Style Matters





‘What’s up?’

‘Andrew, things are bad’

‘Marco, how bad can things be?’

‘There is blood, Andrew. There is blood’

My friend Marco is texting me half an hour before we are due to head out and apparently there is blood and things are bad.

‘Just dispose of the body carefully and I’ll help you clean up later, Marco’

‘This is no time for jokes, Andrew’

Aiiii. Things seem serious.

‘Spill Marco, what happened?’

‘Three words: Manscaping. Gone. Wrong.’

A shiver passes through my body and I wince involuntarily.

Marco has had a little accident. He continues to disclose the gory details via text.

In preparation for what he hopes the end of the night may hold, Marco decided to partake in a quick little dabble of downstairs upkeep; a cheeky spot of groin topiary before putting himself on the weekend market. Sure, great idea so far.

Yet he was rushed, you see, and slightly nervous and now he has definitely trimmed something and it is definitely not what he was intending to trim and there is blood and things are bad.

I tell Marco I’m having a memory of a drunken relative at a family barbecue failing miserably in his bid to separate sausages, each savage snip of the scissors missing the thin twist of casing between dangling objects and wounding their pink flesh. He tells me he’s currently remembering a clumsy barber he used to visit as a child and the time he went to the bathroom after forgetting to wash hands that had just applied Deep Heat to a sporting injury. Oh Marco.

Manscaping. A neat portmanteau word that results from combining ‘man’ with ‘landscaping’. A relatively new portmanteau word that has not yet made its neatly groomed way into the polished pages of the Oxford English Dictionary (manscape, n. A scene or environment characterised by the presence of a large body of people, or by cultivation, building, or other human activity) but that, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, refers to “the trimming or shaving of a man’s body hair so as to enhance his appearance”.

It is generally agreed that manscaping involves a light prune of the hairy garden rather than its total destruction, but there has been debate about the specificity of the term in relation to particular body parts. Trimming the hair on one’s head? Not manscaping. Neatening up one’s beard? Possibly manscaping, possibly not. Ensuring one’s ‘undercarriage’ is smooth to the touch? Almost definitely manscaping.

A quick survey of male friends and friends who sleep with males revealed that, at least in Sydney circles, the practice of manscaping now seems to have become common practice. Friends of all ages, sexualities and backgrounds espoused the view that they preferred male lovers who occupied a position on the hirsute scale that went far past ‘totally smooth and ewwwww disturbingly infantile’ but that stopped far short of ‘completely hairy and woahhhh unnervingly yeti’. A scientific study published in the top-ranking empirical journal Cosmopolitan a few years ago confirms that such a finding is probably not all that unusual. Most friends were also of the opinion that, especially given expectations that had long been placed on females in relation to personal grooming and general appearance, it was about damn time that men came to grips with how to glide lethally sharp blades over highly sensitive areas. No Cosmopolitan study to complement that opinion.  

A variety of theories exist about why manscaping has experienced a surge in popularity in Western culture in the last decade. These range from cultural and social theorists generating high-brow dialogues to continue to earn their post-post-modern, crusts (manscaping is due to: alienation! narcissism! fear! control!?, metrosexuality and shifting gender roles?, mastery over nature?, gay rebellion disturbingly mediated through the ritual of heteronormativity?) to pop culture aficionados waxing (geddit?) lyrical about aesthetics to various news sources extolling the hygienic benefits of manscaping practices. For these and possibly other reasons, manscaping looks here to stay for the foreseeable future. Poor old Marco.    

Based in Sydney, with a background in psychology, Andrew has written and interviewed people about music, theatre, film, art and fashion for a variety of popular publications and academic journals.

Style Matters




“Outraged, Andrew! I am outraged!” fumes my colleague, Trin.  While it may take presidential candidates who claim that the pyramids were used to store grain or who wish to begin a Muslim database to provoke the oomph of outrage in most of us, Trin has a lower threshold, tending to outrage freely if her soup is served lukewarm (“My ex was hotter than this tepid mess and he had man boobs!”), if someone tries to parallel park in front of her (“If I wanted my journey to be delayed by the great unwashed, I would have taken public transport!”) or, in this instance, if online dating hasn’t gone her way.

