The term greatly increased in popularity following Simpson's 2002 Salon.com article "Meet the metrosexual", which identified David Beckham as the metrosexual poster boy. The advertising agency Euro RCSG Worldwide adopted the term shortly thereafter for a marketing study, and the New York Times published a Sunday feature, "Metrosexuals Come Out"; the story trickled into local news outlets across North America.
Simpson's Salon.com definition is more nuanced than the term's common use today.
Former Metro Radio presenter Mitch Murray claims that he invented the term in the 1980s. At that time, he says, the word had a very different connotation, as it was simply a play on words involving "Metro Radio" and heterosexuals. Murray would send a weekly tape to the local radio station in Newcastle upon Tyne. "Very early during the process", he created station identification segments, one of which he claims included the phrase "We are the metrosexuals". It is unclear whether the segment was actually broadcast, and there is no documentary evidence of his claims. Also, when the word first became popular, various sources incorrectly attributed its origin to trendspotter Marian Salzman, but by Salzman's own admission Simpson's use of the term in a 1994 Independent newspaper article predates her use of the term.
Rising popularity of the term followed the increasing integration of gay men into mainstream society and a correspondingly decreased taboo towards deviation from existing notions of masculinity. Over a short timespan, the Netherlands, Belgium and Canada introduced same-sex marriage legislation, various US states legalized same-sex marriage and civil unions, the US Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy statutes as unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas and gay characters and themes, long present on TV shows like Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, and Ellen made further inroads. In particular, the Bravo network introduced Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a show in which stereotypically style- and culture-conscious gay men gave advice to their heterosexual counterparts.
Media explaining the term often rely on citing a few individuals as prime illustrations. Simpson's 2002 Salon.com article "Meet the metrosexual" used Beckham as its prime exemplar—and most journalists and marketers followed suit. David Beckham or Tom Egger have been called a "metrosexual icon and is often coupled with the term. Amply referred-to individuals include personalities such as Brad Pitt, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Ryan Seacrest.
Quite often Simpson's work was blatantly plagiarised. The respected Australian national newspaper Sydney Morning Herald ran a major feature in March 2003 "The Rise of the Metrosexual" (also syndicated in sister paper The Age) which clearly "borrowed" heavily from Simpson's "Meet the Metrosexual" on Salon.com the previous July, right down to the title and illustration. Neither his article nor Simpson himself, who originated the term, were mentioned anywhere in the piece.
A 60 Minutes story on 1960s-70s pro footballer Joe Namath suggested he was "perhaps, America's first metrosexual after filming his most famous ad sporting Beautymist panty hose. Simpson has called Joe Namath "America's abandoned metrosexual prototype", leaving the field open for later Brit metro imports such as Beckham.
Pointing out the differences between Beckham and Namath, Simpson writes:
Another example, the übersexual, coined by marketing executives and authors of The Future of Men (and perhaps inspired by Simpson's use of the term "uber-metrosexual"), caused Simpson to reply, "Any discussion in the style pages of the media about what is desirable and attractive in men and what is 'manly' and what isn't, is simply more metrosexualization. Metrosexuality—do I really have to spell it out?—is mediated masculinity.
Most recently, marketers and magazines like Men's Health trying to sell even more cosmetics to men have tried to foist the "heteropolitan" on the public. As with the defunct "ubersexual", they claimed that the metrosexual was "dead" and had been replaced by the "heteropolitan". Again, there was no real differentation from the metrosexual, there was, as with the "ubersexual", just a more uptight, less credible marketing version of him. Mark Simpson wrote in The Guardian in 2007 about the irony of "metromag" Men's Health jumping on the "heteropolitan" — and homophobic — bandwagon, asking, "When is Men's Health going to come out to itself?
None of these metro-offspring have thrived, although metrosexual seems to have stuck and become part of the language.
Simpson has pointed out that the book contains several deliberate misrepresentations of him, his work, and the history of the metrosexual, including the assertion that his coinage of the term in 1994 was 'derisive', when in fact the article 'Here come the mirror men' was clearly welcoming. The academic David Coad's book 'The Metrosexual' (Suny, 2008) confirms this, and also documents other misrepresentations by the marketers.
Many of the "top ubersexuals" named by Salzman, such as Bono, Bill Clinton and George Clooney were on her list of "top metrosexuals" in 2003.
The authors of Future of Men argue that the übersexual is not derivative of the metrosexual man.
