University of Hertfordshire

Making Menswear Masculine: Mediated Masculinity in Online Fashion Communities

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2017
EventCanadian Communication Association (CCA) Annual Conference 2017 - Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada
Duration: 30 May 20172 Jun 2017


ConferenceCanadian Communication Association (CCA) Annual Conference 2017


Consumption has historically been gendered as a feminine activity, and this continues to be the case (Featherstone, 1998). This is especially so when it comes to the consumption of clothing commodities produced by the fashion industry. Dominant gender ideologies associate fashion with traits that are closely tied to socially constructed notions of femininity: vanity, superficiality and powerlessness (Tseëlon, 1995). In the context of a gender binary that positions masculinity as the repudiation of femininity, fashion is often seen as somehow un-masculine, by virtue of the fact that it is supposedly feminine (Buchbinder, 2012). These ideas about femininity and masculinity are among the common-sense assumptions that reproduce what Connell (1995) refers to as ‘hegemonic masculinity,’ making the most dominant ways of being a man seem natural and fixed. Yet contrary to what these notions of fashion and consumption suggest, there are a number of online communities in which predominantly straight men discuss clothes and shopping in intimate detail. This paper asks: how do these men reconcile their passion for clothing with dominant notions of masculinity that label this behaviour ‘un-masculine’?

This question is addressed through analysis of fifty in-depth interviews carried out with male, heterosexual members of online fashion communities. These men were interviewed in major metropolitan centres in Britain, Canada and the United States. The qualitative interviews were supplemented with an online ethnography of the online communities that these men participated in. While the author expected to find that the research participants’ engagement with fashion challenged socially constructed notions of masculinity, this was not the case. Rather, these men actually reproduced gendered notions of fashion and consumption. They did so by making a distinction between ‘style’ and ‘fashion’. These men worked to associate ‘style’ with masculinity by emphasising the rational, value-seeking, and goal-oriented nature of their dressing. This was contrasted with what they saw as the irrational and manipulated nature of ‘fashion’ – the binary opposite of ‘style’. Members of these online communities thusly worked to ensure that their passion for menswear was not ‘tainted’ by associations with femininity or effeminacy, re-defining their consumer practices as a masculine pursuit. They did so by describing it as just another male hobby, similar to other gendered hobbies such as repairing automobile repair and building model train sets. Where ‘shopping’ is gendered as female, they presented their consumer behaviour as ‘collecting’, drawing on hegemonic masculinity by describing their consumption of clothing as a ‘hunt’ in which they were empowered and in-control. The final section of this paper looks more closely at these online communities’ discursive construction of menswear as rational, comparing it to the “instrumental rationality that Almog and Kaplan (2015) have observed in online ‘seduction communities’. Contributing to our understanding of how masculinity is performed within online communities, the author concludes that while the increasing participation of men in online consumer culture might appear to suggest a shift in masculinity, it is actually evidence of hegemonic masculinity’s mutability.

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