Much has been made of the High Maintenance Man in recent years -- and it ain't pretty.
Often criticized by style publications, gossip columns and even this illustrious website ("10 Signs He's a High Maintenance Boyfriend", May 2011), the High Maintenance Man has been ridiculed and lampooned for his unflinching devotion to dressing well and the great lengths he will go to achieve his desired look. He has been branded vain, selfish, superficial -- and god forbid, feminine.
However, The High Maintenance Man has been deeply misunderstood and mischaracterized and it's time to set the record straight.
So who is The High Maintenance Man? Let's start with who he isn't.
The High Maintenance Man is not the Metrosexual, Retrosexual, Eurosexual or any of their kind. He is not the man who squats to pee, frosts the tips of his coiffed hair, or achieves a tan by spraying it on himself. He is not American Psycho, a Commonwealth prince or Brüno.
The High Maintenance Man is the man who takes his time to dress and groom, and generally maintains a high standard in his own appearance and conduct. A cursory glance at the history of American menswear will reveal that the High Maintenance Man is not a recent novelty. He is the same man from the twenties, the forties, the sixties. He is Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Kanye West, Don Draper. The High Maintenance Man has been an athlete, a blue-collar bloke, a hunter; you just wouldn't know it to see him wearing his three-piece suit to dinner.
The High Maintenance Man understands the significance of what he wears. He knows that a shorter jacket will visually lengthen a short man; that bright colors will wash out a fair complexion; that sport socks should only be worn when playing sports; that tailoring is essential for most outfits; and that women aren't impressed by ironic t-shirts -- not even in an ironic way.
The High Maintenance Man appreciates that dressing well and wearing clothes that flatter is a great source of confidence, and that confidence is the main ingredient for success.
He will often wear a pocket square -- not for any practical reason -- but rather because that is the original and sole purpose of the left breast pocket on a jacket (look it up.)
He might, on occasion, wear a bowtie; though always self-tied, and never with comic intent.
While the High Maintenance Man may, from time to time indulge in a manicure, he would never refer to that ritual as a "mani" and certainly not in the same breath as "pedi."
The High Maintenance Man can sometimes take excessively long to dress for a special occasion. While he would never wear this distinction as a badge of honor, he realizes that this can be the price to pay for making the best possible wardrobe choices. Women have known about this payoff for centuries.
Above all, the High Maintenance Man understands that dressing well and behaving well are signs of respect to others. To be the best-dressed gentleman at a party is not an act of braggery or bravado -- it is a show of respect to one's host or to a significant other. To restore a sense of formality and occasion is a gesture of courtesy, admiration and even love to those whose company the High Maintenance Man shares.
America is a casual nation, there is no doubt. It can be argued that this is one of her great achievements; that she abandoned classist European ideals and elitist fashion in lieu of a truly equal society, one where all her citizens are free to dress as they please -- even if that means wearing track pants and bedazzled t-shirts to the grocery store.
Yet we've witnessed a startling and precipitous decline in the formality of men's style over the past forty years. America is generally considered the worst-dressed western nation, and American male tourists have earned a notoriety in foreign countries for their schlubby fashion choices while traveling abroad. Along with this decline in formality, a troubling, homegrown reverse discrimination has emerged in recent years against men who strive to dress well.
Fortunately, the High Maintenance Man is also a dreamer, and he will never relinquish hope that one day we will return to a time when men cared about the way they looked and behaved. And if that happens to involve fewer men wearing their pajamas to the bank, that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.