We showed you a gallery of the most eye-popping looks of the International Male catalogue and noted that for many closeted gay men of the ’80s and ’90s, it served as a sort of gateway drug into queerness, as its main demographic mostly comprised gay men and in order to entice them to buy their wares, IM filled every catalog with some of the hottest fitness models and even porn stars of the day. But International Male may as well have been the JC Penney catalog when you compare it to the “AH MEN” catalogs of the ’70s and ’70s, which, despite the earlier time period (some of which takes place before the Stonewall Riots) were a lot less circumspect about what kinds of men make up their customer base. In fact, the AH MEN catalogs were said to have inspired International Male founder Gene Buckard to launch his own gay lifestyle brand. But AH MEN was there first, with its first store opening in 1962 as the brainchild of two gay men, Don Cook and Jerry Furlow, who didn’t feel that mainstream men’s clothing outlets were offering them the kinds of clothes that they and their gay brethren wanted. From thongs to caftans to short-shorts, AH MEN offered gay men the aspirations to lead a fully open, fully sexual life at a time when literally no one else was making such an offer. It is largely considered one of the earliest retail establishments to openly court gay customers and serve as a sort of gathering spot and community center at a time when such things were mostly situated underground or in the margins. Other stores opened in Silver Lake and Houston, and for a time, the brand was recognized coast-to-coast as the one establishment out there that was for us, by us (to borrow a phrase). AH MEN closed down in the early ’80s, which makes a certain amount of sense, since the gay male lifestyle had moved a bit closer to the mainstream in the decade following Stonewall and AH MEN’s status as the only store who understood the gay male customer was no longer secure. In the end, increased visibility for gay folks as well as increasing attention from corporations courting the so-called pink dollar rendered AH MEN obsolete.
But we still have those glorious catalogs to ogle. And while it’s easy to laugh at some of the more outrageous styles found below, it might do some good to put them all in the context of the times. To young gay men of the ’60s and ’70s, someone was finally showing them a life they could aspire to.
[Photo Credit: eBay, Pinterest]
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