International Male: How a Mail Order Catalog Changed Menswear and Queer Desire Forever

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“They never thought, like we’re doing something good for gay rights or helping our siblings?” Darling said of the staff. “It was really a reflection of their desires. The things they liked. The way they thought a sexy man would look. They put it all in there and it gets broadcast. And finally, when 3 million boys and men take ownership of this stuff, and women, it starts to change perceptions.

The spring 1987 catalog.

Courtesy of © Brawn, LLC / ALL MAN: International male history

Maureen Dalton Wolfe worked at International Male from about 1985 to 1990, first designing storefronts for the San Diego retail store, then working as an art director for the shoots. “I was at home,” she says. “Like, I met my people, and I was adopted by all these boys. They just welcomed me. The gays around her didn’t have to hide in the closet at work, chatting about theirs. weekends and frequenting Black’s clubs and beach in La Jolla, where clothing is optional. During the ’80s and early’ 90s, at the height of male modeling, they hired models fresh off the runways. Versace and cologne ads. (Although some models would not work with International Male because it was considered a “gay” brand.)

“We were doing a casting and five hundred guys or more showed up. The guys would come in and take their pants off immediately, ”adds Dalton Wolfe with a laugh. “I mean, they were like ‘Is this what you want to see?’ And I was like, ‘yes in a minute wait. Put them back. ‘”

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Back then, however, and even more so when Buckard and others left after catalog giant Hanover Direct bought International Male in 1988 and tried to generalize it in the 90s – there was a tightrope walk around not “looking” gay. Staff were getting calls from people wishing to remove themselves from this “gay porn” list. Maybe a series of photos showed models wearing wedding rings, and the phone lines would turn on because how dare they suggest that two men could get married?

Serious workout clothes.

Courtesy of © Brawn, LLC / ALL MAN: International male history

Courtesy of © Brawn, LLC / ALL MAN: International male history

“There was a constant battle, back and forth, over what we were projecting,” says Dalton Wolfe. “But at the same time, how do you have three guys in their underwear or two guys like wrestling and not looking a little gay?”

Now Dalton Wolfe can time International Malethe influence of in the neon clothes she sees at Urban Outfitters and ASOS when shopping for her son. “Boys have no problem with pink or purple, wearing nail polish or being feminine. And I have the impression International Male was at the start of it all, ”she said. All the men Producer and co-director Jesse Reed also sees the impact online, citing male users on TikTok – regardless of their sexuality – wearing expressive clothing that may have had their ass kicked in school twenty years ago. .

“Say what you want about social media, they democratized and gave a variety of quoted minority voices a agency, which can now spread and open up our world,” he says. “And that’s what connects me to International Male and what Gene was doing.

As Gene Buckard himself put it in his introduction to the Fall / Winter 1978-79 catalog, it was always International MaleThe aim of: “If it is true that fashion reflects the way we see ourselves, then we think you will find yourself in these pages. “

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