Where Is Thy Sting
O Vanity, Where Is Thy Sting? Men, Try Los Angeles
by David Colman
WHEN it comes to appearances, women are exposed to the most scrutiny, but men are hardly indifferent to codes of grooming and dress. And even with the (theoretically) less vain sex, sharp distinctions exist between New York, London and Los Angeles.
Though London has a reputation for rigidity in matters of appearance — pinstriped suits, clean-cut hair — and Los Angeles is considered supercasual, the truth is exactly the reverse, according to globe-trotting style experts. “The standards for haircuts in London are really pretty backward,” said John Barrett, the English-born hairstylist who operates a salon in New York and makes frequent trips to Los Angeles for clients. “Then, in New York,there is a much bigger choice for hair, but as far as spa services for men go, I think it still has a gay connotation. Whereas in Los Angeles nearly every guy I know gets a facial.”
“Look,” he added, putting it on the line, “I charge 350 bucks for a haircut. No man would pay me that in London. In New York, there are a few who do. In Los Angeles, the guys line up for me to cut their hair. They respect that a good haircut can be worth that.”
Others might argue that it’s the Barrett brand, more than the style, that makes the cut. Thomas Bezucha, a Los Angeles-based movie director (“Big Eden”), said that what separates residents of his city from New Yorkers and the British is “there’s not so much a class system here as there is an unforgiving system of status symbols — the difference between a Boxster and a Miata can kill you.” Mr. Bezucha, who was an executive at Polo Ralph Lauren in New York, traded his fashionable Manhattan world for filmmaking. But he wasn’t ready for Los Angeles style.
“The real difference between New York and L.A. is that in New York, everyone in every industry is looking for the next new idea,” he said. “Here, everyone’s just wants to make the sequel.” In style terms, he said, “that translates to a kind of personal armor where individuality is not really encouraged.” From the right haircut, superwhite teeth and trim abdomen, to where one is seated at which restaurant, “these things aren’t musts — they’re critical,” he said.
Gavin Brown, a roguish London-born art dealer whose gallery and adjacent bar, Passerby, on West 15th Street are an axis of New York cool, said of Los Angeles: “It’s generally a more conservative city. There is real currency there in terms of presenting yourself in a public way — and it doesn’t seem as true here in New York. London is becoming very media-oriented, but they’re hanging on to the idea that they don’t give a damn, which is a look unto itself.”
Mr. Barrett agreed: “In Los Angeles, it’s perfect skin, perfect hair — you have to follow an ideal; it’s a pack mentality.”
The most acceptable personal style in Los Angeles seems to be someone else’s, said Paul Fortune, a British-born interior decorator who lives there. “Everyone wants to look like Brad Pitt,” he said. “They want to have the abs and the tan and the shaggy hair, his kind of 60’s drug-dealer look, with the hat on backward and tattoos. But the truth is that most 40-year-old movie executives don’t look good in that look.”
Not for lack of trying, said Dr. John E. Sherman, a Manhattan plastic surgeon, who conferred with West Coast colleagues to suggest a general patient profile. “The average man in New York is 53 when he starts contemplating his first facelift,” Dr. Sherman said. “Meanwhile, his L.A. counterpart is contemplating his second facelift, and some liposuction, at 44. There’s a big difference, in terms of the frequency, the extent and an earlier onset.”
Glenn O’Brien, GQ’s “Style Guy” columnist, who lives in New York, said: “Mutton dressed as lamb. It’s not as important to appear young-young-young in New York. Here, a lot of guys will paint some brown in with the gray hair, to downplay it, whereas in L.A., they just go all the way and dye it all.”
The gray scale is off the charts with teeth. “With guys from Los Angeles, it’s never enough — they always want it whiter and whiter,” said Dr. Irwin Smigel, a Manhattan dentist, who founded the American Society for Dental Aesthetics in 1976. “They do everything to excess there. In New York, the men want them whiter, but more natural.” His British patients, he said, are often less interested in teeth-whitening procedures than a whole new mouth. “They just come to me and ask for a big American smile — but darker than New York, and way darker than L.A.,” he said.