Trin is outraged, she tells me, because the man she met for a first date stormed out of the bar as soon as she settled down in front of him. Given this kind of reaction is usually inspired by Trin’s personality, rather than her looks, I voice surprise: what could possibly have triggered such behaviour? Trin fleetingly mentions her profile pictures before reverting back to outrage.

“Wait, sorry Trin…did you just say none of the pictures on your online dating profile were of you?” 

“Of course they weren’t. They were of some actress from Grey’s Anatomy who my friends told me I looked like one night after we’d had a few drinks and I asked them who my celebrity doppelganger was. Anyway, the spine of this man to just get up and…”

“Woah Trin, hold up. Show me these pictures.”

Trin rolls her eyes and emits an exasperated ‘humph’. I am shown a set of photos of an enchanting woman at least 30 years Trin’s junior who looks entirely dissimilar to her in almost every possible way. Scrolling through, I realise that while this date was not quite anticipating sharing dirty martinis with pre-restoration Ecce Homo Jesus only to have post-Gimenez-treatment monkey man show up, we are almost in that territory.

“Trin, there might have been nicer ways of handling the situation, but is it possible your date left because he was expecting this woman to arrive and you are not her?”

“Ridiculous, Andrew. This is online dating. You would be stupid to expect anyone to look anything like they do in their profile pictures!”

While Trin’s sense of entitlement stirs up the outrage in me, I see the logic in her argument. When teen Instagram sen-selfie-sation Essena O’Neill ‘quit’ social media a few weeks ago, revealing the not-so-glamorous ‘secrets’ behind most of her previous oh-so-glamorous posts, she became the newly-authentic face that launched thousands of warts-and-all ‘reality’ ships. Following O’Neill’s lead, myriad ‘grammers, bloggers and ‘tubers ‘came out’ of their online closets, racing to showcase how different their everyday lives were to those they had constructed on social media in an attempt to demonstrate solidarity with O’Neill’s new manifesto that “Social media is NOT real life”.

Reading through online commentary about O’Neill and the ‘revolution’ she has sparked, I couldn’t shake the feeling that none of this was very radical. “Social media is NOT real life”? To quote another ‘revolutionary’: ‘Duh’. While our social media accounts may vary in the thoroughness of their curation and sophistication of their styling, is there anyone who isn’t guilty of having an online presence that goes through some type of press-release process

Commuting during peak hour, our face pressed into someone else’s armpit, holed up for hours under fluorescent lighting in a windowless office, struggling through boring paperwork, we don’t want to open our phones and see photos of people trapped in the same mundane reality. Instead, we want an escape: space, time, freedom from the daily grind, exotic locales, toned bodies and endless good times with endless friends. With the exception of the very privileged, very few, no one really looks like that (except, perhaps, those captured ‘in the wild’ by street-style photographers – hi Giuseppe!), lives that life, indulges in that luxury or experiences uniformly positive emotion on the reg. No way. If we did, the accounts of people who peddle that fantasy, people like O’Neill, wouldn’t have amassed over 750 000 followers and there wouldn’t be such intrigue generated when that fantasy is exposed for what it is.

We may not be aware of it, but part of us knows that social media is not real life and that is why it can exert such a strong influence over us. Our demand for fantasy fuels its supply. More radical than asserting that social media is not real life would be using social media to document all the elements of our lives that make us uneasy and that we try to keep hidden, both from ourselves and from others. But to do so, to remove the ‘virtual’ from the elements of reality displayed by our online selves, would be, in a word, outrageous.

Based in Sydney, with a background in psychology, Andrew has written and interviewed people about music, theatre, film, art and fashion for a variety of popular publications and academic journals.

Style Matters




Smells of patchouli oil, chai tea and sandalwood incense float through the air. I stand amongst gum trees, an aural healer to my left. For 50 dollars, he will let you sit in the middle of four glass cylinders that he then proceeds to beat the shit out of for about half an hour. They ring out with a noise that sits somewhere between the sounds of tortured wind chimes and taking advantage of human vulnerabilities. To my right is a self-proclaimed, rune-reading druid. Enough said.

