The Evolution Of The 'Esquire' Man, In 10 Revealing Covers

Originally published on April 5, 2017 5:22 pm

This summer, All Things Considered has been exploring what it means to be a man in America today — from a second look at popular notions of masculinity and men's style, to attitudes toward women — and how all those ideas have shifted over time.

There are few people more acquainted with those shifts than David Granger. In 17 years as editor-in-chief of the men's magazine Esquire, Granger hasn't just had a front-row seat to changing notions of manhood in America — he has taken an active role in helping to define them. The magazine, which purports to cover "Man at His Best," has done so for more than 80 years.

(And what has that magazine — and that man — looked like over the past eight decades? We've included a collection of some of Esquire's myriad covers below.)

Ask Granger about the most striking changes he's noticed, and he says that chief among them is the growing slate of fashion choices for men. As he tells NPR's Audie Cornish, "This is one of the great — if not the greatest period for men's style in the United States."


Interview Highlights

On changes in men's attitudes toward style

The shift toward men being comfortable with how they look and taking care of themselves has been radical. Twelve years ago, 15 years ago, if you were interested in style, then you just were [considered] gay. And I think it's really an interesting symbol of how the definition of manhood and masculinity has been expanding to include more and more options.

On the magazine's treatment of women, and whether it's evolved

Our next issue features Cameron Diaz, and we write a lot about the 42-year-old woman — I mean, she happens to be turning 42. And we note that in whatever it was — 1968, when The Graduate came out — Mrs. Robinson was 42. And it was just unspeakable to think of a 42-year-old woman being a sexual object, and now, I think the most appealing, accomplished women of our time are women who are approaching their middle age.

We acknowledge that men are attracted to women. We do [a series called] "A Funny Joke From a Beautiful Woman," and it's been a very useful form because we allow these women — young actresses, mostly — to sort of participate with us in creating an entertaining environment, rather than just sexualizing or objectifying them.

On the cover of Esquire's May 2014 issue, which calls Lake Bell one of her generation's greatest filmmakers — and depicts her half-naked

Are we supposed to only be one thing? Are we supposed to be an attractive and sexually appealing human being to the exclusion of our professional lives? It was funny: That issue, we happened to have two covers. One was Lake Bell on half the covers, and the other was the actor Tom Hardy on half the covers. And on both of them, they were topless. We were trying to be an equal-opportunity objectifier.

On the guidance Esquire offers in relationships with women

We do, on occasion, write about relationships. We did an entire issue on women, in which we tried to suggest ways that men could get along better with the women who are important in their lives.

I think part of the cultural shift, in young men especially, has been to treasure and prize their relationships with the significant others in their lives even more — probably more — than any previous generation of American men. So, we're trying to reflect that. We've done quite a bit on the sort of "lean in" thing from the man's perspective — that there is just as much work-life conflict for men as there is for women. And men actually stress to a greater degree about that.

On examining and taking an active role in redefining what it means to be a man

We, in an older or more established generation of men, need to take a more active role in helping younger men develop into good men — the idea of creating a new generation of mentors.

As the mentors of the past — coaches, priests, the Boy Scouts — have become more complicated, we need to have a new generation step up and help the next generation to become stronger, better and more committed members of society.


Esquire has published more than 950 issues since 1933. The covers below offer a glimpse of what the magazine has emphasized across its long history. You'll note that some of those themes can appear outdated today.

June/July 2014

September 1997

February 1986

May 1976

August 1971

October 1962

October 1959

September 1951

July 1942

October 1933

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're talking this summer about the changing lives of men in America. Today - men, culture and style. First, a chat with the man at the helm of a magazine that purports to cover man at his best - David Granger, editor in chief at Esquire.

DAVID GRANGER: This is one of the great, if not the greatest, period for men's style in the history of the United States.

