself in good regard. I play lacrosse to stay in shape, so I definitely enjoy massages. But I can’t really afford to have them all that often.” As for fashion, the New Jersey native says, “I do a lot of shopping at Old Navy, which is hip enough but also affordable.” Yet, with the encouragement of his bride of less than a year, Tasha Emery McLaughlin, who works for the Sacramento Theatre Company, McLaughlin says “it’s highly possible” he’s moving in the direction of metrosexuality. “Sometimes when my face gets dry—which is something I never used to care about or even notice that much—I might borrow something from Tasha to, uh, moisturize.”
Lexicological luminary William Safire defined metrosexuality as a “new word for the new narcissism” late last year, and that seems about right—except that narcissism isn’t exactly new for guys. Think about what men wore at the royal court just before the French Revolution—wigs, beauty marks, high heels and hose—or what they still wear today in the English courts (powdered wigs and flowing black muumuus—oh, I’m sorry: robes). Think back to some of your favorite gangster movies of the 1930s, which depicted criminal warlords barking out orders while receiving facials and nail jobs.
More recently, we had John Gotti, who was called The Dapper Don, which apparently sounded a little better than The Well-Coiffed Crook. This guy, a murderer who died in prison, had enjoyed a weird popularity that was based in large part on his attention to personal grooming: great hair, great nails, decent complexion, gorgeous suits and overcoats.
Fifty years ago, Hugh Hefner created Playboy magazine, a publication that continues to celebrate, with equal gravitas, civilized male-heterosexual hedonism and airbrushed women. The “Playboy Philosophy,” an early belief system for metrosexuals, tenderly guided young men through the dos and don’ts of stylish apartment living, wine and cocktails, books and films—and, from the 1960s to 1980s, through their most important rite of passage: that’s right, selecting the proper stereo components.
At 54, Peter Torza is old enough to have been there, donned that. Torza is the owner of Black Pearl Seafood and Oyster Bar and co-owner of Harlow’s, both of which sit on a stretch of J Street filled with metrosexual hangouts, including Randy Paragary’s Centro (and its upstairs cousin, Blue Cue) as well as the Momo Lounge, atop Harlow’s. For a time in the 1980s, Torza looked a bit like Richard Gere in American Gigolo (the Johnny Armani look). Then he’d get back from a trip to Miami and channel Don Johnson in “Miami Vice” (three-day stubble, pastel suits worn over pastel T-shirts, great shoes, no socks). Or visit Vietnam and return wearing a green beret. Sometimes, he still reverts to Frank Sinatra mode: skinny tie, tight pants, but because Torza’s blessed with a good head of hair, no Caligula toupee.
“I just liked to be daring, to create some kind of drama,” he says. “I wanted people to look at what I was wearing, be a little shocked but then maybe say, ‘Well, hey, man, this guy can make it work.’ It’s all about ‘Dress To Impress.’” Torza says he always enjoyed bringing his fashion statements to the office. “I’ve had dyed hair, long hair, no hair,” he says. “Whatever seemed to be fun. And you’ve got to take my word for this: None of it was about being vain. I don’t like looking in the mirror that much—I mean, I shave in the shower. I just thought it was fun to get into different looks. If that makes me a metrosexual, so be it.”
If he is, he’s a reluctant one. “I recently saw my dermatologist for a little problem and was told to start using a moisturizer that costs about $80 a tube,” he says with a disbelieving laugh.
“Some of the younger guys who come in here are sort of leading double lives, in a fun way,” says Mary Edwards, the 24-year-old co-owner of Every Six Weeks, a midtown salon. “They might have corporate jobs—a number of my male customers are lawyers—that require them to look a certain way during the day. But at night, well, they’re young guys. They want to go to clubs and they want to look hip. So they get haircuts and hair products that allow them to change their look.” Edwards says that one of the more whimsically named dual-purpose ’dos, the FauxHawk, is among the more adaptable for this purpose. As you might have guessed, the FauxHawk is a modified Mohawk, the bald-on-the-sides/throw-rug-on-top look popularized by a New York Iroquois tribe. But by leaving a little more hair on the sides, you’re able to comb it in a regular-guy style for the office, then gel it into full frightened-porcupine mode for your night on the town.
