The New York Times on Just Being a Guy

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Zachary Catazaro and Joshua Thew from Mark Trent's video / via

A New York Times front-page house ad caught my eye not that long ago because, for one thing, it’s not the typical below-the-fold visual that often shows up. For another thing, it announced a new Men’s Style section.

Zachary Catazaro and Joshua Thew from Mark Trent's video / via
Zachary Catazaro and Joshua Thew
from Mark Trent’s video / via

Depicted in the ad is a young man, early twenties, in a blue-ish-black suit and open-neck shirt with his arms extended and one leg in front of the other leg, toe of shoe to the floor. The copy said, “A monthly guide to dressing, grooming and just being a guy.”

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What got me wasn’t the introduction of a new section: that’s something the Times does every once in a while. (It also eliminates them. What happened to the Thursday Home section?) It was the phrase “…and just being a guy.” Those five words stopped me cold.

To whom was it meant to appeal? Oh, I recognized it instantly as another of the Times’ attempts to lure younger readers. The enduring Thursday Style section is still intended to do that. But it did seem to typecast out older men as no longer interested in just being a guy. Surely, Times publisher/chairman Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. can’t long to be just a guy any more. Or can he?

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But do many, or any, young men at large these days think about just being a guy or worry that they’re not just being a guy? Will they read the Times to learn how? And doesn’t that “just” carry a good deal of bothersome weight? Can there exist that many Times readers (or potential new readers) who aspire to being just a guy and nothing more? Do they secretly think of themselves as slightly pathetic, or as sufficiently pathetic so as to be grateful for a Times section on how to dress and groom themselves? In 2015, is the Times looking not only to be the journal of record but also a once-monthly lonely guy’s guide?

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Maybe so. Maybe there are enough of Peter Pan’s lost boys to make the section a commendable revenue earner. But no single article in the 32-page D section deals explicitly with how to be just a guy. So it seems implicit that everything in the section is intended as meaningfully just-a-guy instructive:

1. An overall observation: All models in the editorial content, but not necessarily in the many ads (Paul Stuart, Polo, Gucci, Dior, Prada, Bergdorf Goodman, Valentino, Giorgio Armani, Paul Smith, Macy’s, Calvin Klein, Joseph Abboud, John Varvatos, Tommy Hilfiger, Boss, Brunello Cucinelli Faconnable, Canali) appear to be just out of, or not quite yet out of, their teens. The implication is that the Times is stalking these guy-wannabes early.

2. In the “Pulse” column, there’s a teenager in shades and a polo shirt. A comment suggests, “It’s something Don Draper might wear during a visit to the West Coast.” Since Don Draper is much more that just a guy—he’s a much-troubled middle-aged man—the citation seems ill advised. It goes on to say, “The striped polo in pale pink seems right for a stylish ad man with a hidden past.” That’s not very just-a-guy-ish, is it? Do just guys want to have hidden pasts?

3. In the same “Pulse” piece, a teen wears pleated trousers. They “are back…A real sense of masculinity, attitude and personal style is what was necessary to pull off the pleated pant in a natural manner.” What isn’t suggested is that anyone with personal style might have been wearing pleated trousers all along, even when the Times and other fashion publications dictated that they were out. Shouldn’t guys be aware that refusal to follow fashion is precisely what personal style is?

4. On page D8 under the headline “Just Don’t Call Them Bling” (subhead “Gold watches are catching on with a street-smart crowd”), there’s a plug for “the gold watch: so iconic, so burdened with associations.” The rhapsodic blurb calls attention to “a top-of-the-line Apple Watch Edition, a smart watch priced up to $17,000 in jaw-dropping, beautiful 18-carat gold.” So just being a guy with $17,000 helps.

Bow Tie
Sir Patrick Stewart’s dirty secret / via

5. Also on page D8, one of the Styles writers gives a first-person account of being invited to an Oscar party this year but not knowing how to tie a bow tie. After consulting Google without much enlightenment, he overcomes his temporary setback, goes to the party and gets to chat with Sir Patrick Stewart, who confides that when and if he wears a bow tie, it’s a clip-on. Maybe this is truly practical just-a-guy advice, since it implies just guys probably don’t—or shouldn’t—know how to tie a bow tie. Moreover, it may endorse clip-ons for just-Trekkie guys.

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6. Walter Kirn, whom I’ve long considered a first-rate writer, contributes a first-person account under the headline “How I Came Out as Gray.” In it, he confesses that he’s only recently given up coloring his hair and come to grips with the aging process. Whether this is just-a-guy material, I can’t say. (Aimed at just 50-ish guys and older? Kirn is 52, unless he’s also been hiding his real age.) What I can say is that Kirn’s silliness about graying hair has prodded to reexamine the maturity of his novels.

7. Page D14 is devoted to five Condé Nast staffers and how they dress. It had me wondering how many male Condé Nast staffers aspire to “just being a guy.”

8. Mark Zuckerberg, Giorgio Armani, Klaus Biesenbach, Terry Richardson and Daniel Liebeskind are the    subjects of D23. The headline goes “Is He Wearing That Again? You Bet.” The story is about men who have found the clothes they’re at ease with and stick to them. This piece is the one that comes closest to just-a-guydom. For better or worse.

9. “Wipe That Smile Off Your Texts” is the headline on D27. If you can believe this, it’s a full-page article on whether men can include emoji in their email without being thought effeminate. Experts like Columbia University linguist John McWhorter are quoted. Seriously.

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10. D30 and D31 are given over to “A New Freedom in Men’s Suits.” Here’s where it becomes clear that the model in the front-page house ad is New York City Ballet dancer Joshua Thew. In the two-page spread, Thew and fellow dancer Zachary Catazaro hop around in loose-fitting suits that don’t look much different from suits young men have had on for some time.

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Perhaps the conclusion to draw from this new Men’s Styles is: If you’re out to be just a guy, just keep wearing what you’ve been wearing all along.