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Swagger and Flow: Fashion, Masculinity, and Redressing Gender Failure in Seduction Communities

Swagger and Flow: Fashion, Masculinity, and Redressing Gender Failure in Seduction Communities

In New York City, there exists a small community of heterosexual men who seek to learn flirting and dating skills in self-help communities called “seduction communities.” Ethnically diverse in composition, these young men in their 20s and 30s often self-identify as “nerds” and are frequently employed in the white collar service sector as analysts, engineers, software developers, entrepreneurs, or other protagonists of the so-called knowledge economy.[1] Despite being privileged by their gender identity in political and economic spheres, they feel themselves inept in their social interactions with women. They see themselves as losing at the dating game through an inconvenient excess of inhibition. They enlist teachers—predominantly male dating and seduction coaches—who promote their former work in creative industries like fashion, portrait photography, nightclub management, and event planning. These kinds of industries are appropriate training grounds for the work of seduction coaches due to the fact that they demand charisma and soft skills in dealing with people, while also frequently objectifying sexuality for commercial ends.[2] 

In their paid and unpaid relations with dating coaches, among other self-help skills,[3] men learn the importance of fashion in heterosexual seduction training. Playing a key role in their social construction of identity, fashion makeovers aim to help these sexually-frustrated men embody charismatic masculine identities by balancing the confidence building of self-help with the persuasive aesthetics of visual glamor. The self-branding[4] work of fashion points to a broader cultural ethos of makeover culture[5] where image helps construct identity in an aspirational game of being and becoming. As a dating coach named Ben remarked to his clients during a fashion outing in midtown Manhattan, “not everyone’s gotta wear the same thing. And that’s good, because the way you dress is an expression of who you are—this is you expressing yourself.”

In the process of becoming charming seducers, these men encounter a paradox of self-expression and imitation that seems to compromise the very attributes of masculinity they seek to embody. In particular, embodying style trains these men in incipiently queer norms of evaluating each other that frustrates the presumed heteronormativity of sexual desire they believe they are teaching themselves to express.[6]  In this article I follow a series of coaching interactions between one dating coach, a twentysomething Italian-American entrepreneur named Ben, and his students.[7] Reflecting on the changing social values of masculinity, I show how using fashion becomes a means to enable homosocial intimacies between men in ways they hope will reveal a secret: not about what women want, but rather about themselves.[8] The research for this article was conducted in 2015, over the course of 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork observing seduction communities in New York City, as well as through interviews with their participants and via digital research in online chatroom forums.[9]


Part One: Seduction Skills and the Transformative Semiotics of Fashion

In order to understand the value of fashion in seduction, we have to understand more about seduction routines themselves. Flirting is a genre of verbal and nonverbal interpersonal behaviors that are fused together. Although dating coaches describe their models of seduction in different ways, there are broad similarities in the formal properties they share. First, there is the approach and opening gambit whereby the seducer seeks to engage his target (a stranger) in some form of conversation. (This is often a comment about the other person’s appearance or the environmental circumstances they share.) Second, the seducer pivots the conversation, generally by adding a remark or inference—whether spurious or not—that ascribes certain attributes to the other person, seeking to pique their interest, while also seeking to begin a socially-acceptable conversation of what is often called small talk.[10]

Up to this point, the seducer attempts to build comfort by reassuring the other person that they are able to pass as “normal”—that is, socially-aware, respectful, and curious within bounds of public decency and propriety—so that their interlocutor may feel comfortable and at ease.[11] After small talk, the seducer generally attempts to stimulate desire in his conversant by interjecting a sexual undercurrent to the conversation. He may do this through extended eye contact, light touching, proxemics and body language.[12] He may also do this through playful verbal behavior such as breaking rapport—challenging his interlocutor, or teasing them—to affirm his autonomy and present himself as a challenge by performing diffidence. Physically, he may seek to embody status by standing tall and taking up space through gestures, or by touching his partner for conversational emphasis. Using a tactic called push-pull[13]—what one informant referred to as “pressure, pressure, and release”—the seducer seeks to create a feeling of desire, coupled with trust, by playfully breaking social norms.

