Scruffiness… Again

As I write this, I’m winding up the last legs of a comparatively short – 11 day – book tour that’s beginning to feel a bit longer than that.  Last night, I ate dinner in a small and rather odd restaurant/bar at the edge of the campus of an enormous university.  The restaurant was located in a former flower shop that still retained the burned-out exterior neon lights proclaiming its previous inhabitant; the inside was loud and cacophonous; and the décor was third-rate thrift shop downscale.  The food was far better than all of those, despite the fact that the cook/chef had run out of both chicken, in all forms, and most beef. In fact, the dinner was good.  Not great, but good, and better than some meals I’ve had in far more upscale eateries.

What totally astounded me, however, were the young men I witnessed.  The young women looked, at least to me, pretty much like young female college students have looked for at least the past generation, perhaps a shade more casual, but clearly all had given some thought to their attire and personal appearance and apparent hygiene.  The men, however, were largely the most unwholesome, grubby, grimy crew I’ve witnessed in years.  I’ve seen third world poverty more than I care to remember, and these male college students looked more impoverished and certainly less well attired than most impoverished males I’ve seen in far more destitute locales. I wondered if it just happened to be the restaurant, but, no, there wasn’t too much difference between those males passing on the street and those inside.  These collegiate inhabitants – I hesitate to call them students – made the hippies of the 1960s, by comparison, look well-groomed and like sartorial savants. I’m not against beards or long hair on men, either.  Some men look far better that way, but wearing a rat’s nest on your head or chin doesn’t do much for anyone. Nor does three-and-half-day stubble.

I couldn’t believe it’s just the economy, although I know college students these days are struggling financially, but I also know that, for the most part, women students have to struggle harder financially than do men, yet the women dress far better and are far better groomed.  Is it a matter of priorities – that men now value their tech toys more than their appearance and hygiene?  Or is it other priorities – that video games and tech toys have replaced young women as the highest item on their priority list? I hadn’t the faintest idea, but I couldn’t understand where those male creatures came from, because the young men on the university campus in my town certainly didn’t look like that.  Nor could I fathom how young women could find such men even remotely attractive and interesting.

But here’s the interesting part. The next morning, when I went through the campus again, the vast majority of the collegiate males were just like the ones in my own university town… but that night, the scruffy ones returned.  Are they the new vampires… only out at night? Is it only at that one university?  I can’t really say, but it’s perhaps just as well that I don’t know.

10 thoughts on “Scruffiness… Again”

  1. Kathryn says:

    You know, I gotta pull you up a little on this, Mr Modesitt.

    I mean I’m not disagreeing with you as such – the grubbier, smellier, least ‘acceptable’ people I see tend to be male – but it’s really more to do with society as a whole. Even when poor, women tend to make more of an effort *because society tells them to*. It’s why you see young teen girls (under 16) trying to dress like girls closer to 20, yet their bodies aren’t developed enough, etc. so you have this rather sad parody of maturity walking around.

    Women are told constantly from TV, magazines, other women, men, etc. to be pretty, to look good, to dress nice, etc. because they’re women (and because they need to impress the menfolk), whereas men don’t have that pressure. Yeah, there is some pressure in some ways, but on the whole there isn’t this same level of “you must look handsome and be chivalrous”, and you don’t have aggressive marketing towards men for products to cover acne, skin quibbles and so forth, so men tend to bare all rather than cover it.

    So I do agree with you, but I also don’t. It’s utterly nothing to do with ‘video games and tech toys’, it’s to do with completely different levels of expectation for young men and young women.

    And trust me, young women get the short end of the stick on this one.

    1. I agree with you on almost all points, except that I still think tech toys play a role.

      1. Kathryn says:

        Well, stereotypes are borne out of fact, so obviously some of the scruffy people will be tech-obsessed, but I would say it’s a factor for one fraction of the scruffy people, i.e. some of those obsessed with tech toys will be scruffy, but not all scruffy people will be obsessed with tech toys. I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at there.