I am in Victoria, visiting friends of mine, one of whom has a residency at Dunmoochin, an artists’ colony established by Clifton Pugh, an esteemed Australian portrait artist and winner of multiple Archibald Prizes. They have taken me to the St Andrews Community Market, a regular gathering of stallholders, visitors and those who live in and around St Andrews, a bush town nestled at the foot of the Yarra Ranges, an hour’s drive north-east of Melbourne.  

The market has taken place here every Saturday morning for more than 40 years. Fresh fruit and vegetables, recycled clothing, natural remedies, second-hand goods and homemade products are some of the wares on display. All around me, people are bumping into each other and exchanging news, live music is being enjoyed and families are lolling in the sunshine. As I wander around, I eavesdrop on snippets of conversation. These make clear that the market plays an integral role in consolidating the bonds that underpin this area’s strong sense of community.

As my burger-and-beer-built body enters superfood-induced shock over the vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, refined-sugar-free, tofu, kale and some-ancient-grain-that-sounds-very-different-to-how-it-is-spelled lunch to which I just subjected it, I step back and observe the crowd. Immediately, I am struck by how easy it is to identify the two main groups of people in attendance: the locals and the visiting inner-city dwellers. Clothing, accessories and hairstyles easily distinguish one group from the other. Locals are all about loose, flowing, colourful fabrics, tie-dye, dreadlocks, crystals hung on leather, dusty boots, East-Asian, African and South American prints, nose rings, colourful hats and tattoos of third-eyes and other mystic symbols. Visitors from the city favour black everything, slim-cut jeans, designer sunglasses, chunky jewellery of metal or resin, tailored leather jackets, sneakers, flats or loafers, asymmetry and impeccably maintained haircuts. 

The local aesthetic is hippie, earthy and rough around the edges, while the urban Melbourne look is sharp, streamlined and polished; but members of both groups have put time, effort and thought into their styling. Everyone has curated their look to signal membership of a particular group by closely matching its visual aesthetic. What comes first, people who dress similarly forming a group or people who form a group dressing similarly, is a chicken-or-egg question for another time. However, if even the local St Andrews population—a community that prides itself on consciously living a lifestyle that does not mindlessly follow mainstream trends or culture—follows a strict, largely implicit dress code, the human urge to belong to a group of people and to outwardly exhibit this membership to others must be pretty strong.

Many of us wore uniforms at school and must obey dress codes at our places of employment. Yet, almost without realizing it, most of us continue wearing a “uniform” even when we don’t have to. In our downtime, we dress in ways that strongly identify us with groups that share elements of our lives—geography, income bracket, sexuality, education level, political preference and lifestyle practices. We feel this when we travel and find others labelling us based on what we wear. When I visit my suburban hometown, I’m a city slicker. When I visit Perth, I’m an Eastern stater. When I visit the inner-western suburbs of Sydney, I’m an inner-eastern suburb dweller. 

We clad ourselves in items of clothing that signal our belonging, or our wish to belong, to particular groups and our distance from other groups from which we wish to remain separate. This behaviour makes sense given our evolutionary background—our chances of survival are increased if others are willing to offer you help, and looking alike increases this willingness. External appearance is a quick and effective way of signalling similarity. I would be more likely to rescue a Sydneysider from the jaws of a sabre-toothed tiger than a Melburnian because, based on their appearance, I would perceive the Sydneysider as more similar to me and, therefore, more worthy of receiving my help. (Also, Sydneysiders are better people and will always be more worth saving than Melburnians—just saying.) 

“You’re all individuals,” Brian says to his crowd of followers in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. “Yes, we’re all individuals,” chants the crowd. “You’re all different,” declares Brian. “Yes, we’re all different,” replies the crowd. There is a truth to the humour in these lines. Perhaps more than we would like, we all comply with certain unspoken rules when it comes to style, in order to show our allegiance to a particular group. Anyone disheartened by this realization should remember that they wouldn’t be here if their ancestors hadn’t demonstrated exactly this behaviour.

Based in Sydney, with a background in psychology, Andrew has written and interviewed people about music, theatre, film, art and fashion for a variety of popular publications and academic journals.

