[ANOTHER VIEW]Defining masculinity by the cut of his jeans and a colorful shirtThe other day, I saw a man wearing Evisu jeans on the subway. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I assumed that these were authentic ― the brand of immaculately tailored Japanese denim that goes through over 16 dips of indigo dye, and is processed on antique shuttle looms into jeans that can cost over 600,000 won ($600) per pair.
There is an obvious difference between the essential American and Korean man. Physical characteristics aside, the images and attitudes of Western and Korean men are radically different. In the United States, the highly praised and sought-after image of the American guy is one who graces the posters of Abercrombie and Fitch ads. Rugged, strong and almost grungy, the ideal “American man” is one who shuns excessive maintenance and knows how to take care of himself and his loved ones. A little facial hair, a smidgen of dirt and a hard body are the very qualities that make American girls go crazy.
Strangely in Korea, in a place that seems to bleed raw and traditional masculinity with mandatory military service, the glorified man is one who seems to look like he cares deeply about his appearance. Evidenced in the masses of Korean men who don lavish hairstyles that look more complicated to do than making gimbap (Korean rice rolls) and their form-fitting Dolce and Gabbana or Prada T-shirts and pants, there seem to be dual definitions of Korea’s “man’s man.” Male movie stars in Korea proudly wear colorful sleeveless hoodies over equally colorful T-shirts, whereas America’s male movie stars tend to wear more subdued, baggier ensembles with shorter hair. Is it possible that the image of a strong, able-bodied masculine spirit resonates from these men, who swathe themselves in Roy G. Biv, in the same way it does from a darkly clothed American actor?
It’s interesting to observe the monumental difference of what the typical man looks like in two cultures 7,000 miles away from each other. It’s almost like another era, another planar dimension of masculinity and fashion.
When Details magazine recently published an article entitled “Gay or Asian?” it sparked a national outcry against the defamation of the Asian image in America. Why is it that men who care about their appearance are automatically listed as gay or feminine? Before I came to Korea, I had no idea that masculinity had so many different facets to its image.
Of course, I’m not saying that only Korean men wear Evisu jeans. Men in America do too, but one would never find them on the subway.
I can only imagine what my father, in his Nantucket red chinos and polo shirt, would say if I ever brought home a nice Korean Evisu-clad boy. I suppose it would go something like this: “$400 for a pair of jeans?! Be a man!”
by Sun Soo-hee