Remember Just For Men? Or ‘JFM’ as it likes to call itself now. Well, it never went away – and it’s all over social media. Though perhaps it’s just my social media – because those pesky algorithms know how old and grey I am now.
Launched in the late 1980s by Combe Incorporated of White Plains NY (who also market Grecian 2000), Just For Men was a pioneering mainstream male vanity brand. If incredibly cheesy. They became a byword for camp in the sense of failed seriousness. And that quasi religious American style of a life transformed by a slightly shonky product.
Middle-aged men popped up on our TV screens concerned about their grey hair – but also concerned about dyeing it. About being inauthentic and feminine and fussy. What a dilemma!
Just For Men to the rescue! As the name suggested – nay, insisted – it wasn’t at all feminine. And it ‘naturally’ ‘shaded’ away grey hair. So you wouldn’t look Too Gay. Even better, your wife – and let’s be sure to emphasise here that every single man who used JFM had at least one – gave you permission!
‘I REALLY didn’t want my husband to colour his grey hair!’ exclaims the over-excited wife in the ad below from 1993. (Why? Because people might guess he’s an actor?)
Husband: ‘But then I discovered this, the hair colouring called Just for Men!’
And lo, with no fuss or faffing – in just five minutes! – the grey is ‘blended away’ in the privacy of your own family home for a ‘totally natural look’.
Cue hysterically happy heterosexual couple.
As a final heterosexual reassurance, we’re told ‘Eight out of ten women prefer the Just For Men look to the grey look.’
Things have changed in the Just For Men universe in the intervening decades, just as cultural attitudes to male beauty and ageing have changed. They’re now also targeting men in their late 20s and 30s concerned about the appearance of a few grey hairs. That I can’t even see.
Though of course they are still emphasising that JFM isn’t ‘hair dye’ – and isn’t ‘fussy’. Hence manly names like ‘Autostop’, and applicators designed to look like garage tools.
A big ‘growth’ area recently has been beards, of course. Though again, euphemisms are still in fashion: ‘fuller’ is manvertising for ‘dyed’.
But the wife has gone. She, along with the endearing naffness of the original ads, has been replaced by a spotless hipster kitchen – with really cool chemistry lab style coffee filters! ‘The Husband’ is as attractive and cool and singular as his fittings. If Patrick Bateman had a beard – and you just know that he would today, and that it would be the best beard ever – I guess it would be getting a bit grey now.
I also initially read PREP with a lowercase ‘r’. I guess Just For Men are no longer so anxious about appearing like they’re just for men, after all.
On the subject of beard fetishism, the quest for a ‘fuller’ beard seems to be something of a widely-shared obsession. You can even buy supplements like the one below ‘Man Up’ from ‘Beard Daddy’ that promise to make your pride and joy thicker. Buying it may or may not make your beard ‘fuller’ but it will definitely make you look like a bit of a prick: ‘Fear the daddy beard’.
The official point of these environmentally-friendly contraptions seems to be delicately saving you from the horror of actually having to touch your own penis or ball sack when adjusting your undercarriage. Or save others from the indecorous sight of you rummaging about.
But judging by the design, the name ‘Eletrunks’ – and the long-shot ‘footage’ of the very uncircumcised inventor demonstrating them while apparently doing some kind of arousing yoga in the park – the (semi) hard-sell is that using this new-fangled pee-wee winching system means you have a huge hose.
Despite this, and an entire page on Men’s Health treating them entirely seriously and declaring ‘No guy wants to adjust his junk in public’ these pants may struggle to sell in the UK. Here, wandering around with your hands down the front of your trackies having a really good grope and fondle – and just basically checking that it’s still all there and still lovely – is a favourite pastime for many young men who don’t possibly have quite the same concern for their environment as chaps from Brooklyn.
While everyone else in the 80s wanted to look like they’d walked off the set of Blade Runner or Top Gun, Peter York looked and sounded like he’d stepped out of Dangerous Liaisons. Whenever the co-author of Style Wars and The Sloane Ranger Handbook popped up on telly, as he often did back then, talking about trends or ads in a dapper Saville Row suit, his hair looked like it should be powdered and bowed, and his upper-lip beauty-spotted.
In BBC Four’s recent TV doc The Hipster Handbook – which I was asked to contribute to but was unfortunately unavailable – York seems relatively unaffected by the vulgarities of time, sartorially or even much physically, given that he’s now in his 70s. That imperious ‘high’ hair is still there, if greyed. Though who knows? Maybe it really is a wig now.
His almost drag queen hauteur is still also present and incorrect, enabling him to be wonderfully rude and direct – but entirely politely. I have no idea about York’s sexuality, but in an odd way his persona reminds me slightly of Quentin Crisp (or rather, Hurtian Crisp).
When he visits Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NYC, the birthplace – though perhaps we should call it curationplace – of hipsterism he explains in clipped tones to a local complimenting him on his ‘fashionable’ Olde Worlde overcoat: ‘It’s the national dress of my country’.
York was an anachronism in the 1980s but also strangely, sharply (post)modern. Now that we’re living in a ‘post-postmodern’ world he looks like a time-traveller. Dr Who as market researcher. In Williamsburg he discovers that a decade or so on from their arrival, hipsters and even beards are now thin on the ground, having moved on to pastures more affordable – and are not much missed. Asked to define a hipster a young, clean-shaven man dismisses them as: ‘creatives about to turn into yuppies.’
York also travels to Shoreditch, London where hipsters are, as in most other ‘cool’ enclaves of large cities in the Western world, apparently still very much ‘a thing’ – after all these years of peak hipsterdom and regular pronouncements of its death. It’s full of young creatives being uniquely individual and amazingly authentic in their identical plaid shirts, compulsory facial-hair and passion for really-like-difficult-to-source coffee beans and expensive frosted cereals.