For her more adventurous metrosexual customers—generally, the ones whose day jobs don’t require them to look like Calvin Klein underwear models—Edwards also does highlights. “Lately, a lot of guys have been asking me to do big solid chunks of color throughout their hair,” she tells me. Trying my best to not sound like someone who was born in 1950 and has been married to the same woman since 1978, I ask if young women are actually drawn to young men who wear their hair like The Joker. “Oh, sure,” she says. “It’s all about fashion. If a girl knows a guy cares about fashion, that’s cool. It means they’ll have something to share.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that “Your mousse or mine?” is about to become a new pickup line. Celesse DeVito, 22, who manages Ana Divac’s L’Image cosmetics store—which is connected to the same-named restaurant at Pavilions Shopping Plaza—says that many of the men who shop there buy products that are meant to improve or enhance their looks. “I sell a lot of under-eye cream,” she says. She takes a quick, appraising gander at the matching Samsonite set beneath my own peepers. “You might want to try this,” she says, offering me two daubs of Baxter Under-Eye Complex, which is a product, not a psychological condition. I have to admit it smells pretty good: It has one of those noncommittal scents you find in certain Vitamin E, first-aid and diaper rash creams. “I like it,” I say. “You’re not supposed to put it on your knuckles,” she points out gently.
One man’s man who’s refreshingly open about his own metrosexuality is the aforementioned Bill Hoshall. Hoshall, an Oklahoma native who was raised in Sacramento, is a tall, solidly built ex-Marine. He’s been in the hair biz for four decades but in the spa biz “for only the past four-plus years.” This last part is surprising. His spacious Folsom facility, elegantly designed by his wife, Joyce, bustles like a long-established destination. It includes numerous stations for hair work and beautician training in one section, for skin and body care in another. A separate quadrant, into which Asian music is piped, contains a sauna, steam room, showers and a series of soundproof rooms for meditation, massage and other therapies, such as “salt glows” (used to remove no longer appreciated skin cells). Signs on the closed doors urge those padding by in the corridor to stay quiet because the occupants of the room are “in bliss.”
On a recent visit, I meet Ken LeCompte and his wife, Frances, who are wearing white bathrobes, flip-flops and dreamy looks. He’s a car salesman for Folsom Imports—“I sell toys,” he says in an ironic but extremely relaxed voice—and she’s an artist who specializes in leather designs. She also has an extremely relaxed voice. This is, of course, why the LeComptes have come here, though this is Ken’s first visit. “I just told him, ‘Why go to Calistoga when we can get here in 20 minutes?’” she says. (The LeComptes are Land Park residents.)
“We also offer Botox injections,” Hoshall tells me. “We have a physician who comes by on a regular basis.” He rubs his handsome, admittedly bottle-bronzed face and says with a leftover bit of Oklahoma twang, “In fact, I’m a bit overdue. It’s been about six months since my last injections.”
If Hoshall’s candor about practicing what he preaches is still unusual for men of his generation, it’s becoming increasingly routine for younger metrosexuals. Sarah Webber, another salesperson at L’Image whom I meet on a subsequent visit, says, “It’s true that some men around your age and older come in to buy things for their wives and end up checking out our stuff for men. But guys in their 20s and 30s aren’t the least bit awkward about coming in and shopping for products.”
As if to make her case, as we’re speaking, a friend of hers, 23-year-old Matt Albright, strolls in to say hi and stock up on some goods. “I don’t consider myself a metrosexual,” he says, “but I do feel that pampering yourself now and then doesn’t hurt anybody or anything.” Albright first started looking around for skin-care products because he snowboards in the winter, skis in the summer, and says, “I have delicate skin, thanks to my being of German descent. I didn’t want to buy anything too girly, so I got some of the all-in-one treatment products.”
Edwards says that while women like it when a man cares about his own appearance, “The guy doesn’t want to look like it took him all that long to achieve the look. That’s why I give a lot of guys short but very careful haircuts—so they can give the impression their hair looked like this when they got up and that they don’t care all that much about it. But they do, believe me.”
According to Clemens, “Guys are doing something women have done forever: They’re buying products to help them give the impression that they looked this good when they got up this morning. That makes them feel good about themselves.”
“The corporate world has created a lot of stress for young men and older men,” says Hoshall. “The word ‘metrosexual’ may be trendy but the notion of a man taking better care of himself inside and out is here to stay.”
To which I say, amen—and pass me the under-eye cream.