Bloomberg Businessweek has gotten its hands on a research report by the investment bank HSBC, and it will make you hate capitalism, language, and yourself. The subject: Yummies. A YUM is a Young Urban Male who, according to the HSBC retail gurus, is transforming the luxury market. Once upon a time, older ladies represented the most sought-after demographic for companies like Burberry and Hugo Boss. Now there are Yummies—affluent, trend-conscious young gentlemen who would like you to know how affluent and trend-conscious they are.
Welcome to the hall of mirrors, rich young fellows! Not that vanity is a new look for guys (the dapper legacy of the fop stretches back to at least the 1670s, and probably to Narcissus), but it seems that as men marry later, they have more income to spend on themselves. Plus, the researchers write, a metrosexual focus on grooming and glamour has shimmied its way into the mainstream: “maintaining a well-groomed appearance now defines what it is to be ‘a man’ in today’s society.” Dude-apparel visionary Nick Graham puts it more colorfully: “It’s the Darwinian evolution that we, as men, are going through — crawling out of the primordial mud of tradition, moving toward an oxygenated world of choices about how we want to represent ourselves as our personal brand.”
How will you know these sartorially evolved, oxygen-breathing creatures when you see them? Asked to elucidate the YUM aesthetic for the Evening Standard, magazine editor Andrew Davis said, “They have everything from the right Chanel backpack to the correct Lanvin silk jumpsuit and the studded Louboutin sneakers. … Oh, and they love Prada luggage … they usually have these huge, huge bags.” Also, “eyebrows are very important,” and don’t forget that “it’s a very specific kind of customer who will make a snap decision to spend 2,000 pounds or 3,000 pounds on a metallic mac or a cashmere jumper with a fox on.”
But, oh, if that fox could speak! It might say: The Yummy is not all buoyant handsomeness and élan. The gleam of his leather shoes is a diversion tactic, masking the insecurity within. According to HSBC’s report, Yumminess “is driven by psychological and social trends whereby consumers prefer to display social status earlier on (while older, better-off consumers may have less to prove and will tend to buy for themselves rather to impress others).”
To some extent “men are the new women,” as Bret Pittman, director of a Tribeca J. Crew store, told the New York Times in 2012. They already comprise 40 percent of the luxe-label market, which is projected to grow by 9 percent in 2014. But to a bigger extent, attempts to tell dudes just how much they care about fashion smell like marketing ploys. In case your Foucault is rusty, here’s how it goes. Create a category of people and then ascribe to that category a list of traits and behaviors. Sit back, finger-steepling, as anyone who identifies at all (or wishes they did) with the category you invented enacts all those behaviors and expresses all those traits.
I have no doubt that Yummies walk among us, as they’ve always done under various monikers, and I bet Tom Ford appreciates their business. But there’s a reason bankers aren’t unveiling grand sociological insights about ORFs (Old Rural Females) and MACOBs (Middle-Aged Couples on a Budget). Those people can’t afford a Lanvin jumpsuit.