Stockholm Syndrome: Men are the new women

Lately, I've noticed, I've become a lot scruffier. I shave less regularly than I used to. I've more or less stopped buying clothes. And at least twice a week I leave home without doing my flies up.

The reason is that quite simply I’ve given up on my appearance. It’s not a consequence of getting older – it’s a consequence of living in Sweden.

When I first moved to Stockholm, one of the things which struck me was how well turned-out the chaps are.

I don’t just mean that they’re a good-looking bunch, which they undoubtedly are, all hewn from the same piece of granite, complexions as smooth as freshly boiled eggs, and – yes, well, that’s quite enough of that. No, what hit me was how much attention Swedish men pay to the way they look.

I did my best to keep up with the Jonases. I sported the jacket-jeans combo for a while. I bought some gel. I moisturised.

But I just couldn’t keep it up. I felt like I was an actor, dressing up in costume and playing a role which I hadn’t researched thoroughly enough.

I realised that when it comes to their appearance, Swedish men are real pros, truly dedicated. A shop window, the mirror in a bar toilet, the back of a spoon – no opportunity to spot an out of place hair is missed. They are like preening peacocks. They are like women.

Swedish men are not, of course, the only vain men in the world. Italians, for example, are famous for their natty dress sense and love of a good shoe. But if they were honest they would admit that their primping has an ulterior motive: bedding a bellissima.

Left without womenfolk on a cocoa-rich desert island, Italian men would make Nutella. Swedish men would make hair wax.

There is an admirable purity and single-mindedness about Swedish men’s vanity. It’s not a macho thing with Swedes, far from it. For these Dorian Grays, it’s simply personal aesthetics.

Women tell me, and I have no reason to disbelieve them, that when they dress up to go out they do so for themselves, not for the benefit of men they may encounter. So it is with Swedish men.

Could this be the result of feminism? Despite successes unmatched in the rest of the world, feminism in Sweden has utterly failed to persuade Swedish women to adopt a more sexually neutral dress sense. (And I for one am grateful for that.)

So did feminism, in its unrelenting pursuit of equality, turn its big guns on men? Was it a case of ‘If we can’t make the women more like men, let’s make the men more like women’?

This is, after all, a recent phenomenon and older Swedish men shake their unkempt heads in despair. (It may also explain the mainstream popularity in Sweden of drag acts such as ‘After Dark’, but that’s for another discussion.)

Before I am accused of gross exaggeration and unfair generalisation, let me present to you two pieces of evidence which suggest that rather than being a passing fad, afflicting only certain strata of Stockholm society, this is here to stay.

Yesterday morning on the Tunnelbana there were a couple of boys, thirteen or fourteen years old, sitting opposite me. They were not talking about last night’s football, or the latest Playstation game – they were doing their hair. Using the convenient reflectiveness of the carriage window they sculpted and layered and coiffed their flaxen locks for a full fifteen minutes before getting off at Fridhemsplan.

Nor is there hope for the long term. Just hours after this bizarre scene, I was buying my lunch in Konsum and in front of me in the queue was a woman with her two year old son in a push chair. To my astonishment, the little boy’s hair was gelled into what I believe is known as a ‘just-got-out-of-bed look’.

I drew two conclusions from this. One is that I am destined to be one of Sweden’s scruffier citizens, and there’s no point in fighting it. And the other is that anyone with any sense or money will get into the male cosmetics business.

As she packed her bags, the boy’s mother looked at me with something bordering on disgust, and with embarrassment I realised that I had been staring in disapproval. It wasn’t until I left the shop that I noticed that my flies were undone.

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