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Emo Culture: Girly Men

As indie culture becomes more mainstream, guys get in touch with their feminine sides

 by Mani O'Brien
 published on Thursday, March 9, 2006

Political science sophomore Jeff Tsang says it takes balls to wear girl's jeans in public -- even though he knows he'll have to tone down his image some day./issues/arts/696149
Chelsea Kent / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Political science sophomore Jeff Tsang says it takes balls to wear girl's jeans in public -- even though he knows he'll have to tone down his image some day.
 

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A young couple holds hands as they weave through the crowd of other teenagers at a concert. They are wearing matching black puffy jackets with fur-trimmed hoods. Fitted jeans cling tight to both of their legs. The boy's hair resembles his girlfriend's -- long, textured and dyed. Layers of bracelets wrap around his wrist, and a thick belt buckle peeks out from beneath his tight band T-shirt. From far away, you might think that he was a girl -- but through the eyes of the other teens around him, his outfit seems perfectly normal.

Political science sophomore Jeff Tsang dresses like many of his long-haired, tight pants-wearing peers. Tsang says most of the teenage boys around him have adopted an image that defies gender stereotypes through the clothes they wear and the way they express themselves emotionally.

Tsang certainly looks the part in his faded Gap stretch/flare jeans and a fitted Kappa Alpha Order T-shirt. A blue bandana peeks out from underneath his camouflage trucker hat that reads "I stop at all BBQ Pits, firework stands and Norma Jean shows."

He's worn women's jeans since he was 18. He gets his hair done at Carsten Salon on a regular basis to maintain his shoulder-length black locks, which are streaked with red. Tsang says that he knows a lot of guys that also wear makeup, and who are into fashion.

Tsang says that part of the appeal for rebellious teens to adopt a more asexual look is due to the music industry. Those into "the scene," who Tsang describes as "indie kids who listen to techno, trance and emo music," have especially adopted a more feminized image, he says.

Michele Laudig, music editor of The New Times, agrees that bands like The Strokes, The Rapture and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs helped influence fashion and image in 2001 by wearing tight jeans and shirts, and sporting black shaggy haircuts.

Laudig says that the 'emo' music genre, which adopted elements of early 1990's hardcore music such as melodic, heartfelt vocals that are expressive in nature, has also influenced teenage fashion.

"You can definitely pinpoint [the feminine image] to the past two or three years in terms of being mainstream," she says. "Ten years ago, guys wouldn't be able to get away with that."

But, Laudig says that she doesn't think music is the only thing influencing fashion.

"It's all happening at the same time, it's not like one type of music is isolated from the other," she says. "It's like a cycle of fashion more than music."

Tsang agrees and says that being a "scenester"-- a term coined by those outside the scene -- is more than just listening to a certain type of music.

Georganne Scheiner, associate professor of women and gender studies, says that you could look at the fashion trend of teenage boys in different ways.

"On one hand, you could look at it like the breakdown of traditional gender stereotypes," she says.

Scheiner, who has teenage children, says that detractors of emo make comments that are rooted in homophobia and traditional ideas of masculinity. "For example, referring [to the boys] as feminine emotional wimps,'' she says.

Scheiner says that one could look at the way that teenage boys are dressing as simply another prepackaged identity in order to fit in. But Scheiner recognizes that if such a trend lasts, it could have positive aspects.

"You could also look at it as a way for boys to express emotions and feelings and that's always a good thing," she says.

As commonplace as Tsang's style is among his peers, he says that he gets strange looks from other students on campus and at work.

"It takes a certain amount of balls to wear girl jeans in public," he says. "I was really self-conscious the first time."

Tsang plans on pursuing a career in politics and says that one day he will abandon his image in order to achieve his goals. When Tsang goes to work at his internship at the Tempe Police Department, he will have to take out his earrings. He also says that his superiors have politely asked him to "tone down" his appearance. As far as Tsang is concerned, his image is a temporary thing.

"Sooner or later trends die," he says. "It's not like I'm going to be dressing like this when I'm 60.



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