January 2018

Bracelets, Boots, and Babes: The Esquire Man and Music Festivals

Esquire suggests that men are destined to incur sexually aggressive feelings at music festivals. But if they simply dress and act in a way that will attract female attention, it will ensure an Esquire man gets (consensually) laid.

by Victoria Herrera

Popular contemporary music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza attempt to brand themselves as nearly utopian spaces. For example, Bonnaroo’s slogan is “Radiate Positivity,” and their website reminds festivalgoers that it is “…an agro-free zone… Happiness is the goal. Proactive positivity is a proven way to get there.”[1] Despite festival promoters’ emphasis on positivity, music festival culture has often perpetuated the gendered troubles of modern society. Take, for example, the following case. In April 2015, an Instagram photo surfaced of a male Coachella attendee wearing a shirt that read: “EAT / SLEEP / RAPE / REPEAT.”[2]

Image 1 (5)
The infamous 2015 Coachella fashion fail. Michelle Lhooq, “What the ‘Eat Sleep Rape Repeat’ Shirt at Coachella Says About Rape Culture at Music Festivals,” Vice (New York City), April 15, 2015.

Coachella is known for a particular type of festival fashion—one that often includes young men donning what they envision as clever t-shirts. In 2007, the Los Angeles Times claimed that Coachella culture could be ascertained by simply looking at the t-shirts of festivalgoers, and in 2013 an article in the Miami New Times indicated that “bro culture” t-shirts had not faded in popularity.[3] The aforementioned shirt, however, misses the mark entirely. While the man’s shirt would be considered aggressive and offensive in nearly any environment, it is particularly provocative in this space because contemporary music festivals have been notorious hubs for sexualized violence. Cultural materials like this t-shirt demonstrate that the gendered conditions of music festivals have not improved in recent years.

Despite the problematic gender history of music festivals, or perhaps in consideration of it, Esquire magazine’s 2015 article entitled, “What She Wants you to Wear . . . At A Music Festival,” presents a complex view of masculine performativity in the context of these fraught gendered spaces.[4] Esquire explicitly promises to teach its readers how to attract female attention at music festivals. Yet, the magazine must also implicitly confront the longstanding past of sexual violence at festivals in its portrayal of masculinity. What reading the article in this context of sexual aggression ultimately reveals is that Esquire continues to promote performative masculinity explicitly through consumption—something that the magazine has been doing for over 80 years.

Esquire continues to promote performative masculinity explicitly through consumption—something that the magazine has been doing for over 80 years.

Scholars have long interrogated the cultural significance of Esquire as a mass-market magazine, and have often explored how it signaled changes in male consumer practices and in U.S. gender relations. Academic study has largely focused on two periods of Esquire’s publication: its foundational years in the 1930s, and its continued presence in the post-WWII years. Scholarship investigating the origins of Esquire in the 1930s generally examines how the editors subverted early twentieth-century expectations for magazines, specifically by making space for male consumerism.[5] Scholars who study Esquire at midcentury also note that the magazine continuously challenged gendered expectations when, in the 1950s and 1960s, Esquire proved its adaptability by shifting its definition of masculinity to meet the demands of post-war manhood.[6]

“What She Wants You to Wear . . . At a Music Festival” emerges from Esquire’s longstanding mission to create the ultimate sophisticated and cosmopolitan man through access to goods and to women. But this is not the only context that is necessary to understand this article. Indeed, a look at controversies over music festivals themselves reveals an even more disturbing conclusion about consumer masculinity in the neoliberal age. By 2015, music festivals had an established history of violent sexualized aggression. Men at several major festivals in the late twentieth-century United States incurred rape charges, including men at Louisiana’s 1971 Festival of Life Celebration, the 1982 Us Festival in California, and Woodstock ‘94 and ‘99.[7]

Woodstock ’99 is perhaps the most well-known of these examples. At least four rapes were reported at the festival, and the sexualized violence sparked a litany of public criticism.[8] For example, in the festival’s aftermath, performer Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) of the Beastie Boys spoke out at MTV’s Video Music Awards in order to challenge fellow artists to promote the safety of their female fans at shows.[9] This became an iconic moment in the music industry. Although Woodstock ’99 was not the first instance of music festival sexual assault, this was the first time that the performers involved spoke out on behalf of the victims.

