The market for man cave paraphernalia is probably a small niche. But, many people I’ve talked to spend an inordinate amount of money on an odd array of trinkets and tchotchkes that help them symbolically authenticate these spaces. Most of the people I contact to ask about their man caves, man dens, or whatever they call them talk with me or write with me first about the sign outside of the room. Literally hundreds of these signs are for sale. Some can be customized with names, but most are not. And some men produce their own signs or have signs produced for them by others. Not every man cave has a sign. In fact, the ones with signs often feel a lot less authentic than those without. But, signs are a feature of a “type” of cave, to be sure.
The signs remind me of images we culturally associate with boys’ bedroom doors. The “Keep Out!” sign with a skull and cross bones. Indeed, this is where the signs are placed. They’re not in the man cave, they are a designation of the space that stands just outside. They symbolically welcome some and exclude others—similar to the “no girls allowed” signs we think of as characteristic of boys’ clubhouses (or Calvin and Hobbes’ tree house). When I started this man cave project, I wasn’t initially all that interested in what exactly was in the caves. I’m collecting photographs of some, documenting the objects and considering room setup, décor, and the placement of different kinds of objects within the rooms. But, I was and am much more interested in the ways these spaces fit into the relationships of the people in whose homes the caves reside. But, now that the project is underway, the stuff has captured my attention as well. And these signs are just one very small piece.