The Clothes Don’t Make The Man

16 Feb

I remember seeing the first ad of this “Wear The Pants” advertising campaign during the 2010 Super Bowl. It featured a group of men walking pantless through a field, singing some silly song, possibly relating to how they don’t have any pants but they’re still men. The role of Dockers, then, was to validate these men’s “unfulfilled manhood” by giving them something “masculine” to wear, thereby defining them as the men they are. Everyone I was with at that Super Bowl party let out a mighty groan, and I think we all figured that this ridiculous campaign would die. It troubles me that it’s still around.


“Once upon a time, men are pants, and wore them well. Women rarely had to open doors and little old ladies never crossed the street alone. Men took charge because that’s what they do. But somewhere along the way, the world decided it no longer needed men. Disco by disco, latte by foamy non-fat latte, men were stripped of their khakis and left stranded on the road between boyhood and androgyny. But today, there are questions that our genderless society has no answers for. The world sits idly by as cities crumble, children misbehave, and those little old ladies remain on one side of the street. For the first time since the bad guys, we need heroes. We need grown-ups. We need men to put down the plastic fork, step away from the salad bar, and untie the world from the tracks of complacency. It’s time to get your hands dirty. It’s time to answer the call of manhood. It’s time to wear the pants.”

Reading this ad strikes me first and foremost as ironic, since by my understanding, khakis are not manly, or sexy. Khakis are what middle management wears. Khakis are the modus operandi of the financial adviser. Khakis are the uniform of the oppressor. According to the New York Observer, “Ivy League-inflected style” was the new cool in 2009. Considering about who wears “Natural-shouldered blazers. Flat-front khaki trousers. Loafers. Bow ties, rep ties. Polo shirts in solid colors. Lots of madras plaid. Early Brooks Brothers. New England WASPs. F. Scott Fitzgerald.” and who the Observer’s target population is, you begin to get an image of what it means to wear khaki. Please, save us from khakis and blue shirts. And vests.

Style aside, is the the content of the ad that’s the most infuriating. “Men took charge because that’s what they do… latte by foamy non-fat latte…the road between boyhood and androgyny… our genderless society…  cities crumble… heroes… grown-ups… put down the plastic fork, step away from the salad bar… get your hands dirty… It’s time to wear the pants.”

The ad sends a message that men are, before anything, heterosexual. In contrast, any man who listens to disco or drinks Starbucks is gay, and therefore NOT a man. Men with any feminine characteristics are somehow stranded in “no-man’s land” (ironic, that wording), lost in the ambiguity between both lacking the biological maturity of “real men” and not conforming to the thick line we’ve drawn between “man” and “women.” They are the “victims” of a “genderless society,” or rather, a society that has no tolerance for anything other than clearly definable labels. This sad dependence on the gender binary system represents an inflexibility that brings to mind the prejudice, bigotry, and violence of homo- and transphobia.

The ad goes on to insinuate that without the presence of “real men” our society is falling into ruins, and that it’s not only affecting our infrastructures, but also the young and the elderly. Perhaps they have a point, if they’re suggesting that the widening education gap between men and women is resulting in fewer educated fathers, or if they’ve hinting at the unique legal, financial, and health challenges that elderly LGBT populations face. However, I have a feeling that social justice wasn’t on the minds of the people who wrote this ad. Instead, they are discrediting the work that men do in all areas (include those female-dominated professions), and ignoring the immense privilege that men hold in society. To say that “society is falling apart without real men” is to ignore the fact that most CEOs of major companies and government officials are men – white men, at that.

To combat these ills of society (that our (white) men are currently not fit to handle), Dockers is demanding that men stop messing around with non-worthwhile pursuits (the “plastic fork” being a reference to eating out/TV dinners?) such as eating healthy, and stick to doing “real work” that somehow involves dirt. Because, according to Dockers, being a man means working in professions that require strength, muscle, and toughness, and “answer the call,” as if that’s not what so many non-residential and non-custodial fathers, working two jobs to pay their unreasonably high child support payments, are already doing.

Dockers: the clothes don’t make “the man.” The man is whoever he or she wants to be. The man wears whatever is comfortable. He works in whatever field makes him happy (even if it’s female-dominated). He is attracted to whomever he prefers, and  fits wherever he wants within the gender spectrum. Most of all, he doesn’t wear khakis.

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One Response to “The Clothes Don’t Make The Man”

  1. Adeline February 26, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    I like how a “genderless society” (riiight) is equated with cities crumbling and children running wild. Really Dockers? Don’t you think you’re stretching a bit?

    The messages men receive are so depressing.

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