As dating coaches see it, attraction is the perception of value. As such, attraction is born in a crucible of biological drives and cultural constraints. The paradoxical use of fashion materials in seduction training is that intimacy, like love, is culturally mythologized as a quintessentially immaterial and emotional human experience.[14] So, on one level, the use of fashion accessories in seduction routines is pragmatic. It is designed to provide a prop, an accessory that helps to facilitate flirting.[15] Fashion acts as an external factor that both people can relate to, and that conveniently places the would-be seducer between curiosity and nosiness. As a female instructor demonstrated during a workshop in Brooklyn on how to make small talk, “Nice glasses, are those Warby Parker? No, well I’ll have to find out where they’re from then.” Other props for this discrete misdirection include cellphones, jewelry, clothing, and pets.[16] Material extensions become ripe fodder for flirting because they extend the owner’s personal space—and their proximal tractability to touch—while preserving the plausible deniability of overt sexual interest. By mobilizing intrigue through uncertainty, flirting allows these fashion accessories to take on ascribed personal qualities of their owners through physical, bodily association and contiguity.

On another level, fashion is supposed to be a materially agentive means of self-transformation. It is not only supposed to represent and telegraph[17] a person’s identity, it’s also supposed to transform[18] their felt sense of confidence and self-image as a seductive sort of man. Put differently, fashion both reflects (a model of) and enacts (a model for) masculinity. Men report that seduction training brings improvements not just in their love lives, but in their work, social mobility, and family relationships as well. As such, the uses of fashion in seduction training fit within a panoply of other remedies which men in seduction communities may resort to—including bio-hacking nutritional supplements and even psychoactive drugs—to improve their lifestyle through life hacking.[19] More broadly, it reflects contemporary economic trends that prioritize innovation and flexibility by blurring the roles of producers and consumers, puncturing the boundary between work and play, and encouraging aspirational acts of personal branding across digital media and in real life.[20]

So far, the instrumental use of fashion fits neatly within a heteronormative framework of masculinity that emphasizes self-enhancement, performance optimization, and entrepreneurial risk-taking. Yet unlike purely instrumental supplements of self-enhancement, fashion takes on added importance because it expresses the subjectivity of the wearer. It is believed to capture and remark upon something ineffable about the wearer’s presence, their individuality, and how they subjectively feel. So it is not only used to have an effect on the viewer,[21] it is also worn to both express and mold emotional experiences in the wearer. Its ultimate target is not the woman’s perception so much as the set of relations between the man’s body image, his sense of self, and his capacities for action in the world. Because of this dual work, fashion also heightens an inherent paradox in seduction skills training between manipulation and a self-expression of latent social identities. It does so by illuminating a contradiction in cultural ideas of masculinity: on one hand, as the surface expression of an innate property of biological sex,[22] and on the other hand as a repertoire of signifiers—of meanings and values—that can be grasped through practice, skill, and canny techniques of self-presentation. Given this contradiction, how can fashion work—as seducers hope it does—to give both wearer and viewer a gut feeling of gendered confidence?


Part Two: Attention, Attraction, and Aspiring to Hegemonic Masculinity

Richard Branson, Elvis Presley, Steve Jobs, Clint Eastwood, Marlon Brando, Batman, Scottie Pippen, James Bond, James Dean. In seduction communities, a cadre of predominantly white, male celebrities animate the fantasy life of seduction adepts, offering models of the sorts of men they seek to become. Their yearning for celebrity is not gratuitous. These figures embody fashion as a trace of enigmatic value that denotes social hierarchy, a physical sign that seducers believe will make them into men deserving of attraction in women’s eyes.

October 24, 2015. It was the fourth meeting of a three-month long seduction skills training course called a bootcamp. Run as a non-profit organization, this seduction community was made up of students and coaches who volunteered to teach each-other in bi-weekly meetings comprised of seminars and outings to bars and lounges around Manhattan to chat up women. In a rented dance studio in the Flatiron District, Ben stepped up to address the men with a lecture about fashion:

Ben asks: “Why is fashion important?”

Someone volunteers: “It makes the job [of seduction] easier.”

Another guy adds: “It makes you feel good about yourself.”

Another and another and another: “It makes your first impression.” “It telegraphs your personality.” “It allows you to embody a character that becomes your ideal.”

