What does masculinity mean in 2016? If the cover stars of American GQ’s Men of the Year issue are anything to go by, it seems to be all about the comeback of traditional alpha-male values.
In fashion, it’s been a year of mixed-gender shows, gladiatorial public nudity and the continued rise of the male grooming industry – beauty products, in particular. But the rise of Donald Trump and “locker room talk” has changed the mainstream dialogue about what it means to be a man.
American GQ’s Men of the Year reflect that return to old-fashioned values. Unlike the magazine’s line-up of the 13 most stylish men in the world right now – which included such trend-mixing peacocks as Future, Harry Styles and Drake – this new list is notable for how narrowly it sees the spectrum of masculinity.
Three different magazine covers feature the world’s fastest man (Usain Bolt), a world-famous lothario (Warren Beatty) and the actor Ryan Reynolds, whose 50s pin-up looks nod to a bygone era of Hollywood gender norms. Reynolds sports a tux in box-ticking mid-blue; Bolt goes shirtless, wearing a D’Angelo-like chain; Beatty, meanwhile, returns to the Ivy League look he so often sported at the beginning of his career.
That there’s a such distinct lack of space for deviation or alternative approaches in these covers is intriguing on an anthropological level. It seems that we’ve been moving through different iterations of masculine identity (metrosexuality, spornosexuality) for a while and that now we may have looped back on ourselves.