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The Discreet Charm of Half-Dressed Men

by John Calendo
UPDATED from October 2005

Ryan LeBar stripping off

Half-naked men!

It’s hard to top full-frontal nudity. But some half-dressed men — like the one at left — manage to do it with the sheer menace of their stare… the size of their arms! … the rip of their abs!

Why is it that certain stages of undress appear more naked than outright nudity?

The answer, I think, lies in the eye of the beholder.

Certainly we gay men look at half-naked men more aggressively than women do. The difference has little to do with homosexuality, a lot to do with the male sexual gaze.

“Men look at women,” gender scholar John Berger famously observed. “Women watch themselves being looked at.”

It’s a crucial difference. I think it is this eye-hunger, the frank aggressiveness of the male gaze, that explains why the half-nude seems more maddening to us than the Full Monty.

There is also the fetish power of clothing. Fetishes, for the most part, are about clothes — particularly those sexually charged costumes in which the body appears to be both naked and not naked at the same time:

Fire down below

Speedos, jockstraps, rubber body suits, dirty socks, black-net underwear — let us count the ways!

Fetishes are mostly of two types: Suggestive Concealment (Speedos, for instance) or Symbolic displacement ( such as the foot, which in this scheme, stands in for the penis.)

The half-dressed man, as he appears in advertisements and in film, plays in the waters of this fetishistic undercurrent, implying more than he shows, symbolizing with his beefy arms and taut torso the virility of his stiffened member.

Seeing Through Clothes, a scholarly text I found myself re-reading today, examines both the dressed and the undressed through the eyes of an art historian. The status information clothing adds to an erotic image, author Anne Hollander explains, is often

A conception of clothes as disguise … a simple screen that hides the truth or, more subtly, a distracting display that demands attention but confounds true perception.

These notions invoke dress in its erotic function, as something that seems to promise something else, a mystery that promotes in the viewer the desire to remove it, get behind it, through it, or under it.

The idea that dress hides something is, of course, not false; in the West it usually and most importantly hides the genitals, so as to make them seem more worthy of discovery and consequently to make them into a secret> Clothing becomes a kind of temple veil.

Yet while half-dressed men now hold their own in print ads and on runways, they were not always so forthright in their eroticism.

Top man

Before the Calvin Klein Revolution — that is before the homo-sexing of Madison Avenue — men were presented in ways that were often calculated to challenge the male viewer. We see a slight vestigial scowl even in these up-to-the- minute photos here.

In his influential, much-quoted essay Don’t Look Now: The Male Pin-up, gender-scholar Richard Dyer explores the “instabilities of the male pin-up.” For Dyer, who is a gay man, what is unstable about the pre-Calvin male pin-up — those photos formally intended for female consumption only, depicting heart-throb movie-stars in languid poses — is the fact that here, for once, the male is shown as compliant and inviting.

The star is glamorously lit and posed in a way commonly associated with beautiful women. “The masculinity of the male is called into question when it is so objectified,” Dyer states flatly. This is why, even now, photographs of male models make such an effort to show the handsome men doing something active — walking, riding, working.

Observes Dyer:

Where the female model typically averts her eyes, expressing modesty, patience and a lack of interest in anything else, the male model looks either off or up.

Dreamboat with open fly and rosary beads

In the case of the former, his look suggests an interest in something else that the viewer cannot see — it certainly doesn’t suggest any interest in the viewer. Indeed, it barely acknowledges the viewer….

In the cases where the model is looking up, this always suggests a spirituality… he might be there for his face and body to be gazed at, but his mind is on higher things, and it is this upward striving that is most supposed to please…

[When male models do look at the viewer] what is crucial is the kind of look … something very often determined by the set of the mouth that accompanies it.

When the female pin-up returns the viewer’s gaze, it is usually some kind of smile, inviting. The male pin-up, even at his most benign, still stares at the viewer … Since Freud, it is common to describe such a look as … penetrating

(Astute Nightcharmers will notice that our dreamboat in the photo above is not only sporting an open fly but rosary beads as well — higher things, indeed!)

Now of course, the half-dressed man is often presented knowingly for the homosexual gaze. As the world has gotten bigger in the homo-positive glow of the Calvin Revolution, we note more smiles in our models and less disgruntle, pissed-off expressions, a rough-trade signature of yesteryear.

Today there are flashes of man-flesh not only on the runway but on the street corner. Seeing Through Clothes traces the pedigree of this recurring mainstream fashion for states of undress.

The popular street vogue for ripped jeans, we learn, and slipping waistbands is nothing new:

All ripped up and very glam

The 17th century saw the rise of the tenacious idea that rich clothing is more elegant when carelessly worn.

The dishevelment of ordinarily neat dress as an attractive upper-class masculine attribute began in England among the late 17th century melancholics

Opened shirts unfastened to show the throat and maybe some chest, worn either with open coat of no coat, or cloak and messy hair, became a standard elegant pictorial mode for men, and remains one still.

It has always expressed careless, condescending ease, masking depth of feeling — with variously submerged suggestions of sexuality.