Image 2 (5)
Ad-Rock speaks out against sexual violence at the 1999 VMAs. Ganz, Jacob. “MTV Loves MTV: A Bad Romance.” NPR (Washington D.C.), September 13, 2010.

Nonetheless, sexual violence continues to pervade contemporary music festivals in the twenty-first century. Recent investigative journalism by Vice uncovered continued reports of rape at festivals, and demonstrates how rape culture infiltrates these supposedly utopian spaces.[10] This is not only a U.S. problem; European music festivals have also had numerous reports of rape in recent years, which demonstrates the extent of sexual assault in such spaces.[11] Given this context, it is easy to see how the “EAT / SLEEP / RAPE / REPEAT” shirt went viral during Coachella 2015, and why it enraged festivalgoers and Instagram users worldwide. As Vice pointed out, “There’s a reason why that guy felt comfortable wearing that odious shirt to a festival.”[12]

The complex gender dynamics at play on music festival grounds, which promote male supremacy and devalue women to the point of sexual assault, inform Esquire’s woman-authored piece “What She Wants You to Wear . . . At a Music Festival.”  Esquire promotes itself as a “primer on how to lead a richer, better, fuller, and more meaningful life,” geared toward “sophisticated men . . . who have arrived.” In contrast to other, merely “aspirational” men’s magazines, it claims to promote a gentlemanly, established presentation of manhood, which at first seems at odds with the ribald, aggressive masculinities that undergird festival cultures.[13] “What She Wants You to Wear . . . At a Music Festival” reveals that, even with all of the gendered progress in the twenty-first century, Esquire masculinity is still a distinctive performance crafted around the desire of—and perhaps more importantly, for—women. A subversive reading of the article reveals that it serves as a guidebook for men attending music festivals. The article encourages men prove their masculinity through sexual contact with women.[14]

Esquire readers have traditionally been an audience of older, more conservative men; thus, the Esquire man is a counterpoint to the aggressive, misogynist “bro culture.”

Esquire readers have traditionally been an audience of older, more conservative men; the Esquire man is a counterpoint to the aggressive, misogynist “bro culture” that guided masculine performance at festivals like Woodstock ‘99. For Esquire’s audience, this article articulates a fear that the sexually charged environment of a music festival will lead to rape charges against the male attendees. Esquire attempts to quell its readers’ fears by providing them with a guide to participate in these tensely gendered spaces that will simultaneously reinforce their manhood through sexual conquest and avoid the fallout wrought by sexual aggression.

Esquire suggests that men are destined to incur sexually aggressive feelings at music festivals. But if they simply dress and act in a way that will attract female attention, it will ensure an Esquire man gets (consensually) laid.

Festival fashion, the topic of the article, is a traditionally feminine topic. Therefore, in order to sell the products mentioned in the article, Esquire must persuade men to take the topic seriously. One way they do this is by placing constraints on the conditions of masculinity. The article caters to a very specific kind of man: one who enjoys music festivals and is over the age of 22. The author remarks that participation in music festivals for men over the age of 22 is “for you gentlemen, a delicate task.”[15] The author paints a specific picture of these older men as both refined “gentlemen” and “the enemy” inside of the music festival. In this environment, acceptable masculinity is college-aged, and the older men who read Esquire fall outside of that realm. The article begins by ostracizing such men, and then capitalizes on the fears it has established by reassuring them that with the proper regalia they can transform their style and effectively perform this youthful masculinity through costuming, while still maintaining their gentlemanly demeanor.

The $555 worth of clothing and accessories advertised in the article creates exactly the kind of costuming needed for the performance of an elite Esquire masculinity.

The article suggests here that an Esquire man expresses a specific kind of class- and aged-based masculinity, which is distinct from the aggressive masculine behavior of “bro culture.” The $555 worth of clothing and accessories advertised in the article creates exactly the kind of costuming needed for the performance of an elite Esquire masculinity. Notably, the article also appears to be sponsored by Clarks, a shoe company, which is indicated by a large “Clarks” logo in their signature font next to the Esquire logo at the top of the webpage. In this Esquire article, gender construction and capital are interconnected as the author promotes specific items for sale that are meant to increase a man’s chance of attracting a woman.

