“Fashion fades, style is eternal,” said one French photographer very loudly as we waited in line to get into one of the films at the 71st Venice Film Festival earlier this month. It was there and then that I thought it time to ask the question everybody is asking: What’s up with young (and not-so-young) Italian men plucking their eyebrows? I mean, we are really talking drag-queen-quality grooming here. I realize that I am certainly not the first to notice this wild tweezing and that it has become, in the past ten years, very popular worldwide. But, what’s bizarre in Italy is that it isn’t the fancy hipsters in Milan or the metro-chic in Trastevere.
Al contrario, this is a true working-class armada of bus drivers and waiters and cops (yes, cops) who look like they are ready to lip-synch for their lives. I asked Carlo Antonelli, chief editor of GQ Italia and the person who more than anybody else knows about such matters, when and how this all happened. He maintains that “Italian masculinity is way more fucked up than you think. The patriarchal system has always allowed a certain level of contained gender-bending on the side of men, and this latest installment (the tweezing craze) is just another way of reaffirming one’s own polished macho self, in a way an extension of the chest-shaving gym aficionados’ passion for muscle definition.” But while the trend is unavoidable in Italy these days, as a friend from Jersey City reminded me, “Baldesar Castiglione in chapter four of The Book of the Courtier (1528) was already complaining about the ‘feminized fashion’ of men ‘curling their hair and plucking their eyebrows.’”