Ben: “When you dress well, not only do you feel better about yourself, more confident. Also, girls will react to you differently, because you look better. Throughout history, all the people who had more money or more skill sets used to dress better; royalty used to wear purple. People with fancy hairstyles were chiefs, leaders of certain tribal cultures and stuff. And nowadays, fashion communicates status, and status is probably the one most universal attraction trigger that there is. Status—somebody who’s high status—they have a lot of money, they have a lot of social power, [and] all that’s related to the way you look. They’ve done studies that show that for men, what’s actually as important as a woman’s figure is how well-kept they keep themselves.”

Popular and academic discourses[23] presuppose that seduction communities teach attributes of what sociologists term hegemonic masculinity,[24] and what dating coaches call alpha masculinity.[25] As a concept, hegemonic masculinity names a set of cultural ideologies which promote male domination and female subordination through overt and tacit practices across a spectrum of institutions, sex roles, and gender performances. Behaviors that collectively constitute an ideal type of hegemonic masculinity may include risk-taking, violence and aggression, competitiveness, emotional restraint, toughness, and rugged individualism. These modes of performing power imply a premium on personal agency and social status and a discounting of emotional expressiveness and sentimentality. In this sense, seduction skills represent a heterosexual male fantasy of autonomy writ large.

“What look do you think I’m going for with my outfit?” During a fashion outing to the department stores lining 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan, the men paused as Ben urged them to check him out. A lanky and well-groomed Asian man in his mid-twenties ventured a guess, “biker?” “That is correct,” replied Ben. “But you could say it’s a blend of biker, with a touch of rock star.” Ben encouraged them to model their fashion image based on film stars they admire in popular movies. He showed off a pair of gloves which he had bought on the internet. “I was trying to get the gloves like Ryan Gosling in Drive. These really do the trick, and they also double as great driving gloves.” He added, “what else do you think of when you see these gloves?” “BDSM,” ventured another man. Ben replied, “When women see these gloves, it reminds them completely of that new movie in theaters 50 Shades of Grey. It makes them think of what’s already in their minds and they can’t help but think of, so it’s an added layer of conversation—and all from doing nothing but wearing these gloves.” For Ben, both seduction and fashion are about directing the attention of others by framing conscious and unconscious awareness. Fashion stimulates the five senses, which encourages states of psychological suggestibility and facilitates emotional transfer from speaker to recipient. If successful, Ben hopes this bracketing can allow the man and woman to more easily inhabit a temporary intimacy outside of time and place, which he believes may stir feelings of romantic attraction.

How can we parse the relationship between attraction and manipulation apparent in Ben’s discourse? A key notion for him are the two ideas of “flow” and “swagger.” Flow is how one’s fashion accessories play together to match and create movement in the viewer’s eye. “It’s very simple,” he explained. “Flow has three components to it: color, material, and character.” Swagger, by contrast, is how any particular piece of fashion stands out on its own—what Ben calls a “set piece”—in order to attract attention, entice the viewer, and stimulate their emotional responses. “Swagger is the flashiness of a certain outfit or item. So the thing about swagger is, people pick up on it.” Like the push-pull of seduction, flow seeks to create a psychosomatic attunement for both wearer and viewer, while swagger evokes an aesthetics of tension—visually and iconically breaking rapport—so as to create a sense of beguiling distance.

Whereas flow and swagger appear first as aesthetic qualities they attest to spheres of moral and ethical action. For the seducer himself, fashion works as a porous interface. It straddles—and strategically punctuates—the boundary between body-image (a representation of the body) and body-schema (the felt experience of lived embodiment).[26] It generates allure because it envelops the wearer in a distributed, material network of visual, tactile, and olfactory perceptions that in turn store implicit knowledge and cultural capital. This material network signals social norms effortlessly through the properties of imaginative differentiation and integration, as well as through competent curation and composition of its elements. At the same time, fashion expresses a language of desire and consent that orients towards playfulness, seeking to endow both the wearer and the viewer with expanded range of action and license, while also withholding equality (transparency of motives) in order to create the attractive effect of glamour.[27]

