Opinion: The Rise of the "Dirtbag Look" for Men Is Disrespectful to Women

Elle Silver

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission. Names have been changed.

When I hugged Shane my nose prickled. He smelled unwashed. He had mentioned when he arrived to our date that he’d just come from the gym. He looked it, what with the thin sheen of grease covering his face and the way his hair was messily clumped. But now I realized he smelled like it, too.

He had on jean cut-offs and a wrinkled T-shirt. Had he put any effort into getting ready for our first date? The cafe I’d suggested we meet in, in South L.A., was equidistant between our two abodes. That’s why I’d chosen it — to make it easy for Shane.

I didn’t want him driving all the way from Silverlake to meet me in Long Beach, where I was living at the time. It suddenly dawned on me that I’d made things way too easy for him. I’d made things so easy he didn’t even feel like he needed to wash.

Our conversation was lackluster. No wonder. I’m sure he was exhausted from lifting weights or using the Stair Master or whatever workout he’d done at the gym. He did pay for my medium coffee — the gentleman. But then I had to hug him when we parted ways, and smell his sweaty skin again.

I’d been so excited to meet up with Shane. Now I never wanted to see him again. But maybe I was the one who had missed the memo on the new trend. Looking like you’d just rolled out of bed — or out from the gym, for that matter — is the point. It’s Fashion with a capital F. I was behind the times.

You see, I’ve recently learned there’s a name for this unkept look. It’s called “The Dirtbag Look.” And it’s quite intentional on the parts of dirtbags to appear like they really don’t care what they look like.

The dirtbag look has come into vogue, thanks to TV characters like Carmy on FX’s The Bear, Colin in Netflix’s Not Okay, and Stranger Things’ Billy Hargrove.

Carmy from "The Bear."Source: FX website

Greasy hair, amateur tattoos, and undereye bags are the markers of this new “hot” image. Throw a vape into the mix and you have the 2020’s version of James Dean. Same leather jacket, different era.

Ah, the appeal of the bad boy. But I’d say that James Dean’s face was a bit more pretty than today’s Hollywood dirtbag, his hair more intentionally coiffed.

Apparently, there’s a deeper societal reason for the growth in popularity of the dirtbag look. It’s been spurred along by our completely inauthentic, filter-happy culture. I get this — at least to a point. In an era where everyone’s face is riddled with fillers, their hair heavy with extensions, why not covet the opposite? The “come-as-you-are” dirtbag look?

Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a New York City-based neuropsychologist, told PopSugar that a lack of grooming can actually make a man seem “more relatable.”

People see the raw appeal in his looks, like a diamond in the rough. For those who are not always dressed in the latest fashions with perfect hair and nails, he is a ‘less threatening’ type to fall for as opposed to a Mr. Big type in ‘Sex and the City.’

What a difference a couple of decades makes. In a world of fake, we now long for real. Well, at least women apparently do. But as someone who’s actually been out on a couple of dates with dirtbags, I’m suspect that these guys are actually something to desire.

Shane wasn’t the only dirtbag I met during my dating journey after my divorce when I was virtually hanging out on Tinder way more than was good for my health. I also went on a date with Jim, who similarly showed up to our first meeting looking like he’d gotten ready in the dark.

I was astounded when I walked into a trendy cafe in Redondo Beach (his choice) and laid eyes on Jim in his hole-ridden shirt with his bed-head hairstyle. I wondered why men like Jim and Shane made the least effort possible to impress women. Then it struck me: maybe they weren’t trying to.

These guys didn’t give the slightest crap what their dates thought about them. They weren’t looking for a significant other to share their lives with. What were they looking for? Who knows? They couldn't have been looking for the happy-ever-after showing up for a date looking like a dirtbag.

Maybe they just wanted a way to pass the time. I never got to the bottom of it because I didn’t have second dates with either of these guys. Luckily, I didn’t let those dirtbags deter me from continuing to date. I kept on with it and that paid off.

I’ll never forget when my current partner walked into the bar we’d chosen to meet in. His button-down shirt was pressed and his shoes were polished. We hugged and he smelled great. His hair was combed, and his breath was minty fresh. The man had actually brushed his teeth before his date with me!

After my dates with Jim and Shane, this literally made me feel special. It made me want to kiss him (which I did later in the night).

After dating for a year after my divorce, I realized that it takes so little to make a good impression. Just being pleasant and polite and washing your body and your clothes before a date can make all the difference.

If you want to get lucky, don’t be a dirtbag. I don’t care if the look is popular right now. Take a shower, for god sakes.

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I write about dating, marriage, divorce, family, society, and the city I live in: Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, CA

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