Commentary

Men In Beards, Women In Black

Fashion has always been a signal of the times -- a mirror of our cultural evolution. Marketers should take heed, as this year’s fall runways were signaling a new state of manhood and womanhood -- men taking on a back to basics, men as real men look and women presenting an image fully consistent with their newfound strength and power. The fashions are a reflection of the societal shifts taking shape as women take on a more prominent role in the world and men continue to find their way and place given the changes.

Beards are the fashion that reflects the cultural norm of men trying to “right themselves” post-recession and being proud to be men. Men in beards filled the fall runways from Vivienne Westwood to Roberto Cavalli. Beyond fashion, even Disney -- the quintessential arbiter of clean and wholesome -- recently updated its dress code to include beards. A charity event, Movember, has also fueled the hipness of facial hair; the global event encourages men to not shave in November to raise funds to fight prostate cancer. All are a reflection of a shift towards facial hair being more acceptable in today's society, a symbol of masculinity.

One brand rightly picking up on this trend is Gillette, launching the Fusion ProGlide Styler. Astutely, the brand linked the product’s benefit to the deeper cultural norms facing men today, supporting the launch with its “Masters of Style” campaign that focuses on owning one’s authentic self. The campaign features famous actors who proudly sport facial hair and do so with style. Actor Adrien Brody says that it “boils down to being real with yourself,” while Gael Garcia Bernal speaks to how facial hair is a tool to build character.

Another personal care brand, Dove Men+Care, also taps into this insight with its “Get comfortable in your own skin” campaign. But these lessons can go beyond personal care. Men are trying to get a handle on what it means to be a man in today’s world, and brands can help support this confidence building and a new gender identity. Consider Dockers “Wear the Pants” campaign that champions being a man, as opposed to the recent Huggies “Dad Test” campaign that received widespread criticism from offended dads who felt portrayed as incompetent.

What appears best is to honor men and their masculinity. In marketing, women have always been plagued with stereotypes, and men seem to be faring no better. Instead, honor the complex roles men are leading today.

Now, for women, strong is the word that best describes them. Many designers presented strong women in the Fall inspired by the Lisbeth Salander character from the movie, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Donatella Versace had her “gothic warriors,” and Givenchy had women in “armored” clothing and with multiple piercings. H&M got hot on this trend and launched its first movie-inspired line designed by the film's costume designer. The company talked about the clothing line as being about a “strong woman who stands up for her ideals.”

Jones New York is another fashion brand that has been championing women with its “Empowering Your Confidence” campaign. It first launched after the 2009 The Shriver Report on women was released and acknowledged that women are now over 50 percent of the workforce. Bare Escentuals is also encouraging representations of strong women in its first global campaign, “Be a Force of Beauty.” In this case, it is acknowledging the power of femininity. 

These examples demonstrate a shift on the part of marketing to start to mirror the strong women represented in our culture. Marketers should consider presenting women as empowered as they are, not as damsels in distress by any stretch of the imagination. They really are women in control of their destiny -- confident and feminine at the same time.

What does this mean for marketers today? They must consider the changing roles of men and women in the 21st century. While traditional male and female archetypes may still exist in the world, they are becoming less the norm. At a sociological level, we know that brands contribute to cultural development, and therefore, can infer that brands can influence and contribute to what men and women expect of themselves. This suggests that brands have the opportunity to help them figure out their new roles today and learn to live a harmonious existence in manhood and womanhood.

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