Flow and swagger relate fashion to seduction skills in another sense too. As previously discussed, the work of fashion is both material and imaginative. It offers what Virginia Postrel calls a form of “nonverbal rhetoric” that seeks to persuade us “not through words but through images, concepts, and totems.”[28] Like the creative work of branding, fashion as seduction involves the pairing of cultural signifiers (for Ben, the films Drive and 50 Shades of Grey) through which these men’s yearning for heterosexual masculinity can be projected as a unique, evocative, and glamorous identity. By reconfiguring material aspects of fashion as a virtuosic performance of selfhood, flow seeks to create states of cognitive absorption[29] for the seducer himself that bridge self-expression and instrumental efficacy. It shows that the charismatic agency of fashion, and the purported authenticity of fashion as an expression of identity, is not innate. Instead, it is learned as a result of culturally-specific practices—such as dress habits and mental visualization exercises—that are repeated over time.[30] Through a gestalt reversal of figure and ground, flow and swagger work as a means of the man’s own enthrallment by seeking to impart a “heightened sense of the reality of [themselves as an] attentional object.”[31]

This view has limits, however, when we consider the role fashion plays in seduction communities among men themselves. In describing the suggestive efficacy of his gloves, Ben’s willful suspension of disbelief is not seamless as he unwittingly reveals that dominance appears side-by-side with kitsch.[32] A dimension of camp[33] lingers because it is his very advice that suggests his display of power may be purely formal and aesthetic. In other words, he is only pretending. His bodily adornment seems designed to capture value in a way that compromises the very free will, individuality, and self-determination that he believes are part-and-parcel of alpha masculinity as a quintessential expression of agency—of virile capacity, unmediated efficacy, and able-bodiedness—that eschews procedural excess and self-indulgence.[34]


Part Three: Failing Autonomy and the Paradoxes of Change

November 7, 2015. At the next meeting of the seduction community, Ben led his clients through an embodiment exercise that was designed to help them model confident body language. On herringbone parquet floors of the rented dance studio in Midtown Manhattan, he explained that they would experience the emotion of alpha masculinity by adopting its physiology through posture, gestures, and other kinesics.[35] Oscar, a 39-year old software engineer, was having trouble adjusting his stiff gait to fit the loose, self-assured swagger his coach was looking for:

Ben: “Do it again, and take your time, Oscar. Stop and smell the roses kind of thing. Imagine that you own this venue. You’re the owner. If you’re the owner, you’re not just going to be going from point A to point B.”

Oscar: “I actually feel that way often. I feel disconnected from the crowd, and more like the owner of the place.”

Ben, somewhat incredulously: “You feel like the owner?”

Oscar: “Yeah, disconnected from the crowd.”

Ben: “Well, being disconnected is different from being the owner. I mean, they might be related.”

Oscar: “He’s not part of the crowd.”

Ben: “Well, he’s not part of the crowd—he’s actually above the crowd, because he has responsibility for the whole thing.”

Oscar: “Right.”

Ben: “So he’s not gonna be just going, like, on a mission like this [Ben mimics robotic trudging]—he’s gonna be looking around at everything. It’s a very different vibe. If you’re intimidated by the situation, it’s like ‘oh shit, oh shit, I’ve just gotta get from point A to point B here. It’s very different body language. But if you’re the owner, the venue is your bitch, right? That’s the mentality you want to have. Positive, dominant.”

Silence, Oscar does not reply.

Ben: “And also, remember—guys, don’t look down while you’re walking. Look up! Alright, give it a try.”

Thud, thud, thud as Oscar strides across the room.

Ben: “Chin up, shoulders back! Very good. Chin up! Higher—higher. Chin up higher.” 

Oscar: “That’s looking up, though.”

Ben: “Yeah, it doesn’t matter!”

Oscar: “But I can’t see where I’m going if I’m looking up!”

Ben: “Listen, what’s—are there hazards on the wooden floor? Just because my chin is up, doesn’t mean I need to be looking up. My chin is up, but look straight ahead.”

Oscar: “Crazy.”

Ben: “Ahhh, there you go. Excellent, very good.”

