It hasn't yet gotten to the point where a lot of boys are announcing that they want to be models when they grow up. (And we have yet to hear a mother gloat, "My son , the model.")
But male modeling has in the past couple of years grown to a multi-million-dollar business and in the process, become pretty respectable. (According to Charles Hix, author with Michael Taylor of "Male Model: The World Behind the Camera," male modeling in the last five years has jumped from less than one-fifth to almost one-third of the total billing of several top modeling agencies. And although their ranks are not nearly as many as women models, several male models' salaries are well up in the $100,000-a-year category.
Washington has not yet produced any of the superstar-male variety, but there are plenty here who, although they can't support themselves on fees, earn between $5,000 and $10,000 from runway and print work. (Many Washington models cash in on occasional out-of-town jobs, such as those in Baltimore.) But to live solely off modeling, one has to reside in a city with a fashion industry, like New York, Los Angeles or Philadelphia.
The enviable exception is Ben Short, 49, who had been managing the Knoll International office when he did a Father's Day ad for Hecht's. Now he is modeling full time and living all over the country.
"Most people my age are sensible and have regular jobs," said Short on the phone from Dallas, where he is being photographed for the Sheplers westernwear catalogue.
Only a fraction of his work is done in Washington, though some of his magazine and newspaper work still runs here. Half of his work is television, which pays $250 to $1,000 a day, and the rest, print at $100 an hour, $600 a day.
When both his children were settled in college, Short decided to dump the routine job route, enlist with agencies all over the country, and take the jobs that jibed with his personal and recreational schedule. When the family needs him in Dallas, he works there. During the ski season, he gets work in Denver. When the weather is lousy in New York, he picks up work in Los Angeles.
"It's better," he says, "than working for a living."
Short's face is more familiar here from appearing in Raleighs ads. But his gray hair is now landing him such character spots as the doctor in Valium ads, the husband in a Sanka ad, the guest in an ad for an Atlantic City gambling hotel. One of the benefits, he says, from posing for a casino brochure, was an extended stay in the hotel and free rein at the gambling tables.
George Weeks, 31, an administrator with the National Association of Homebuilders, is a favorite model of several Washington stores. Getting virtually all his work through the Adair Agency (which books him at $60 an hour), he takes only lunch-hour or after-hours assignments.
Weeks, who has never had a modeling lesson except for a class or two in make-up, says the learning comes strictly from "watching those who are good at what they do." He won't say how much he makes from modeling, making it clear it is not enough to live on. "But it's a good income boost, one that provides me with some pleasant extras."
Alan Cephas, 28, who started modeling for Washington designers in 1976, was encouraged by designer Bill Blass to give New York City a try. He got no solid bids when he made his first trip there, but when Bruce Cooper, husband of Wilhemina (of the well-known New York Agency), came to check out Washington models, he tapped Cephas and signed him up.
Cephas, as it turns out, has moved only as far as Philadelphia, his compromise between Washington and New York. He can continue working for Washington clients and still get easily to New York when the jobs turn ups.
"That's where the money is," says Cephas, who gets $100 an hour, $750 a day, when he does something like catalogue work. For straight editorial jobs such as magazine or newspaper work, it is much less.
He's pictured in a formal layout in the current issue of Ladies Home Journal and in recent issues of Gentleman's Quarterly, Modern Brides and Brides magazine.
Cephas says he finds he's spending less on clothes for himself these days. "And by wearing expensive clothes, I've learned to judge quality instantly."
And while it is expensive to have his hair styled for pictures, he still can get a good $2.50 haircut from the barber at 42nd and Benning Road NE.
According to writer, Hix, the largest crop of successful models today is athletic looking with a sporty, energetic appearance. But there are plenty of jobs, too, he assures us in his book, for the suave, the macho, the sensual looking guy.
"The male image is more diverse than it was," he says, "possibly because we're beginning to realize that maleness is more diversified than we once thought."
The new respectability for modeling, says Hix, is not an outpouring of male narcissism, unacceptable in the '30s and '40s when fashion drawings of men, rather than photographs, were the norm.
Instead, he parallels its growth along with societal changes of the '50s, '60s and '70s. In the '50s, he writes, the male presentation in ads was very stiff. "His rigidity reflected our rigid perception of maleness -- Rational Man contrasted with Emotional Woman, Superior Man versus Inferior Woman." The turmoil of the late 1960s and early 1970s freed up some of these images, letting male models, or "fantasized versions of ourselves," become annonymous celebrities.
In his frank and informative book, Hix deals straightforwardly with the subject of homosexuality and the general presumption that most male models are gay. "Only when homosexuality is no longer seen as reprehensible will male models be seen as totally respectable. NOT because all or even a sizable majority of male models are gay. And NOT because gayness or straightness is a valid criterion when evaluating job performance: As the line goes in the ranks, 'You are only as good as your last picture.'"