The author of this particular Esquire article, Elizabeth Valleau, neatly works within the binary categories of acceptable male and female clothing. She does this by drawing a comparison between the modern fashions advertised in the article and more traditionally masculine clothing.[16]  For example, a bracelet is marketed as a means of highlighting a man’s watch, which will attract the attention of women.

Image 3 (4)
A “well-chosen bracelet.” Courtesy Esquire.

A brimmed felt hat is promoted as an updated version of a baseball cap. It is also promoted for practical reasons: as protection from the sun for those who might be “thinning on top,” which again highlights the target, middle-aged audience.[17]

Image 4 (2)
The $200 felt hat promoted in the article. Courtesy Esquire.

A pair of low cut, desert boots is suggested as an alternative to hyper-masculine cowboy boots, which the author claims might cause one to “be mistaken for someone who wandered off of the ranch.”[18]

Image 5 (1)
Clarks boots advertised in the article. Courtesy Esquire.

The working-class connotation of the cowboy boot and ranch work spurs an image of rugged masculinity. A white, button-down shirt is the most timeless item advertised in the article, and even this shirt is placed in a historical context. The author posits that undoing an extra shirt button “conveys a sense of louche, ‘70s cool.”[19] She draws upon the historic context of the item to argue for its inherent masculinity, validating the style by pointing out that men have displayed similar trends in past decades. The 1970s vibe attributed to the shirt may particularly appeal to Esquire’s Baby boomer audience, as it nostalgically draws on images of masculinity from readers’ own youths.

Image 6
The white oxford advertised in the article costs $165. Courtesy Esquire.

The fear that being sexually aggressive towards women in manners that could potentially lead to allegations of rape or sexual assault is expressed discreetly and subliminally in “What She Wants You to Wear . . . At a Music Festival,” undergirding the entire pretext of the article. Although the article is written for an audience of older, more conservative men, perhaps it speaks to a larger audience than this in contemporary contexts. For women, the article demonstrates recognition of the problematic history of sexual assault at music festivals and beyond.

Historical scholarship on Esquire notes how the magazine delegitimized and objectified women in its early years, but by 2015 there appears to be a turn towards seeking acceptance from women to earn sexual attention, and legitimizing their control over their own bodies and sexual decisions—even if the outcome is the confirmation of men’s masculinity. Despite this slightly-increased attention to women’s agency, Esquire ultimately continues to reify the power of traditional middle- and upper-class masculinities that have ensured the magazine’s success in U.S. popular culture for more than 80 years.

Screen Shot 2018-01-05 at 12.21.23 PMVictoria Herrera is a third year PhD student in the American Studies Department at Saint Louis University. Her research interests include leisure culture and recreation, twentieth-century cultural history, and the American west. She has a Master’s degree in American Studies from Saint Louis University (2017), and a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy, with a minor in history, from the University of Arizona (2015).

Notes

[1] “The Bonnaroovian Code,” http://www.bonnaroo.com, accessed December 18, 2017, https://www.bonnaroo.com/experience/the-code/.

[2] August Brown, “After Years of Silence, Activists are Forcing Music Festivals to Take Sexual Assault Seriously,” Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2017, http://beta.latimes.com/ entertainment/ music/la-et-ms-music-festival-20170520-story.html

[3] Ann Powers, “The Keys to Coachella on a T-shirt,” Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2007, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-critic28apr28-story.html?barc=0; Mary Carreon, “Brochella! Seven Best T-Shirts the Dudes Are Wearing at Coachella 2013,” Miami New Times, April 15, 2013, http://www.miaminewtimes.com/music/brochella-seven-best-t-shirts-the-dudes-are-wearing-at-coachella-2013-6473179.

[4] Elizabeth Valleau, “What She Wants You to Wear…At A Music Festival,” Esquire, October 1, 2015, http://www.esquire.com/style/mens-fashion/advice/a13291/music-festival-clothes for-men/. clothes-for-men/.

[5] See Kenon Breazeale, “In Spite of Women: Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer,” Signs 20, no. 1 (1994): 1-22; Peter N. Stearns and Mark Knapp, “Men and Romantic Love: Pinpointing a 20th-Century Change,” Journal of Social History (1993): 769-795; Tom Pendergast, Creating the Modern Man: American Magazines and Consumer Culture, 1900-1950 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 214.