Oscar points to a paradox between individualization and imitation. His failure is that he seems to do what Ben does for the sake of doing so. Moreover, his failures to walk like “the owner” of a nightclub illuminate an unexpected irony at the core of the model of alpha masculinity these men are trying to achieve. Oscar tries embodying the projective identity of alpha masculinity in his walk, and unexpectedly announces, to his coach’s consternation, that this is actually a familiar feeling of alienation—it leaves him feeling disconnected. This subtle insight confuses Ben, who can’t understand the idea of social disconnection implied by ownership, and instead presumes it simply means a desirable state of power coded as dominance.[36]

For Oscar, then, changing his posture appears as a mode of passing[37] for a heteronormative masculine subject that may result in debilitating self-consciousness and anxiety, undermining the very idea of hegemonic masculinity he seeks to achieve. Oscar’s ineptitude in walking like a man reveals that men are unequally positioned to access or act upon the supposedly innate, authentic affective desire that seduction skills are presumed only to express. This suggests that meritocratic access to desirable masculinity through self-help is embedded in the competent situational application of the scripts and repertoires of seduction techniques themselves. Through this lens, seduction skills appear valuable less for meeting women in sexually-charged contexts, and more for surveilling and assessing the class and race-delimited performance of able-bodiedness in other men. This includes hierarchical, yet incipiently queer acts of gazing, appraising, and touching each other’s bodies.

If claiming the right to transcend his sexual inhibitions is held up as a mark of Oscar’s autonomy then relying on a dating coach to execute the changes is a surrender into dependency. In his confusion, we read the paradoxical stance of seductive body language as a performance that is supposed to express the “real” Oscar, but that also constrains his capacity to express and transfer his authentic emotions. As sociologist Mike Featherstone wrote about cosmetic surgery, “the problem is that the changes… are simultaneously viewed as made at the behest of a subject… and as entailing a change in the self, the production of a different person.”[38] A British dating coach named Yossi put it this way: “[When I started learning dating skills] I had this dreamy idea of, ‘I’ll just meet a girl somewhere along the road, and she’ll just fall in love with me.’ But it just didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to be the actor, I wanted to be someone who acted—not actor in the sense of a fake person, but someone who acted on his intentions.” Yossi catches himself, unwittingly reflecting the double-meaning of acting as denoting both agency and appearance.

This paradox of desire and manipulation reflects 20th century trends that code lifestyle consumerism as self-expression,[39] an effort that has long confronted the myth of erstwhile self-made men in the United States with a fear of perceived emasculation.[40] In this sense, the use of fashion in seduction commoditizes the men’s relations to their own bodies as products for women’s consumption. The double meaning of acting explains why seduction skills may lure these men to psychologically dissociate from empathy with the women with whom they interact in their dating lives. Oscar’s inhibition signals the shame of feeling inadequate or disabled in relation to cultural stereotypes of virility: effeminized and unmasked as merely passing, unable to live up to Western cultural models that present heterosexual masculinity as innate, biological, and antithetical to simulation.[41] Ben and Oscar’s stories point to an attempt to remediate a sense of identity these men believe is compromised through the use of a supplement that signifies precisely the thing they lack. These instances threaten the men with the shadow of dependency, showing themselves as less than the autonomous, self-fashioning individuals they claim seduction skills are allowing them to become.


Conclusion: The Prestige of Hope and the Abjection of Self-Help

The value of fashion in heterosexual seduction training is both concrete and abstract. By binding image and desire, fashion straddles the line between agency and consumerism, and between self-expression and contingent imitation. Fashion and seduction are both designed to communicate prestigious experiences of embodiment. They enroll the man in the work of fantasy to envision his future self, while simultaneously offering material support—both evidence and means—for its realization. In the work of self-transformation, fashion “gives form to desire and substance to hope.”[42] In this sense, fashion coaching acts as a mirror of heterosexual seduction training, which itself depends on balancing structure with spontaneity in seeking to create emotions of intrigue and desire in the recipient. Whether for good or for ill, fashion expresses a form of power that can inspire life-changing action by materially articulating a subjective vision for the future.

At the same time, this article has shown how fashion can signal heterosexual men’s fear of missing out on a certain kind of masculine embodiment. As a mode of coping with feelings of gender inadequacy, fashion represents a cathartic response to social insecurity. The necessity to become skilled in techniques of attraction represents a solipsistic fantasy, reflecting an absence of shared social values, and symbolizing an individual’s inability to garner support from his community. By offering an antidote to the messy world of human relationships through their role as charismatic experts, dating coaches act as what anthropologist Carrie Lane calls a “human palliative”[43] for men who feel inadequate in their social relations. The uses of fashion in seduction training alternately position men to embody culturally favored models of masculinity while showing the paradoxes of self-help that may reinforce isolation and anxiety under the guise of individual empowerment.



