By Dom (Friend of Mike)
10th September 2014
I’ve always disliked t-shirts designed for men to wear. The material used is generally too thick, the colours too garish, the slogans too shouty and the perishable washing temperature too damn low. Much more than this though, I dislike the thick neckline on many mens’ t-shirts. I’m sounding extremely intolerant here, I know, but these necklines are a disgrace. I’m talking about the tougher part of a t-shirt that is sort of woven into the top of the shirt to stop the ends from getting frayed. Since I was a teenager, and I’m 37 now, I’ve cut out these necklines (if that’s what they are called) and prefer the freed-up feeling of a t-shirt without this kind of constraint. “Man up” I hear you cry. Not a bit of it. My masculinity is positively impeded by not being able to reveal part of my lower neck and upper thorax by the kind of t-shirt you’d typically find available for men. “Narcissist” I hear you cry. I don’t see that, people should feel free to express who they are in the clothes that feel right for them, and I’m not talking about spending enough money or wearing clothes that carry the stamp of some kind of social approval, I’m talking about wearing clothes that are a natural extension of you, uniquely you, regardless of trends, expectations or gendered pressures.
My hang-up with t-shirts led me to think about this some more though. How is masculinity being manufactured via clothing? What is the link between the clothes available for men to wear, both via retailers and in terms of cultural permissiveness, and the construction of masculine identity? I don’t understand exactly why I like to cut out the neckline from most mens’ t-shirts before comfortably wearing them, but my instinctive feeling is that there is a tension between wanting to wear clothes that are in line with my experience of being a human being (the human being that I am) and pressure to wear clothes that, by bearing distinct signifiers, are in line with being a ‘regular man’.
I will finally wind my way round, briefly to the implications this piece holds for male mental health. My experience leads me to believe that men cannot enjoy the kaleidoscope of ‘the human experience’ to the degree that they might. This includes a wide range of components including how men look, how men behave and even how men think. We are constrained by regulations from within and outside to fit a rather narrow slither or what being a human being might be. In non-obvious ways, I think this has a toll for male mental health. I do not know what the route forward here is, but would love to hear what other people’s thoughts and experiences are on the subject of male clothing and mental health.
Copyright 2014 – MEN HEAL and Dom