At another point, Hollander comments on the motive behind such fashions as the slipping waistband. This fashion — in which the homely elastic band of the BVD is allowed to show — has its ancestor in the can-can girl whose splits and high kicks were pointed displays of lacy, scarlet undergarments.

Our current male version is actually a form of thug swank, being a style that originated in prisons where belts are confiscated lest prisoners hang themselves or strangle each other.

Writes Hollander:

The hot thug look is a 17th Century classic!

By various means writers and artists, and lately photographers in particular, have continued to foster the old romantic belief in the superior beauty of the ill-clad.

The other side of this same view — that beautiful clothes are usually certain to be covering essentially ugly people — is also kept alive by artists as Richard Avedon, despite well-worn knowledge that leisured, well-nourished, and well-groom people usually look wonderful because they feel self-confident and at ease with their physical selves, and that bad food, cheap clothes and hard times really make people look dreadful because they feel and generally are at a disadvantage, and it shows. . .

[ But this idealization of the ill-clad] has given rise more than once to a fashion for rags among the rich … [a] recurrent mode [that] reflects not just the actual upheavals of society but the old ideals embodied in Cinderella’s story.

Frankly, when it comes to half-dressed men, the more ragged and raunchy the better!

©2005 Nightcharm

NIGHTCHARM — God, Politics, and Porn — What More Could You Want?

  • LAO

    Terrific essay on a, one might say, provocative subject.

  • http://www.gaypaintings.com/forum shahar

    men with clothing is more sexy

  • rog

    good. always been my passion, he half dressed man, and the idea of continuing of just going after. they know what they are doing. and its fun and very manly. thanks. bes

  • Anonymous


  • hot and sexy

    let me strip you of your clothes

  • lisa

    men without clothes a LOT better. Women only watch themselves being looked at because they are so self conscious when constantly being bombarded with half naked women all day long. We think ‘does he fancy me or think I’m a disgusting fat pig’. Instead of looking at his package which is what we should be doing. Bring on the penis thats what I say – I want to see more more more – men have been undercover for too long – no more titties lots more penises. Yummy.

  • lisa

    that man with the see thru pants is well hot – get the hand out of the way!!!

  • billyjoyle

    Have ass will travel.

  • kate

    this web page is sick

  • pedro

    hi i like so i need sex of you

  • http://N/A Paul

    I think that men naked is the life to live cause I love to see their big hard hairy cocksto show that they are a free HOT man!!!!

  • love your bodys

    yall must have big dicks

  • sexy

    all yall men are sexy!!

  • no name

    men are sexist without clothing and yet there manmeat is hidden from sight!

  • Troy meaney

    God pity i don’t live over there you guys are sexy. I also know what its like to be different i am the only gay in a homophobic suburb lol but i lived. If either of you are in australia look me up i might just teach you how to pole dance or that lol well best of luck troy xoxox

  • nun-ya

    i got three words for u……SEXY SEXY SEXY!!!!!!! :D

  • Anonymous

    this ic not cool i have been to a other website and it is better then this one

  • riverboy

    Ah, the idiots are ever with us.

    The internet! If only we could bring back the velvet rope and the snooty doorman.

  • http://the-ventures-of-mountii.blogspot.com/ mountii



    3) PREDATES TO THE TIMES OF ADAM AND EVE…u know the story i’m talking about

  • Will

    Now I loves me some naked man flesh, but give me a hot, shirtless man in tight jeans any day. It drives me wild.

  • nala2000

    Though not gay myself, and having posses the wife and child, this topic enrages my loin with fire and madness of the musky crave. I cannot harness my penis against the need of the penetrate when immersed in image like this and the perfume of the male scrotum wash me over.

    Indeed, I am inspired that I look not at my wife but only at my own refection as I sex her and enjoy the singular fragrance of my own body, ignoring her affection in favor of my own self-love. It seems possible, upon my consider this that I could have enjoyed the male at times more profoundly than the female.

    I must now consume dinner. BRB.

  • http://www.myspace.com/HaManAtLarge Michael

    The virility of a stiffened member? These stereotypical images along with the comments are banal, at best. Sex starts between the ears, not the legs. Imagination plays a more important role, which seems to be lacking in the photos and dialog, as well as originality. Discete? Look up the word. or discreet? Freud was a whack job, just because he was obsessed with sex, and probably had repressed homosexual tendencies, doesnt mean we all do, its just what he thinks.
    In a society obsessed with sex, I wonder if it is a human characteristic or learned behavior? Social conditioning focusing on sex to sell everything and everything, and promoting dubious behavior.

    The superficial layer… It doesnt represent was goes on the inside of a man, moreso the veiwers imagination, and the stylist and photographer. The interpretation rests with the veiwers own conditioning. But seemingly only repesents the sexual asspect itself, not the responsability that goes with sex and portraying images. It has nothing to do with his masculinity of what being a Man really is, beyond a sexual aspect.

    Sometimes the football is just a football, and the foot, just a foot.

