Loving Labels, Refusing to Be Labeled

SRFC Magazine 

Originally appeared on Page 39 of SRFC Magazine

22-year old David Lew Qingwei identifies as heterosexual male. He plays rugby and video games. He is lead guitarist in a band. He served as a soldier and firefighter. He makes frequent trips to the gym. Qingwei possesses all the characteristics of a typical straight male, many would say. However, Qingwei’s love of shopping is a passion that causes people to question his sexuality. Therefore, he is forced to identify with the term, “metrosexual.” But why does a guy who loves clothes have to be singled out or have a special label? Why are males who enjoy shopping assumed homosexual or associated with femininity? Qingwei vows to redefine the meaning of what a true man is, someone who does not let society keep him from doing what he loves.

Threading His Lifestyle

Qingwei grew up in Singapore in a home with his parents and older brother. He says he feels Singapore’s cultural standards are similar to those of the United States: the idea of the alpha male. “I think even though there have been great strides made in establishing gender equality, there are still expectations – albeit somewhat more muted than in the past – for men to wear the pants in the household and to play the role of primary breadwinners. I also believe that men are still expected to be more emotionally closed off in comparison to their female counterparts,” says the fashionista.

From childhood, his father taught him to uphold the traditional roles of men. According to Qingwei, his father toughened him up with reprimanding, sometimes physical, and pushed him to excel in his studies. For his father, being the sole provider for his family was an essential part of a man’s life, and Qingwei needed to do whatever necessary to accomplish such. Qingwei’s parents, he says, already envisioned what his future would be like and expected him to want that future as well. “My parents are pretty stereotypical strict Asian parents that wanted me to be whatever I wanted to be… as long as what I wanted to be was a businessman, a doctor, or a lawyer. I remember when I was 7 years old, my dad taped the multiplications table on the ceiling above my bed so I could stare at it before I went to sleep,” recalls Qingwei.

Ultimately, Qingwei wanted an exciting career he could put all his focus into and his own family with a wife, son, and daughter. He credited his brother for teaching to put his own aspirations first. Qingwei says, “My brother is the person who taught me that it isn’t important what you do, so long as it makes you happy.” So, he chose a career path in finance, working in Human Capital at Ernst & Young and Fixed Income Sales & Advisory at UBS AG. “In more recent years, my father has been a little more relaxed. I suspect part of it is because I’ve basically chosen a career path that closely mirrors his, and he’s just relieved that I’m doing what he is,” comments the fashionista.

Suiting Up

In Feb. 2010, the government drafted Qingwei into the Singapore Civil Defense Force. Singapore requires all 18-year-old males to enlist in its military and serve for two years. He trained in fighter squad commanding in hopes of becoming a sergeant leading a single fire engine and its three to five other firefighters. The national service promoted him to an Urban Search and Rescue instructor. Qingwei taught advanced rappelling techniques and rescue tactics for situations such as trapped victims in road traffic accidents, collapsed buildings, and suicide attempts off high-rise buildings. He trained veteran firefighters in SCDF’s Disaster Assistance Rescue Team to aid overseas rescues during in natural disasters.

Simultaneously to his enlistment, Qingwei discovered his love of fashion. “My brother, who was and still is an avid shopper and fashionista, had just moved back to Singapore so I started hanging out with him. He took me shopping quite frequently and it began to cultivate my appreciation for fashion,” says Qingwei.

While forced into Singapore’s regulations for men, Qingwei broke out of the usual style for both the nation’s men and women. Typically, Singaporeans paid little focus on looking their best, according to the fashionista. “Singapore is way too hot to dress nicely. Dressing nicely sometimes entails layering, which is a death sentence in a tropical country where the climate perpetually hovers around 90% humidity and 95 F during the day. T-shirts, shorts, and flip flops are the norm,” says Qingwei.