[6] See Hugh Merrill, Esky: The Early Years at Esquire (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995); Bill Osgerby, Playboys in Paradise: Masculinity, Youth and Leisure-style in Modern America. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); Stefan K. Cieply, “ The Uncommon Man: Esquire and the Problem of the North American Male Consumer, 1957-1963,” Gender and History 22, no 1. (2010),151.

[7] Neil Strauss.“’69 or ’99 a Rock Fest is a Combustible Mix: A Rock Fest is a Combustible Mix,” New York Times (New York), August 8, 1999.

[8] Andy Newman, “4 Rapes Reported at Woodstock, Police Say,” New York Times (New York), July 29, 1999.

[9] Brian Hiatt, “Beastie Boys Ad-Rock Rallies Artists in Wake of Woodstock Sex Crimes,” MTV News (New York), September 10, 1999, http://www.mtv.com/news/517307/beastie-boys- ad-rock-rallies-artists-in-wake-of-woodstock-sex-crimes/.

[10] Kate Lloyd, “There’s a Rape Problem at Festivals and Nobody Seems to Care.” Vice (New York City), August 11, 2015. https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/ywmmeg/theres-a- rape-epidemic-at-music-festivals-and-nobody-seems-to-care; Michelle Lhooq, “What the ‘Eat Sleep Rape Repeat’ Shirt at Coachella Says About Rape Culture at Music Festivals,” Vice (New York City), April 15, 2015, https://thump.vice.com/en_us/article/ 4x8ddp/what-the-eat-sleep-rape-repeat-shirt-at- coachella-says-about-rape-culture-at-music-festivals.

[11] Elahe Izadi,“The ‘Hideous’ Sexual Assault Problem at Music Festivals is Causing Major Tensions in Europe,” Washington Post (Washington D.C.), July 7, 2016, https:// http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/07/07/the-hideous- sexual-assault-problem-at-music-festivals-is-causing-major-tensions-in- europe/?utm_term=.b083517de8b5.

[12] Michelle Lhooq, “What the ‘Eat Sleep Rape Repeat’ Shirt at Coachella Says About Rape Culture at Music Festivals,” Vice (New York City), April 15, 2015.

[13] “Esquire Man at His Best: Media Kit,” Esquire, accessed October 18, 2017, http://www.esquiremediakit.com/hotdata/publishers/esquireme2036297/advertiser/20 54143/2894028/ESQMediaKit2.pdf.

[14] My counterhegemonic reading here relies on the methods of the cultural studies movement. Cultural studies methods appeared in literary critique as early as the 1940s and 1950s. Shortly thereafter cultural studies as a method developed in Europe, springing out of a desire to better understand political systems and common methods of resistance. The discipline is known for the influence of traditional Marxist thought on its scholarship, as well as its adherence to complex theoretical frameworks. Cultural studies scholarship performs counter-hegemonic readings of various texts. Scholars often deconstruct popular culture texts with theoretical critiques, paying specific attention to struggles against racism and sexism. For one of the most prominent cultural studies theories that influenced my reading of “What She Wants You To Wear…At a Music Festival” see Stuart Hall, “Encoding/Decoding,” in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon During (New York: Routledge, 1993), 507-517.

[15] Elizabeth Valleau, “What She Wants You to Wear…At A Music Festival,” Esquire, October 1, 2015, http://www.esquire.com/style/mens-fashion/advice/a13291/music-festival-clothes for-men/.

[16] My idea about binary gender fashion here is influenced by Lisa Duggan’s book The Twilight of Equality: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003), wherein Dugan theorizes that neoliberal capitalism relies on identity politics for success in society at large. Under the neoliberal capitalist system, society is organized into binary categories.

[17] Elizabeth Valleau, “What She Wants You to Wear…At A Music Festival,” Esquire, October 1, 2015, http://www.esquire.com/style/mens-fashion/advice/a13291/music-festival-clothes for-men/.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

Bibliography

“The Bonnaroovian Code.” http://www.bonnaroo.com.  Accessed December 18, 2017. https://www.bonnaroo.com/experience/the-code/.

