Back in 2014, a close friend introduced me to a fascinating Google experiment. It involved typing ‘korean men’ into the search bar. “Go on, see what kind of pictures you get,” he prodded.

I did as told and switched to the ‘images’ tab. The K-Pop cookie cutter look of porcelain skin, wavy fringes and manicured brows spilled across the screen. And I thought I was already doing well. I clacked the keyboard  for ‘japanese men’, ‘taiwanese men’ and ‘hong kong men’, and similarly, impeccably groomed heartthrobs popped up.

“Now, try ‘singaporean men’.” Although I knew in my heart this was probably not going anywhere near the male attractiveness standards set by the CC cream wearing Korean males, or the Japanese fashion savants, the Google results still hit hard. It made me feel like I was getting to a steamy sex scene in a movie, and then someone just pulled the plug.

That was pretty much how Seriously Man came about.

In case you’re new around the block, we’ve been fashioning guy guides – Guydes – on looking good as effortlessly as possible. Or at least presentable enough not to give members of the public conjunctivitis. Those not so new around the block might know us for our knife-edge sarcasm to incinerate guys for the kind of style disaster they inflict upon themselves – like wearing jeans with slippers – among other things.

However, our goal has never been all about dude-bashing because they’re still seen in Singha beer singlets, OTR berms and open-toed footwear. Our goal has never been all about making you self-conscious about your glaring lack of personal grooming, so it registers on you that grease, acne and UV-laden dullness are standing in the way of your inner Gosling.

And our goal has never been all about being the know-it-all voice of handsomeness. It’s a little bit of all of those.

#outfitspo in Singapore…

As much as one would hate to admit, men here aren’t exactly dressed in ways that’d make Singapore scream ‘Milan of Asia’. For such a progressive city state teeming with highly educated, affluent and sociopolitically woke men, I’m still being scarred by things like pairing professional work trousers with neon coloured trainers (seriously, please stop) when I take a walk around the CBD. It’s a shame they’re are dressed in fits, colours, combinations and proportions that don’t reflect a heightened sense of self.

I sometimes find myself hoping more days in the calendar year could be more like Chinese New Year – minus the jarring soundtracks – when a higher concentration of guys are seen stepping up their #OOTD game because looking shitty is bad luck. It’s refreshing. There are still hits and misses, but still, refreshing.

Speaking of misses, despite growing efforts and willingness among millennial males to experiment, grooming efforts remain nonexistent. What’s the use of blowing an entire year’s worth of savings on Gucci’s, Supreme’s and Balenciaga’s when they’re used as luxury masking tapes over gross bodily stuff you’ve yet to fix?

I’m hearing from the grapevines that men are still guilty of the following grooming abominations:

  1. Dousing one’s face in tap water passes for a great morning grooming routine.
  2. Using body soap as face cleanser (One fella told me he once reached for conditioner because his soap ran out. A fucking conditioner.).
  3. Not slapping on moisturiser after cleansing.
  4. Letting nails grow out into talons.
  5. Buying cheap, incompatible supermarket cleansers just to fulfill basic grooming.
  6. Buying cheap, scalp-destroying supermarket hair wax that’s hard to wash off.
  7. Asking for awfully deep undercuts at the barber while keeping hair on top long. I’d swear you’re wearing a wig if I hadn’t known better.
  8. Leaving chin whiskers unshaved.

Why Singaporean guys draw flak for their attitude towards personal appearance is more than just about the weather and stale retail scene, I surmised. A cultural shortcoming, perhaps. Time is money, and I’d rather add zeroes to my bank account than add-to-cart on ASOS. Pragmatism lives large in wardrobes (or lack thereof).

One time when I was getting my routine trim, my hairstylist Sherlin debated on the issue and brought up another experiment: talk a stroll down Orchard Road. You’re bound to spot a ‘mismatched’ couple or two, where the female of the pair is clearly dressed to impress and the male dressed to depress.

I figured you might pass that off as baseless coffeeshop talk. That’s why we’ve assembled experts on the subject matter on speed dial, along with 5-Minute column celebrity guests we’ve been interviewing this whole time.

Not surprisingly, they corroborated most, if not all of our observations.

Pragmatism vs Aesthetics

Yet, how’s that our business, right? We are free to wear whatever we please, and ‘how to look good’ is merely a vapid discussion that doesn’t pay the bills, bring everlasting happiness or uncover the meaning of life.