Style Matters




“This is perfect for summer,” chirps the retail assistant as he hands me the canary-yellow raincoat I am purchasing from his streetwear store, a welcoming space hidden down a cobblestoned, postcard-worthy Shoreditch laneway. I glance at my expat friend beside me and raise a puzzled eyebrow. She smiles slightly and issues a subtle nod as if to say, “They do summer differently in London.” She used to live in Sydney. I still do. We both associate summer with levels of humidity so oppressive that even thinking about moving causes you to break into a sweat and with heat so intense that, in the words of my eccentric great-uncle, “the trees lean towards every dog that walks by in the hope of getting a drink.” Not exactly raincoat weather.

Thousands of kilometres and many months stand between the moment I bought that raincoat and now. Yet still, whenever my fingers brush against its rubberised material, my first thought is always that it is perfect for summer. This association is all wrong for a Sydneysider. Yet it persists. It is one of many thoughts that pass through my mind when I pick up that raincoat, all of which spring from memories of my time in London: the smell of freshly baked bagels from the Brick Lane Bakery, the taste of the handmade ricotta and black truffle ravioli at Burro e Salvia, the rainbow splay of colours across peonies, begonias and more at Columbia Road flower markets, with its cockney soundtrack of stallholders’ pitches. These memories are inextricably linked to my raincoat: meaning and experience have become interwoven with the fabric of the garment itself.

When I was a teenager, my mother threw out my maroon high-top Converse All Star sneakers without consulting me. To be fair, they were not in the best state. On each side of both shoes, the canvas had separated from the rubber sole so that they functioned more like poorly made sandals than proper shoes. They emitted a smell capable of stopping a cheetah in its tracks, thanks to years spent absorbing the juices of sockless teenage-boy feet. As an adult, I can almost understand why my mother mistook—or, perhaps, “mistook”—them for rubbish. At the time, though, I was devastated. While they looked like hazardous waste to my mother, to me they were a record of formative moments from my adolescent life. They were the first pair of shoes that I had ever chosen, the first time I had been in control of what I would wear on my feet. They were shoes I could imagine being worn by my new-found heroes Billy Joe Armstrong from Green Day and Tom DeLonge from Blink 182. These were the shoes that I paired proudly with my favourite pair of statement shorts, an aqua-blue jersey number trimmed on either side with lime-green terry towelling, to wear to the local shopping centre as part of a very teenage move to impress upon the world that “my sense of style is very UNIQUE and DIFFERENT and SO AM I but you’ll never understand what it’s like to be me and you don’t care anyway so shut the fuck up.” They were special shoes.

I am no longer that revolting teenager wondering why his mother threw out his favourite pair of—let’s be honest—completely revolting shoes. A decade or so of life experience has freed me from my adolescent sense of self-importance and the need to exert so violently on the world who it is I feel I am and how I feel I am different. Yet, as it did back then, clothing continues to absorb and retain my memories and experiences.

When I travel, I buy clothes as a tangible reminder of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. This vintage Adidas jacket recalls my obsession with Freud in Vienna, sourced from a street-side vending machine for second-hand clothes on the way to the Freud Museum after sitting in Freud Park, reading Freud. This royal blue Opening Ceremony sweater with an applique alligator is Berlin Berlin Berlin: unpolished floorboards in an apartment overlooking the Görlitzer, Kreuzberg’s VooStore, weaving through the many rooms of Peristal Singum (a labyrinth constructed under an old block of apartments on the outskirts of Friedrichshain) and losing hours to the Berghain. These H&M tobacco boat shorts are a summer conference, buckets of beer beside the old bullring and karaoke in Granada, all en route to a wedding near Toronto. And on and on and on. Browsing my wardrobe opens an interactive archive of my life, through which I dive straight back to moments, moods and feelings from my past.

Our style reveals more about us than we are aware. We purchase or receive our clothes for particular reasons at particular times in our life when we are with or without important people, aspiring to be someone, hoping to appeal in certain ways, holding particular values, or in a location that feels like home or makes us feel homesick. Clothing shares significant links to the people, places, ideas and objects. Cleaning out a wardrobe requires more work than the physical labour it demands. As we sort through our clothing, we are sifting through past versions of ourselves. We purge parts of the person we no longer want to be by throwing out the clothing we associate with that time, while keeping other pieces in the hope of retaining the parts of ourselves that we want to carry into our future.

Based in Sydney, with a background in psychology, Andrew has written and interviewed people about music, theatre, film, art and fashion for a variety of popular publications and academic journals.