Breazeale, Kenon. “In Spite of Women: Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer.” Signs 20, no. 1 (1994): 1-22.

Brown, August. “After Years of Silence, Activists are Forcing Music Festivals to Take Sexual Assault Seriously.” Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA), May 20, 2017,

http://beta.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-ms-music-festival-20170520- story.html.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Carreon, Mary. “Brochella! Seven Best T-Shirts the Dudes Are Wearing at Coachella 2013,” Miami New Times. April 15, 2013. http://www.miaminewtimes.com/music/brochella-seven-best-t-shirts-the-dudes-are-wearing-at-coachella-2013-6473179.

Cieply, Stefan K. “ The Uncommon Man: Esquire and the Problem of the North American Male Consumer, 1957-1963.” Gender and History 22, no. 1 (2010): 151-168

Duggan, Lisa. The Twilight of Equality: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003.

“Esquire Man at His Best: Media Kit.” Esquire. Accessed October 18, 2017, http://www.esquiremediakit.com/hotdata/publishers/esquireme2036297/advertiser/20541 43/2894028/ESQMediaKit2.pdf.

Ganz, Jacob. “MTV Loves MTV: A Bad Romance.” NPR (Washington D.C.), September 13, 2010. https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2010/09/13/129833419/mtv-loves-mtv-a-bad-romance.

Hall, Stuart. “Encoding/Decoding.” In The Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Simon During. New York: Routledge, 1993. 507-517.

Hiatt, Brian. “Beastie Boys Ad-Rock Rallies Artists in Wake of Woodstock Sex Crimes.” MTV News (New York), September 10, 1999. http://www.mtv.com/news/517307/beastie-boys-ad-rock-rallies-artists-in-wake- of-woodstock-sex-crimes/.

Izadi, Elahe.“The ‘Hideous’ Sexual Assault Problem at Music Festivals is Causing Major Tensions in Europe.” Washington Post (Washington D.C.), July 7, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/07/07/the- hideous-sexual-assault-problem-at-music-festivals-is-causing-major-tensions-in- europe/?utm_term=.b083517de8b5.

Johnson, Richard. “What is Cultural Studies Anyway?” Social Text 16, (1986): 38-80.

Kervin, Denise. “Advertising Masculinity: The Representation of Males in Esquire Advertisements.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 14, no. 1 (1990): 51-70

Lloyd, Kate. “There’s a Rape Problem at Festivals and Nobody Seems to Care.” Vice (New York City), August 11, 2015. https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/ywmmeg/theres-a-rape-epidemic-at- music-festivals-and-nobody-seems-to-care.

Lhooq, Michelle. “What the ‘Eat Sleep Rape Repeat’ Shirt at Coachella Says About Rape Culture at Music Festivals.” Vice (New York City), April 15, 2015. https://thump.vice.com/en_us/article/4x8ddp/what-the-eat-sleep-rape-repeat-shirt-at-coachella-says-about-rape-culture-at-music-festivals.

Lorber, Judith. Paradoxes of Gender. Binghamton, NY: Vail-Ballou Press, 1994.

Merrill, Hugh Esky: The Early Years at Esquire. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995.

Newman, Andy. “4 Rapes Reported at Woodstock, Police Say.” New York Times, July 29, 1999.

Osgerby, Bill. Playboys in Paradise: Masculinity, Youth and Leisure-style in Modern America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Pendergast, Tom. Creating the Modern Man: American Magazines and Consumer Culture, 1900-1950. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000.

Powers, Ann. “The Keys to Coachella on a T-shirt.” Los Angeles Times. April 28, 2007. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-critic28apr28-story.html?barc=0.

Stearns, Peter N. and Knapp, Mark. “Men and Romantic Love” Pinpointing a 20th-Century Change.” Journal of Social History (1993): 769-795.

Strauss, Neil. “’69 or ’99 a Rock Fest is a Combustible Mix: A Rock Fest is a Combustible Mix,” New York Times (New York), August 8, 1999.

Valleau, Elizabeth. “What She Wants You to Wear…At A Music Festival.” Esquire. October 1, 2015.http://www.esquire.com/style/mens-fashion/advice/a13291/music-festival-clothes for-men/.

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