Well, except that it could. Labour economists have shed light on ‘beauty premium’, in which attractive looking males who invest in personal grooming were linked to higher academic performances and higher percentage increments in wages. This NUS economist has also written about similar findings; assuming two employees share the same characteristics like education, work experience, marital status and race, the better looking one can look forward to better paydays ahead.      

Ergo, the golden question: if science, stats and fashion literature have resoundingly established that the clothes on our back and smoothness of our complexion runs deeper than vanity, why haven’t men in Singapore wised up? And if Tom Ford’s wisdom about dressing well being good manners is an incontrovertible truth, why are men in Singapore still dressed and groomed like a walking middle finger to the world?

“It’s the weather!” Norman Tan, editor-in-chief of Esquire Singapore, piped up when I caught up with him. “And people here feel that looking good is not as important as, say, making money.”

But don’t you think that such mindset is ironic because dressing well can actually help you get there?

“Yes, first impression does matter, right?”  

The problem of our wardrobe-limiting climate comes up more than just once. Ken Zhou, co-founder of The Assemble Singapore, have also attributed the casualness of the guys’ get-up to the humidity and heat.

“The weather, the job and perhaps the ‘unnecessary’ need to look good are some reasons behind guys’ attitude towards personal appearance.” Although underdressing is a common sight, he also noticed problems when guys are spruced up. “I’ll spot men wearing extremely tight fitting black suits or mainstream navy blue ones to weddings all the time. It looks so tight the buttons are about to burst anytime.”

When asked to compare style cultures in other Asian cities, he singled out Japan as a point of interest, as men tend to travel around the world to ‘get inspired and to inspire with their dressing’. “Having four seasons allows them to play around with suiting up in different kind of fabrics for the right weather.”

While we’re forced to be resigned to Singapore’s geographical coordinates, we seem to have forgotten that we spend a great deal of our time in air-conditioned enclosures. Neither do I harbour unrealistic expectations that guys should start tailored-suiting up en masse. But for a start, surely there’s allowance for well-fitted clothing, smart accessorising and a respectable collection of occasion-appropriate shoes?    

“Most men in Singapore tend to see being metrosexual, wearing different styles and colours, or even things like make-up as ‘feminine’,” Sheryl Yeo, founder of homegrown tailor 3EIGHT, told us over email. “And honestly, I beg to differ. There is also a lack of awareness and understanding that proportions really matter. Like wearing pants that are way too low. It doesn’t showcase your best proportions.”

Singapore guys need a ‘Fairy Godfather’

Fauzi Aziz, host and personality of The Smart Local, agrees by pointing out Singaporean men lack role models to assure them it’s OK to indulge in face potions and hairstyling. “Once they realise that even the manliest of men, like David Beckham or David Gandy, put in work to look good, they might start thinking more about it.”

“I also think there is a lack of education on grooming for Singaporean men because they weren’t taught about it like how girls were for skincare and make-up. There is a lot of hesitance when starting out. Honestly, they just need a good fairy godfather.”

While we’re still on the man hunt for Singapore’s own Dapper Davids, Fauzi tries to debunk misconceptions among men that dressing up and feeling confident is uncomfortable, time-consuming and costly. Trying to get them started is not going to be easy, he remarked.

“I wish there could be a million clones of the Fab 5. My advice is to step outside your comfort zone and try little things step by step, be it fashion or grooming.”

“Once they realise that the littlest of steps can do wonders for their self-confidence and by extension, their interpersonal relationships, I’m sure they will make the effort to take care of themselves more.”

Do it for yourself, do it for Google

Whether you choose to see this as a wake-up call, a sobering critique or a long ass snark-attack, the guys at Seriously Man do wish to see changes somewhere down the road, no matter how small the ripple in the pond is. We really do. We care that your Dad fits, pit stains and humongous pores are doing you in, both professionally and sexually.

If you don’t give two hoots about dressing or grooming for greatness, at least do it as a measure of self-respect. It could turn out to be exceedingly fun, empowering and life affirming, like a kid dressed up as Batman on Halloween. You get to be whoever you want to be, and you get to project torrents of repressed sex appeal without saying a word.

And just to stroke the pragmatism in you once more, you get more money. How’s that a chore, Broski?

But first, with all that’s been said, you’re going to have to work at it. Handsomeness is not something that a Gucci merch or a skin tight navy suit can give you overnight. It is a journey. You know how it is with journeys – they begin with a single step, and that step better look something like you slapping on some bloody moisturiser tonight.

Not tomorrow, tonight.

Keep that up and we might just see better Google impression of Singaporean men by 2024.