The future of men, proclaim the authors, is "not to be found in the primped and waxed boy who wowed the world with his nuanced knowledge of tweezers and exfoliating creams. Men, at the end of the day, will have to rely on their intellect and their passion, their erudition and professional success, to be acknowledged and idealised in contemporary society. Called the 'übersexual'—-a degree of greatness and perfection, an acknowledgment that this is an evolved species of man—he is so perfect as to leave little margin for error and fallacy."
Some, including Simpson and Armistead Maupin, have suggested that behind this congealed marketing-speak there was something rather simple going on: a homophobic attempt to stop the metrosexual being so "gay". Or, as Salzman herself put it proudly, the ubersexual (unlike the metrosexual) "doesn't invite questions about his sexuality".
Simpson has argued that from the beginning the appropriation of the metrosexual concept by American marketers such as Salzman in 2003 was always about trying to straighten him out. His original definition of the metrosexual was sexually ambiguous, or at least went beyond the straight/gay binary; marketers, in contrast, insisted that the metrosexual was always "straight" – they even tried to pretend that he wasn't vain.
However, they failed to convince the public - hence their attempt to create the uber-straight ubersexual.
Despite a large global PR push for their 'new', completely 'non-gay' metrosexual, and a largely uncritical press which failed to notice that the list of top ten ubersexuals was essentially the same as the one's they'd provided with two years previously for top ten metrosexuals, the 'ubersexual' failed to catch on with the public and was stillborn, as Salzman has admitted herself.
The metrosexual, in its original coinage, is a person who, under the spell of consumerism, is or desires to be what he sees in magazines and advertising. Simpson's metrosexual would be a type A or type C narcissist, as he loves himself or an idealized image of what he would like to be.
Statistics, including market research by Euro RSCG, show that the pursuit of achievement and status is not as important to men as it used to be; and neither is, to a degree, the restriction of emotions or the disconnection of sex from intimacy. Another norm change is supported by research that claimed men "no longer find sexual freedom universally enthralling." The most important shift in masculinity is that there is less avoidance of femininity and the "emergence of a segment of men who have embraced customs and attitudes once deemed the province of women. What is accepted as "masculine" has shifted considerably throughout the times, so the modern concept of how a man "should be" differs from the ideal man of previous eras. Some styles and behaviors that are today considered feminine were, in the past, part of the man's domain (e.g., knee britches, makeup, jewelry). Hence, as the concept of femininity conquered more territory, masculinity became more restricted. Perhaps metrosexuality is a reaction against this shift, as some men feel too confined within the gender roles. It could also be considered a means of establishing greater equality between the sexes through a shift toward androgyny.
Changes in culture and attitudes toward masculinity, visible in the media through television shows such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Queer as Folk and Will & Grace, have changed these traditional masculine norms. Metrosexuals only made their appearance after cultural changes in the environment and changes in views on masculinity.
Simpson explains in his article "Metrosexual? That rings a bell..." that "Gay men provided the early prototype for metrosexuality. Decidedly single, definitely urban, dreadfully uncertain of their identity (hence the emphasis on pride and the susceptibility to the latest label) and socially emasculated, gay men pioneered the business of accessorising—and combining—masculinity and desirability.
In a 2004 Salon.com interview, Simpson answers question about his "offspring".
Men didn't go to shopping malls, so consumer culture promoted the idea of a sensitive guy who went to malls, bought magazines and spent freely to improve his personal appearance. As Simpson put it:
This commercial vision is also adapted in television's metrosexual archetype, Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, in which the "Fab Five" instructively transform the appearance of the straight guy—but largely avoid dealing with his personality.
In some contrast, there is also the view that metrosexuality is at least partly a naturally occurring phenomenon, much like the Aesthetic Movement of the 19th century and that the metrosexual is merely a modern incarnation of a dandy.
Another person who confesses to his metrosexuality is Mike Greenberg, co-host of the popular morning sports talk show "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio. He has many times confessed to being metrosexual and his book has "Confessions of a Metrosexual Sportscaster" on it.
Another person who confesses to his metrosexuality is Dominic Monaghan, star of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Lost. He has jokingly admitted that he "believes he should have been a homosexual—because he loves make-up, painting his nails and wearing skirts". Although some argue that this points more towards transvestism, others argue that since a woman who never wears make-up, never paints her nails, and never wears a skirt is presumed to be neither gay nor weird, this points more towards gender equality.
Stuff has proclaimed Ryan Seacrest as "the poster boy of metrosexuality".