        I suppose what I meant was I don’t think tech toys *as such* make people scruffy, because those same people would probably have some other ‘vice’ (such as it is) if tech toys weren’t available.

        1. Ryan Jackson says:

          While said observations are purely anecdotal I’d point out that at least in some case, tech savy leads to more pride in oneself and effort.

          At my office we have both decently groomed men and men like you describe. I am a gamer, aside from reading, art, music, martial arts, I also spend a good bit of time with video games and tech gadgets. So do many of those I work with. Those gamers also tend to be better kept and take more pride in their image than the ones I note to be more of what you expect out of a stereo typical “Cool guy”.

          I can’t say why that is, but it’s a pattern I have noticed in my office.

  2. Wine Guy says:

    IF the womenfolk would stop thinking that scruffy and unkempt meant “interesting but sweet nonconformist who I can turn into a project and fix…” then the scruffs would clean up. It might take a while, but it would eventually work.

    1. Kathryn says:

      But if any do that, it’s a minority.

      The onus is on the menfolk to clean up their own act.

  3. Nathaniel says:

    I like your use of the term “college inhabitant”, as at my university (University of Texas, ~5 years ago) there was a whole… class of individuals who had dropped out of college, or graduated and done nothing, or who only took a class or two a semester, but persisted in spending their time (especially their nights) near campus in a sort of suspended development cycle. When they were college students, they had been “cool”, but now they were just poorly-employed adults with no prospects or plans. These men (and the vast majority were men) seemed to feel that by remaining in the college area, they could retain that sense of “coolness” that they could not pretend to have in a non-college environment, where they would instead have to grow up.

    As you note, they seem to vanish during the day- after all, their primary purpose in life seems to be to get drunk in college bars and ignore their ever-decreasing success rate at flirting with college-age women.

  4. Scott says:

    Being a recent graduate, my experience is that men and women’s the choice of major often plays a part. The science and engineering major’s often require the students to spent a great deal of time on campus for projects and homework. As a computer engineer, for certain projects I never left the engineering building for a week, unless to was to get food. Normally in a type of place you described. If you are desperately trying to get a duo core processor working before the deadline, you’re not just going to leave your partners telling them you need to go groom yourself. Liberal arts and business majors may do the same amount of work, but they can do it from anywhere. Preferably, places with showers.

  5. AndrewV says:

    I think many men are told they are bumbling idiots and women are just plain better than ‘those Neanderthals we think of as men.’ Also, consider that college students go through an orientation that portrays men as misogynist, racist(if they are white), and sexual predators. If you(plural) were a young man who saw your gender displayed as a doofus foil to the superior woman on television and elementary school took special time to tell you how all your ancestors were awful, wouldn’t you have a tough time shaking all that off to ‘be a better man?’

    Personally I think everyone, men and women, should dress well and keep up their appearances. Overweight people should hit the gym. Men should try their best to be handsome and women should try to be pretty. If everyone did it, I think we could get back some of the professionalism that has been lost over the past 20 years. ‘The clothes make the man’ is not a truism, but there is some truth there.

  6. Grey says:

    I think this is over-blowing it; these guys are just the hipster of the current age.

    The Scruffy Hipster is a thing now. (I live in San Francisco and get to observe each wave of hipster archetype.) I agree that to some extent it’s like Nathaniel observed – a suspended development cycle – where people are adopting a social persona that fits their current state in life (‘I dress like this because it’s cool; that I have few funds and can’t do any better is a coincidence!’*). But also it’s just what’s “in” right now – Google a band like Mumford & Sons and you will see the grooming cues they are taking.

    I also disagree that it’s the tech toys; if someone is not bathing and spending their days playing Candy Crush, you would do better seeing them both as a sign of untreated mental illness or depression.

    *Flaunting their abandon of basic social standards could also be their rejection of a society that has no place for them; there fewer and fewer meaningful jobs and careers for the recently graduated. As has been noted on this blog and elsewhere, the current economy is really quite unfair…

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