    Looking at the images, there is a homogenized and narrow veiw of what a man “should” look like. Shiny, hair less well defined 6 pack abs, just ready to “penetrate” anything and everything, ready, willing and able, to be screwed over and over and over. Boring and irresponsible.

    Having a penis on its own, does NOT make you a man.

  • Concerned Mother

    Bless you, Michael. You and I agree about this degenerate website. Why must you people reduce everything to sex, sex, sex!

    Freud was a bad influence on our society, second only to Kinsey, who was a degenerate and just plain evil. They gave us this sick, sick, sick culture which our children have to grow up in and the filth on the internet like this website. I’ve written my congresswoman and the President about taking down this website. I’ve written Bill O’Reilly and Fox and Friends about the filth you people write here. ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IMMEDIATELY!

    Our only hope is the children, you all know that, you all know that!

  • miko

    Lisa, more is just more.
    Kate, go home, you don’t belong here.
    Men are the epitomy of sex, that’s why they’ve been banned from publication for so long. You can tell when we’re aroused, not so with women.
    Mystery is sexier than science.
    Hiho the half dressed MAN.

  • http://stevetask.blogspot.com Steve

    Having a penis, on it’s own, does not make you a man, but it does make you the owner of a dildo.
    Having a penis doesn’t make you a man either, but it is an excellent way to begin.

  • http://www.myspace.com/HaManAtLarge Michael

    Thank you Concerned Mother. The word is epitome. Men have NEVER been banned from it, since the were the only ones ALLOWED to write, photograph, and publish it for CENTURIES, masturbating their own inflated egos, to over compensate for a lack of something else, degrading women along with themselves.
    Having a penis may be an excellent way to begin, but knowing what and what not to do with it, superceeds the penis. It doesnt make me the owner of a dildo or any “toy”, that comment reflects YOU for more than it does myself. You proved my point with your comment. Obviously to some of you less mature than I, I might come off as a prude, but I know how I got here. As a gay man, I find it disgusting that people fall into the trap, and blame other people for what happens to themselves for there own actions, regardless of gender or sexuality, and if they arent agreed with or heeded the warnings of leagues of councelors trying to inform you of your OWN health, which isnt just physical. Youth has an erroneous notion it’s invincible. Tell that to a parentless crying infant, or an AIDS or crack addicted baby. Tell that to the staff at the clinic when you find out what that lump or rash is, that you could’nt tell your parents of even your best friend you have something “down there”. Or try to find your “babies daddy” if he cant make the taping of Maury Povich, that the baby needs diapers and formula, and go ask the same girls on the show, if she thought “It isnt going to happen to me.” I dare you.

    Sex should be openly dicussed, in a mature forum, with adults to children, the responsibilty it is, and the consequences of our actions, both good and bad.

    If men did have a more “naked” role in publicating their own anatomy, the scales would still be uneven.

  • Bobby


  • me me and me

    oh my…they are so sexy,i love them,and for:”kate:this web page is sick”-dear, you are sick,not the page,cow!!!

  • miko

    Why is a concerned mother and a verbose, pompous person berating us?
    Why are they here?
    Can’t they read, “Naked Men Pictures, Nude Males, Gay Erotica and Porn” ?
    Why are her children surfing for porn anyway?
    In my opinion, Bill O’Rielly and Fox News should be taken off the air Not Nightcharm.

  • http://www.tomsbodypix.com Tom

    Wow, did somebody let the nutters out of the looney bin recently? I ain’t never seen the prisoners carrying on like this Johnny.

    Jesus, please, save me from your followers.

  • Thorn

    But Tom, who will save Jesus from his followers? Poor guy.

  • http://www.myspace.com/HaManAtLarge Michael

    Verbose? Pompous? Im not gullible. Gee, if you believe everything you read as my opinion, poor thing, call me a liar? so?
    Devil’s advocate? Nyah… Im here because I can be, a friend sent me the link. I just find this really boring. But thats just me. The “twink” image is just mundane.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/pizzuti Matt P.

    Bill O’Reilly already looks at this web page during his breaks.

  • vlad_d

    Too ¨Discreet¨ for my taste..

  • bats :[

    I don’t know that women look at half-dressed men with less intense interest…until more recent times, that was about as far as we were able to see them. Nude men (like those seen at this site) were pretty much inaccessible until the age of internet surfing, and yes, while there have always been some magazines and art out there, the average straight female (like me) really didn’t have the ability to find it easily. I was around college age when “Playgirl” made its debut, and that strikes me as pretty much of a lame joke, never as edgy as it liked to believe it was. As a result, there was some consolation in looking at guys in swimsuits, or stripped to the waist.
    Heck, half-way or all-the way naked, guys are worth looking at! (But then, you already know that!)

  • ConcernedMotherFucker

    isn’t it odd that the michael guy appeared at the same time as the concerned mother and those other two girls, you don’t see that in any of the other discussions. I wish more concerned mothers and “mature” gay men would post their comments, it’s funny.

  • Anonymous

    How nice if I can suck that cocks and chew their cum in my mouth.
    My ass is open for him, my dearest cock