York like any good dandy, aspires to be as artificial as possible. Culture is nature’s enemy and vice versa. Hipsters however, perhaps because they usually have no idea about nature at all – and seem only to have the same ‘ironic’ idea about culture for that matter – are obsessed with authenticity.
‘It’s SO not me’ drawls York.
Paradoxically, the clean-shaven, sharply-dressed old man of slightly camp artifice seemed much more substantial than the young, earnestly ironic men in their ill-fitting beards and table-cloth shirts. Then again, I imagine Mr York is very substantial financially (according to Wikipedia, in addition to his best-selling books he works as a management consultant).
And yes, the doc was entirely focused on the male hipster: the only women interviewed were social commentators, academics or sales staff in hipster clothes shops. To the point where it sometimes looked like a documentary about a bear cub commune. But most people are only interested in the male hipster – and as York points out, most women can’t grow the hipster hallmark: a beard.
York’s mere presence offered a kind of mocking critique of our hairy young creatives – even without the impish glitter he had in his eyes when listening to them as they droned on about the ‘tradition’ and ‘craft’ behind the expensive bottled beer they like to drink and make.
The money shot came when he visited a barbershop in East London, now specialising in ‘facial-hair management’, observing a handsome man-bunned twenty-something chap reclining in a retro barber’s chair getting his bushy brunette beard ‘managed’.
‘Would you like it rounder at the bottom – a lumberjackfinish?’ asked the bearded, inked, young barber solicitously.
At the climax of the ‘management’, the barber rubbed beard conditioner into the customer’s pride and joy.
Regardless of what the actual, existing sexuality of these two young men is it’s difficult to see how this scene could be any gayer. In fact, if it had been properly gay, with your actual gay sex – cocks agogo – it would somehow have been considerably less gay.
And what’s more, it was gay threesome – with York as the older voyeur/punter (in a double-breasted blazer).
‘What does “lumberjack” mean?’ asked York, with a heroically straight face. The barber patiently explained that it’s a ‘wild’, ‘rugged’ look. He mentioned the ‘lumbersexual’. But pronounced it ‘lumbosexual’. Which is, actually, the way it should be pronounced.
The barber, who I think may not have been so much a true believer as just someone trying to make a living, made the salient point that a lot of his customers ‘work in media, architects, or web design, that type of thing’, who ‘spend a lot of time in front of a PC screen so don’t have that feeling of being in touch with their, like, masculine side’.
Amidst all this plaidery and lumbering York’s voiceover tells us that the shelves in the barber shop are positively groaning with beautifully-packaged product: ‘This is not a lumberjack’s cabin – this could be Mayfair’.
He suggests that hipsters’ laborious obsession with ‘masculine authenticity’ produces a look as constructed as what he terms ‘the metrosexual look that went before it’. He also admits that he can’t quite get the ‘beardy thing’ and that it strikes him as ‘a bit steampunk, a bit homosexual – a bit Clone Zone, a bit Tom Selleck in Magnum PI’.
This is probably where I would have popped up saying something unkind. Though I’m not entirely sure that I would have been needed.
All the same, I’ve listed seven unkind thoughts on hipsterism below:
1. Everyone hates hipsters – including & especially hipsters.
They’re far too special and unique and knowing to be captured in a word. Let alone that word. Hipsters want to be the curators never the curated. Which is why everyone delights in pinning the ‘H’ word on them as they try to wriggle away. It’s Kryptonite to their eclectic superpowers. Or garlic to a vampire.
2. Hipsterism is a cult with no credo
As that that big beardy Karl Marx put it: ‘Hipsterism is the sigh of the badly-dressed, a longing for authenticity in an inauthentic, online world. It is the OxyContin of the creative classes.’
3. Hipsters think they’re totally worth it.
And so should you. ‘Artisan’ means: ‘double the price coz expensively-educated kids got their hands dirty – and wrote something amazing on a chalkboard’.
4. Hipsterism is not locally-sourced.
It’s a thoroughly American cultural franchise. Hence hipsters in London or Brighton or Barcelona or Berlin or Rome laboriously replicate the obsessions of American hipsters – such as ‘gourmet burgers’, ‘craft ales’ and ‘real coffee’ – that were a reaction to the Budweiser blandness of American consumerism. Regardless of the fact that in Europe we already have amazing ‘real beer’ and ‘real coffee’ outlets. Called ‘Germany’ and ‘Italy’.
5. Hipster masculinity is also not locally-sourced.
It is imported, assembled and accessorised – curated – largely from officially ironic but rather anxious-looking retro ‘authentic’ American signifiers such as ‘the trucker cap’, or ‘the lumberjack’. Signifiers which are fairly meaningless in the UK – except perhaps as a Monty Python sketch.
6. Hipsterism is the anti-sexual wing of metrosexuality.
Maybe it depends on how aroused you are by gingham, but hipsterism sometimes looks like a form of male self-love that seems to be oddly self-loathing. Flannel shirts as hair shirts. Hipsters generally have big beards and big data allowances instead of bodies. (This is perhaps why some hipsters like to make ‘gender flip’ memes mocking the objectification of women which depend on the notion that men aren’t and can’t be objectified.)
7. The hipster beard is not a beard.
It’s far too heavily overdetermined to be mere face fur. There’s something magical and quasi-sexual about it. At least for hipsters. For all their famous love of irony, most don’t seem terribly ironic about the hairy thing on their chin that they treat like a prized, pampered pet.
The plain, unvarnished, but nicely-conditioned truth is that the hipster beard is a fetish – in the classic Freudian sense of a penis-substitute. This is why they have to be so BIG, and why they can’t leave them alone.