CORNISH: I spoke to Granger just before the July issue came out with actress Cameron Diaz on the cover. Some highlights - tips for traveling in style, brown suede shoes, button-down shirts, maybe a colorful scarf? Plus a spread on the versatility of the day-to-night suit. Readers are encouraged to trade in their wool grays for blue. Granger says chief among the changes he's noticed in his 17 years at the helm of Esquire - certainly more fashion choices for men.

GRANGER: The shift toward men being comfortable with how they look and taking care of themselves has been radical. Twelve years ago, fifteen years ago, if you were interested in style then you just were gay. And I think it's actually a really interesting symbol of how, like, the definition of manhood and masculinity has been expanding to include more and more options.

CORNISH: One thing that hasn't changed so much when you look at the men's magazine industry is its treatment of women. You know, when I look back at your issue, back in 1999 with Sharon Stone, she's naked on the cover. She's not showing anything. It talks about the life list of 175 things a man should do before he dies. Number two is lose your virginity to an older woman. There is a recurring feature you guys have today which is, I guess, a funny woman tells a joke?

GRANGER: Yeah. Funny Joke from a Beautiful Woman.

CORNISH: Funny Joke from a Beautiful Woman. How do you manage the criticisms of this and has this evolved? I mean, are you guys actually portraying women or women's beauty in a different way than you used to?

GRANGER: That's a good question. I think we are. Our next issue features Cameron Diaz, and we write a lot about the 42-year-old woman. I mean, she happens to be turning 42. And we note that in - whatever it was - 1968, when "The Graduate" came out, Mrs. Robinson was 42. And it was just, like, unspeakable to think of, you know, a 42-year-old woman being a sexual object. And now, I think, the most appealing, accomplished women of our time are sort of, you know, women who are approaching their middle-age. Yes, we acknowledge that men are attracted to women. We do funny joke from a beautiful woman, and it's been a very useful forum because we allow these women - young actresses, mostly - to sort of participate with us in creating an entertaining environment rather than just, you now, sexualizing or objectifying them.

CORNISH: But I bring this up because, you know, one example is you profiled the filmmaker Lake Bell, and in the article you call her one of the most important actor, director, writers of her generation. She's photographed in her underwear, you know, basically wearing pantyhose.

GRANGER: Yeah, she's really...

CORNISH: Mixed message there.

GRANGER: Is it? I mean, are we supposed to only be one thing? I mean, are we supposed to be an attractive and, you know, sexually appealing human being to the exclusion of our professional lives? I mean, it was funny. I mean, that issue we happened to have two covers - one was Lake Bell on half the covers and the other was the actor Tom Hardy on half the covers. And on both of them, they were topless. You know, so we're trying to be like an equal opportunity objectifier. (Laughing).

CORNISH: Is this part of the guide Esquire's offering in terms of how to be a man and how to view women?

GRANGER: Well, we do on occasion write about relationships. And we did an entire issue on women in which we tried to suggest ways that men could get along better with the women who are important in their lives. And I think part of the cultural shift, in young men especially, has been to treasure and prize their relationships with the significant others in their lives, even more - probably more than any previous generation of American men. And so we're trying to reflect that. We've done quite a bit on this sort of lenient thing from the man's perspective that there is just as much work life conflict for men as there is for women. And men actually stress to a greater degree about that.

CORNISH: I want to point to something you wrote in last summer's How To Be A Man issue, where you said that the definition of what it means to be a man keeps changing, and unless we, men, continue to examine it and take an active role in redefining it, it will become smaller and more restrictive. What did you mean by that?

GRANGER: Well, I think what I was getting at in that was that we, an older or more established generation of men, need to take a more active role in helping younger men develop into good men. The idea of creating a new generation of mentors. As the mentors of the past coaches priests, the Boy Scouts have become more complicated, we need to have a new generation step up and help the next generation to become stronger, better and more committed members of society.

CORNISH: Well, David Granger, thanks so much for talking those past issues with us. It was really a lot of fun. We appreciate it.

GRANGER: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.