[1] The term ‘knowledge economy’ refers to economic relations that depend on the use of immaterial, cognitive, or knowledge labor to create tangible and intangible value. The term was originally coined by management consultant Peter Drucker in his book Post-Capitalist Society (Oxford, UK: Butterworth Heinemann, 1993).

[2] For an overview of the Western cultural history of dating, see: Moira Weigel, Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016).

[3] Dating coaches are hired to teach a variety of soft skills: everything from networking to seduction, including a variable and eclectic range of New Age practices aimed to instill greater self-confidence.

[4] Alison Hearn, “’Meat, Mask, Burden’: Probing the Contours of the Branded Self,” Journal of Consumer Culture 8:2 (2008): 197-217.

[5] Cressida Heyes, Self-Transformations: Foucault, Ethics, and Normalized Bodies (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[6] Heteronormativity is the belief that people fall into distinct, binary genders of men and women. It assumes that heterosexuality the only valid sexual orientation, and therefore assumes an overlap between gender identity, heterosexual orientation, and biological sex.

[7] In group-based settings of the seduction community, I observed the coach’s teachings as a putative student and member of the group. The coach was informed as to my research motivation, and so I left it to his discretion whether to illuminate my research goals to the other students.

[8] Homosociality means same-sex relationships that are not of a romantic or sexual nature.

[9] According with Institutional Research Board (IRB) procedures for the protection of research subjects, all informant names have been assigned a pseudonym in this article to ensure anonymity and confidentiality.

[10] People have long struggled with carrying on conversations. Making small talk has been a topic of self-help manuals as far back as the 19th Century, and is often a subject in handbooks on manners, etiquette, and courtship before that.

[11] Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York: Doubleday, 1959).

[12] Mike’s assistant, a dating coach named Dave, elaborated the different variables of body language that may affect attraction: posture, facial expressions, eye contact, vocal tonality and projection, body movements and gestures and head movements, walk, and physical touch.

[13] A controversial flirting technique that attracted a great deal of disdain and derision in the popular media is the so-called “neg”: a back-handed compliment by which the seducer seeks to show his sexual interest side-by-side with a verbal gesture of diffidence.

[14] This cultural trope is most commonly encountered in the romantic idea that love is a merging of two souls.

[15] Perhaps the most well-known use of fashion in seduction communities is through what’s known as peacocking: wearing unexpected, surprising, or outlandish fashion accessories in order to stand out from the crowd and attract attention. The use of the term peacocking (referencing the notion that peacocks have evolved to attract a mate by fanning their tail feathers) signals a more general tendency in these communities to understand social relations through the zero-sum laws of evolutionary psychology.

[16] Commonly used in pickpocketing and stage magic, misdirection enables the performance of a magic trick by focusing the audience’s attention on one thing, a red herring, in order to distract its attention from another.

[17] As sociologist Diana Crane writes, “clothes as artifacts ‘create’ behavior through their capacity to impose social identities and empower people to assert latent social identities.” Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 2.

[18] Writing about fashion and cosmetic surgery, sociologist Mike Featherstone calls this “a prosthetic for imaginative work.” In “Body, Image, and Affect in Consumer Culture,” Body & Society 16:1 (2010): 198.

[19] Life hacking refers to any shortcut, remedy, trick, or technique that is supposed to increase the user’s efficiency and productivity in any given endeavor.

[20] In a blog post titled “Personal Branding: Show Your Inner World,” female dating coach Arden Leigh cites New York nightlife entrepreneur Shien Lee, who remarks that “embodying fantasy is important because you have to show your inner world.” Leigh continues, “creating a personal brand is an exercise in self-actualization.” This notion of self-help dovetails with contemporary relations of economic production. As British geographer Nigel Thrift writes, “economies must be engaging: they must generate or scoop up affects and then aggregate and amplify them in order to produce value, and that must involve producing various mechanisms of fascination”. “Understanding the Material Practices of Glamour,” Melissa Gregg and Gregory Seigworth eds., The Affect Theory Reader (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

[21] This idea of designing a production for the audience’s reception is generally summarized in the sociological theory of Erving Goffman, who writes about social interactions through the metaphorical toolkit of dramaturgy.

