The Absurd Spectacle of Men in Fancy Feminine Updos

What Women Really Think
Aug. 23 2013 12:37 PM

The Absurd Spectacle of Men in Fancy Feminine Updos

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Screenshot from "Guys With Fancy Lady Hair"

Courtesy of Jessica Saia (author), Isla Murray (photographer) and Ryan Raphael (designer)

Bold Italic, the website that gave us the adorable photo gallery of couples swapping outfits, has produced a new gender-bending photoset: “Guys With Fancy Lady Hair.”

“So many men spend years getting their manes all long and for what?” Bold Italic’s Jessica Saia writes. “To be occasionally bundled into a low ponytail? I'm not sure how ladies got to hoard all of hair's styling potential when men can grow hair out of their faces.” So Saia gives eight long-haired men the prom-night updos society denied them: Mario DiSanto sports an elegant chignon, two well-defined ringlets fall deliberately from Mike Johnson’s top bun, Eric Seydor’s locks are braided around his head and threaded with sprigs of baby’s breath, some teasing at the crown adds a voluptuous kick to Bornen Orelatz’s Brigitte Bardot–inspired look.

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The conceit is simple, but the resulting glamour shots are provocative. It’s normalized for American women to spend hours at the salon molding their hair into spray-blasted bouquets. It’s even considered liberating and fashionable for them to chop it all off, as long as they pair their short cuts with suitably feminine touches so as not to appear too butch. When Beyoncé debuted her new pixie cut—a feminine term for a traditionally masculine hair length—she paired it with cat-eye liner and painted nails; Janelle Monae rode her pompadours and fitted suits to a makeup modeling gig at Cover Girl; Charlize Theron, Amber Rose, and Natalie Portman have all rocked buzz cuts without threatening their most-beautiful-women status.

But when men adopt overtly feminine hairdos, the results seem ridiculous. The eight amateur male models featured here are living right at the edge of acceptably masculine hair styling just by growing their hair past their chins. A ringlet, though, is a bridge too far, even if it’s paired with a lumberjack beard and a baggy tee. There’s just no masculine signifier that can dilute such girliness. That’s because the traditional performance of masculinity thrives on the appearance of effortlessness—though men are judged by the way they look, they’re not supposed to care about it too much. Meanwhile, feminine performance encourages women to expend a great deal of effort on their looks, and then (for their next trick) make it all seem like second nature. (Women, too, are criticized for trying too hard, but only if the resulting look is deemed unsuccessful; the real problem is that they didn't try hard enough.)

In the case of "Guys With Fancy Lady Hair"—much like the high school football players who don wigs and skirts for the pep rally before the game­­—the stunt can actually serve to enhance the man’s masculine mystique. If he were to assume a feminine hairstyle on the regular, he’d be ostracized. But when he does it for a one-off photo shoot, he appears as a funny, easygoing guy for making himself the object of such a bizarre spectacle (for an hour or two). When his hair returns to its low-maintenance resting state, he emerges manlier than ever. For women, the show goes on.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer.