AGING WELL AS A GAY MAN: THE MARKERS OF GETTING OLDER, AND SMART WAYS TO MANAGE IT.
If you cringe while watching any of the Real Housewives of …, you know the phenomenon: It often has to do with knowing how and how not to dress your age. Some of the women do it right. Some should be apprehended by the fashion police. But what’s particularly delicious about those shows is, despite a heaping dose of narcissism on the part of all concerned, there is a surprising lack of self-awareness.
Certain individuals on these shows have no clue about how ridiculous they appear. Which is why we cannot stop watching.
No gay man wants to be the hometown equivalent of Danielle Staub (The Real Housewives of New Jersey). Let us assume you would rather be known by friends and family for handling your personal style well. This would include doing so in all of life’s phases: in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond.
People in the arts often pull it off. Frank Lloyd Wright was dashing in his Norfolk jackets until his 90s. Louise Nevelson hit her stride as a sculptor in her 50s and is remembered today for the resplendent coats, scarves and eyelashes she wore with flair into her late 80s. Pierce Brosnan and Alec Baldwin play leading, sexy characters in their 50s who credibly win the young woman 20 or 30 years their junior.
So how is that accomplished?
We wondered if friend Michael Mock would know. Mock is now a financial consultant in Chicago (“and amateur cultural anthropologist,” he quips), but he spent a decade in and around the fashion industry in New York City. He often quotes a friend there, a highly placed executive with a major cosmetics company, as saying, “It’s not about achieving a certain look. It’s about looking your best with what you have.”
So when a 60-something man enters Blair Hair, the Chelsea (NYC) hair salon that caters to a largely gay clientele, and asks proprietor Blair Lawhead for the Zac Efron/Justin Bieber look, well, that’s when a heart-to-heart reorientation is in order. “Styles as much as hairlines have to be age appropriate,” says Lawhead. “It has to be balanced.”
Looking your best with what you have
Chicago graphic designer Andrew Brown and his partner, hairstylist Michael Zudonyi, have given this thought from their perspectives in fashion and as men in their 50s. It seems that gay men as they age follow one of two roads. “Gay men can talk fashion sense much better than their straight counterparts,” says Zudonyi “but many gay men refuse to evolve their fashion sense too.” Examples are the sleeveless shirt on the guy who hasn’t done a triceps extension in five years, while his gut has done its own extension. But “gay men are much more knowledgeable about and willing to act on their appearance through such things as plastic surgery,” he notes.
Certainly, Pierce Brosnan and Alec Baldwin are men who have been good looking since they were born and are fortunate to possess genetic traits that age well. And, both have lots of hair (or at least this appears to be the case). Yet certain individuals can be found in almost any gay community who pull off the aging-well factor without those gifts — even ones who have little or no hair.
As should be apparent, however, this is a situation to be approached on an individual basis. Michael Mock says it’s good to have a friend who will give you a realistic assessment about what you are wearing and how you are grooming yourself.
Almost every person interviewed on the topic of gay men and hair loss used one word over and over again to describe the fundamental factor in aging well: confidence. What matters the most, it seems, is adopting a look that works for you, that packaging of the self that has you bounding out into the world feeling at the top of your game. Whichever methods you choose to achieve this should be the things that make you proud to be you.
Every relatively healthy person does that on one level or another — with or without hair. Maybe you have the arms you think are right for that sleeveless shirt. If so, go for it. But be sure to look at candid snapshots and to listen to dear, well-meaning friends who offer other opinions.
If a new idea on how to look or what to wear presents itself, consider yourself luckier than Danielle Staub. Shimmering miniskirts just don’t look good on most women her age — including her. You might say the same about Justin Bieber’s hair on a 60-something’s head.