[22] A paradigmatic example of this belief in biological masculinity can be seen in sex reassignment surgery. See the discussion of sexologist John Money in chapter three, “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” in Judith Butler’s book Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004).

[23] Amanda Denes, “Biology as Consent: Problematizing the Scientific Approach to Seducing Women’s Bodies,” Women’s Studies International Forum 34:5 (2011), 411-419.

[24] R. W. Connell, Masculinities (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005).

[25] Borrowing from the language of evolutionary psychology, the concept of alpha masculinity encodes relational inequality as leadership by asserting that men should escalate dates with women in an explicitly sexual direction.

[26] Body image is generally understood as “an image of one’s body as it appears to others.” By contrast, body schema means the body’s felt experience, “the body’s sensory-motor capacities that function in a haptic manner” (Featherstone 194).

[27] The allure of stylized transgression is historically iconized in the 19th Century modernist cultural figures of the dandy or the Parisian flaneur. Further back in time, Italian Renaissance courtier Baldassare Castiglione writes, “[glamor requires] to practice in all things a certain sprezzatura, and so to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort” (Castiglione 1959, cited in Thrift 299).

[28] Virginia Postrel, The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 6.

[29] Flow is a concept of optimal performance and human functioning that comes from psychological literature, and it is commonly applied in sports, music, and other artistic and creative contexts. It is also increasingly applied in workplaces and business management. In a flow state time is distorted; inhibitions are lowered, and action seems effortless and automatic. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008).

[30] Eitan Wilf, “Streamlining the Muse: Creative Agency and the Reconfiguration of Charismatic Education as Professional Training in Israeli Poetry Writing Workshops,” Ethos 41:2 (2013), 130.

[31] Tellegen and Atkinson (1974:268) in Wilf, Eitan. “Streamlining the Muse: Creative Agency and the Reconfiguration of Charismatic Education as Professional Training in Israeli Poetry Writing Workshops.” In Ethos 41(2), 137. 

[32] Kitsch refers to a style of low-brow art using popular or cultural icons. It is generally used in a pejorative sense, implying a purpose that is purely ornamental and decorative rather than estimable art.

[33] Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp’,” Fabio Cleto ed., Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject: A Reader (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1999), 53-65.

[34] This stigma also arises in discussions of the ethics of sex work. See: Julia O’Connell Davidson, “The Rights and Wrongs of Prostitution,” Hypatia 17:2 (2002), 84-98.

[35] Kinesics means nonverbal communication that is embodied through facial expressions, gestures, and other body language.

[36] For instance, Oscar’s attempts readily call to mind the controversial, much-debated studies by Amy Cuddy on the effectiveness of so-called “power poses.” See: Dana Carney, Amy Cuddy and Andy Yap, “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance,” Psychological Science 21:10 (2010), 1363-1368.

[37] Passing refers to people in socially marginal positions who seek to be accepted as belonging to a different race, class, or gender identity from which they are otherwise excluded.

[38] Featherstone, Mike. 2010. “Body, Image, and Affect in Consumer Culture.” In Body & Society 16:1, 198.

[39] Christopher Breward discusses the embedding of consumerism in the masculine dandy ethic in 19th Century London. The Hidden Consumer: Masculinities, Fashion and City Life 1860-1914 (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1999). See also: Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

[40] Michael Kimmel, The History of Men: Essays on the History of American and British Masculinities (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2005).

[41] Gender theorist R. W. Connell (2005) discusses at length Western cultural beliefs that “true masculinity” is perceived to stem from men’s bodies, and thus bears an essential nature that is resistant to change. As classical historian and queer theory scholar David Halperin adds, “style counts as feminine and substance as masculine, since [cultural models of] masculinity [are] fundamentally concerned with the true content of things, whereas femininity is concerned with frivolous matters such as appearance. Men act; women appear.” How To Be Gay (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 326.

[42] Virginia Postrel, The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 4.

[43] Carrie Lane, “Dueling Interpretations of the Professional Organizing Industry,” Contexts 14:4 (2015), 63.

Race in Vogue: Finding Myself in a Space of Exclusion

Race in Vogue: Finding Myself in a Space of Exclusion