Are We Not Men? (Far Too Many Thoughts on The Art of Shaving’s Current Subway Ads)

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11/18/2010 1:29 PM |

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“Men were asking for shirts with slimmer cuts—even in the Midwest. ‘You’re telling me guys are asking for slimmer shirts,’ Drexler said. ‘Slimmer shirts: that’s where the puck is going. Get ready to launch slim shirts. All a guy needs to hear is, Slim shirts are in. The New Slim. If we were in the doughnut business, it would be like selling glazed doughnuts.”
-“The Merchant,” Nick Paumgarten’s profile of J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler, The New Yorker, 9/20/10

We’ve always looked to advertising for instructions in how to play the part of the person we want to be. This is especially true for something like shaving products: laden as they are with all sorts of father-son baggage, and walking a tricky line between man’s-manliness and ladies’-manliness, their advertisements have ever tried to appeal to our sense of what, exactly, “manliness” is. And that seems to be changing, as it does every so often.

For as long as I can remember—which would be as far back as Jack Palance for Skin Bracer aftershave (“Confidence is very sexy…. Don’t you think?”)—ads for shaving products have sought to associate their products with physical prowess, whether with that tough guy from 50s Westerns, or, more recently ubiquitously, with some fit (and chest hairless) model type shaving in a towel. (Who shaves in a towel? Do you? Like after you get out of the shower? Maybe if you’re the kind of person who shaves every couple of days instead of every couple of weeks that makes more sense?)

Lately, especially in stations of the UES-Westchester-Gramercy-Financial District conduit also known as the Lexington Avenue Line, I’ve started to notice ads for The Art of Shaving, a New York-based high-end specialty business purchased last year by Proctor and Gamble. The ads, formal and retro-styled, play up the ritualistic aspect of shaving, implying some sense of carefully handed-down wisdom. (Effective for those of us who sometimes wish we had more frequent cause to get a shoeshine, say, and also a convenient strategy for a boutique carrying specialized products.)

But what I really like are ads like the one in which the shaving model sports not a towel and musculature but a suit. Not that people shave in suits—just that people who’ve shaved tend to look good in suits. And I like this one, too, in which each component of a shaving set is held up by a hand emerging from a well-made suit perfectly paired with a patterned dress shirt, the cuff shooting out just so:

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This is maybe a more long-winded way of saying, simply, All Dudes Learned How to Dress and It Sucks, but I just thought you should be fully appraised of what cultivated manliness means this month. In case it comes up.

(Note that I did not refer to Mad Men once in this borderline-trendpiece about the new classically well-dressed masculinity in which we’re dressing like our dads instead of primping like ladies! Although anecdotally, watching that show has made me a person who is more conscious of the occasion for which he is dressing. We all wonder, as did the male lead in Aaron Katz’s Quiet City, whether we’ll ever know as much about wine as our dad.)