Finding the Right Fit

Today, Qingwei pays a lot more attention to what he has in his wardrobe since his brother first introduced him to fashion. For Qingwei, fashion is about “dressing well,” not flashing labels. His finance background helps him master finding stylish, yet affordable buys. “How expensive a single article of clothing or recognizable a brand is does not a good purchase make. A guy could buy a $6,000 Dolce & Gabbana suit that’s a couple sizes too big and look like an idiot, and that same guy could get a well-cut $100 suit from a Jos. A. Bank sale rack and look like a rock star,” says the savvy Singaporean. He spends approximately 400 dollars per month on clothes shopping and is able to make a fair amount of purchases for his money.

He prides on his clothing being of excellent material and cut, according to Qingwei. Since living in Manhattan, he frequently shops at J.Crew, both his favorite store and label. “I love the J.Crew store on 5th Ave around 18th St. Massive store, and it’s got everything. That store is the reason why 70% of my wardrobe is J.Crew,” he says. Yet, he goes to Loewe when looking for something “more upscale.” He comments, “Fantastic quality. Love the ribbon-like trademarked logo they put on their belts. Sort of a more tasteful version of those hideous Louis Vuitton belts with the massive “LV” on the buckle.”

Qingwei describes his style on a regular day as preppy. He obsesses over collared shirts and button-downs, and is very particular when buying them. “I think every man needs a good oxford cloth button down shirt – and not just any oxford cloth button down, but one that FITS. It hits the bone of their wrist, bottom of the shirt hits the midpoint of their trouser zipper when untucked, and the waist is slightly cinched and clearly defined. Good fit is a must.”

He fills his closet with mostly gingham than will subtly accentuate his look. During colder weather, He adds to his gingham button-down a shawl collared sweater or cardigan, jeans, leather shoes, and coat. Then, the fashionista accessorizes according to two sworn rules:

1. “Noisy socks. Always noisy socks.”

2. Something to feed his watch fetish.

“I’d dare to consider watches a separate category from general fashion. It’s one of the few ways a man can really express who he is. The amount of exquisite detailing and work that goes into a beautifully-made watch, the idea that the only thing keeping time is a hairspring and a bunch of gears, and that a craftsperson had to spend time assembling the watch… it’s a more refined kind of nerd/engineering pornography,” says Qingwei.

Labeled and Branded

The Singaporean balances his passions for apparel and athletics. Yet, in his experience, Qingwei receives more criticism for his interest in fashion than in sports. According to him, his parents nag him about how much he spends on clothes and for shopping out of pleasure rather than necessity. Others disbelieve that a heterosexual man who they watch ESPN with, who they play with in a jam band, who works out at the gym six times a week, and who trains rigorously for the New York Half Marathon also “might wander around some stores for the sole purpose of window-shopping.” Often, people mistake him for homosexual, according to Qingwei. I’m accused of ‘dressing like a gay man’ from time to time,” he says.

Commonly, people refer to Qingwei as “metrosexual” for his love of clothes. However, he considers that label to be politically incorrect, “I think the general definition of a metrosexual is an urban male who shares an interest in fashion, luxury, and liberal politics. I’ve always felt the “-sexual” prefix was bizarre considering the term ‘metrosexual’” says very little about a person’s sexual orientation. In that light, I think I’d prefer to be referred as ‘cosmopolitan’ or ‘urbanized.’”

The fashionista says he believes a person’s interests have no relationship to their gender or sexual identity. He takes himself for a heterosexual male with a passion for clothes, and it has no effect on his level of masculinity. “I think a true man is a man who knows exactly what he wants, exactly how to get what he wants, and is in the process of executing his plan to procure what he wants. What he wants is defined solely by himself for himself, and he doesn’t expect others to live by the same standards that he sets for himself,” comments Qingwei.

Measuring by the Quality

Qingwei wants more men to embrace fashion as well as women. For him, style is the best way to make a first impression. “Now, we could get into an entire discussion about how personality trumps all, and I couldn’t agree more. But why start at a disadvantage? Why have to traverse the barrier created by you dressing sloppily?” the Singaporean remarks. He emphasizes personal size and the importance of clothes that fit well to the person wearing them.

And the biggest piece of wisdom Qingwei has for men, “For the love of god, you people aren’t supposed to button the bottom most button of your suit!”

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