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Urban fashion > when less is more July 19, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Fashion.

They live among us. Real men in every way. They work, they run, they cut watermelon. But they’re different. Not like me and you. On the inside they’re tense, shrunken, cowering. It’s hard to discern, but believe me, these men are at a total loss. They just can’t imagine themselves in shorts.

A reluctance to put on shorts, this is the new point of surrender for men in modern life. It wasn’t this way in the days of ancient Greece and Rome, when they wore those sexy tunics. It wasn’t that way in Scotland, where male entry into any popular celebration was and remains dependent on a hot-looking checked kilt. It wasn’t this way in the British army when they developed Bermuda shorts especially for the troops fighting in all those humid places. And it most certainly wasn’t this way in the Palmach pre-state militia, where khakis were rolled nearly all the way up to the groin, for the comfort of the male fighters, and probably the women fighters, too.

But now the deformation of the male appearance that has been wrought over the ages has brought us to the point where shorts, that basic item in the summer wardrobe, have become an object of derision. They’re embarrassing. There’s something a little tainted about them. Go into any hip locale these days wearing shorts and feel the questioning stares settle on you, as if it’s all part of some joke, or as if you were a moshavnik.

It’s amazing to see just how many reasons men find to rule out wearing shorts. One thinks that his legs are two thick, another thinks they’re too scrawny. This one thinks that his legs are too dark, and that one thinks his are too pale. Some think that shorts are too straight, and others that they’re too gay. It makes no difference that one guy’s reason for shunning them is the exact opposite of the other guy’s. Which is to say that what prevents Guy X from wearing shorts is exactly what Guy Y thinks he needs in order to wear them. How much anguish we’d be spared if we could only trade neurotic fixations with one another.

This contradiction, the fact that shorts have gotten a bad rep for conflicting reasons, may not be enough to change the ways of each individual man, but it can teach us that the problem is not subjective. It’s not the men themselves who produced this aversion, but time and its vagaries, or what’s better known by the German term Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.

Our era is one that hates body hair. We like a smooth, shiny look. This is one reason for the unease that men feel about their legs. Another reason is that our era is not big on men’s legs. Nowadays, on the physical plane, a man is judged on his upper body, from the hips on up; his legs hold no sex appeal. Does anyone mind that Tom Cruise has munchkin legs? Did you ever meet a woman who says that the sexiest thing about a man is his thighs?

City life is responsible for all of this. A man who fears shorts is first and last an urbanite. You can’t be a farmer or a trekker, a frontiersman or a desert dweller and not view shorts as a necessity and a blessing, an irreplaceable solution for life in a hot land. Only the city can lead a man to develop a complex about his body, because the city itself is a complex – of buildings and desires, tastes and neuroses. The closed spaces of the big metropolis, the office, the foyer, the museum and bar, create a devious human milieu, brimming with conflicting messages, which cause a man to stop behaving innocently, to retreat from his natural self, until he has to ask whether it’s okay to enter a bank with his knees showing, to wonder if there’s something amiss with his calves, to agonize over his toenails or, in short, to start thinking like a sexy girl. And clearly, the trend of hair-removal by laser has only exacerbated the problem. On the urban fashion front, we are essentially at the stage where a man’s bare legs, outside of sports or bathing facilities, are a synonym for lack of refinement and inspiration, if not outright neglect and coarseness.

The funny thing is that the more the passage of time impels men to cover up and conceal, it permits women to uncover and reveal. Who’s running things around here anyway? Anyone who ponders developments in the feminine wardrobe will quickly see that ever since Madonna turned the brassiere into a fashion statement, exposure of the female body has come to be perceived as less and less dramatic. With midriff tops, low-slung pants, miniskirts, tank tops and shorts, women are showing their bodies with a freedom unprecedented in history, while males are waking up grumbling from a sweaty slumber, and fighting off the nausea aroused by having to wear long pants in summer with the most toxic, self-destructive weapon since greenhouse gases: three-quarter-length pants.

Men’s legs are the new tits. Zeitgeist, body hair, urban life. Does the upshot of all these really have to be a moratorium on male leg exposure? The answer emerges every year when the answers to such existential questions are given, i.e., on the catwalks of the big international designers, and it is “no.” Absolutely not. Any “fashion-aware” folks who tell you otherwise don’t know what they’re talking about. Awareness is a very common Israeli form of ignorance.

There is not a single fashion designer today who thinks that modern man must avoid showing his legs, and the hair on them, in public. On the contrary, they all think that men’s legs ought to be shown off at every opportunity and suggest dozens of fine ways to do that, by day or night, at work or leisure, with either a loose or tailored look. Ways that are impressive not only in their design, but also in their ease and comfort, in the way they gift-wrap the man. For now, men still have to explain why they wear shorts in summer.

Sometimes I wonder what distortions have dictated local taste, what primal urges and prejudices have led to such an inferior aesthetic outlook and why, of all places, in a Mediterranean country like ours, and particularly among the fashion elite did short pants get such a bad rep around here? Is it a counter-reaction to the ethos of the sabra, with his trademark short pants and sandals? Is it a protest against the endless parade of wrongs that the man inflicts on his appearance? Or is it the case this time, too, as in other instances, that the elite is just being revealed in all its provinciality? No one knows.

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