One afternoon, a bit ago at the ripe age of 28, I found myself on multiple floors of Barney’s New York. I was on a quest for the perfect cashmere turtleneck sweater, mock beret, Italian leather shoes and a clever pants suit. Although that perfect suit was not uncovered and the shoes were too tight, several dress shirts, the sweater, beret and a few accessories were carried out through those huge double doors. Unfortunately, only the beret was for me. The shopping spree, a sartorialist’s delight was initiated by, orchestrated by and purely for the benefit of my then boyfriend. I brushed off his fashion-narcissistic tendencies to the onset of a midlife crisis (he was in his earlier 40’s, sitting in an age chair similar to the one my tush is parked in now). He was also a New Yorker, born and raised, so perhaps in a way, much like Anderson Cooper, style and fashion ran in his family.
As with most boyfriends in one’s 20’s, his tenure was brief, however the concept of trendy menswear and his amazement in it continued to perplex me. As I watched the recent Fall 2018 (because in fashion, the time is always ahead, much like time zones in Asia) menswear collections, I wondered, “Who are these men?” Not the models per se (ok so maybe a few caught my eye), but rather, what man aside from my ex, fashion industry guys and metrosexuals would find any of this interesting, much less applicable to them?
While the exact data escapes me, scientific studies have shown that although men are a) typically more vain than women (biceps and Rogaine, need I say more), they b) view clothes and dressing as practical investments that denote power, respectability and quality (stupid too-long red ties). For men it would seem that fashion, beyond bespoke tailoring, hand-stitching and flash ties, doesn’t really enter into the equation. What they are after is sustainable utilitarian apparel.
So how is it that menswear is emerging on and off the runway? Designer’s have simply turned their ability to tell a story (a fashion/color/lifestyle story) that men relate to and ultimately , literally and figuratively, buy into. Christopher Bailey’s 2017 collection for Burberry embodied the teenage image of the “proper punk meets Romeo and raids Andre Breton's closet” – an attitude that is appealing to men on both sides of the pond. Mind you, if my lover showed up in one of these poetic cableknit sweaters, I'd have to wonder if period-piece role play was our new date night.
The poshness of the expert tailoring was toned-downed by the subtle romantic spirit. Prada offered masculine prints, shorts and trekking-inspired jackets that reminded me of Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripely off the grid– handsome, playfully dorky yet elegant and a bit, well homesteady.
While it would seem that as women downsize and dive deep into a delicious closet purge, men are swaying in the opposite direction; away from uniform dressing and capsule wardrobes and into the juicy richness of fashion possibilities. In reality, they are mostly upping their regular game and adding creative and conscious value into their investment essentials. This manifests in Benefit Corp socks, hemp tees (that cost $50 a pop) and ethically made jeans that make their butts look almost as good as mine.
As men are striving to upgrade their business casual wear, they are turning to color and texture (i.e. pink cashmere sweaters or snakeskin belts) and inconspicuous socially responsible status symbols and progressive conversation pieces. Also men, except for Burburry Shakespeare sweater wearers, tend to like clothing simple and purposeful. Take socks for instance, they are the new tie (because ties are kinda passe) and they offer the perfectly convenient opportunity to push the fashion and conscious envelope. Conscious Step has colorful, fanciful or sharp sock collections that treat HIV patients, support literacy in Asia, provide water and plant trees. If only they could take out the trash and end mansplaining.
No Nasties (marketable to men or moms of messy boys), has a line of slim organic cotton button-down shirts that beg to be borrowed. The India based company's packaging is also green - no plastic and made of recycled paper. A far cry from that ex's Barneys bag. They also have a bromance Toms-esque "buy one, give one free" promotion (the extra tee is a gift for your guy's bud, or maybe for you to use as a nightshirt). Indosol has a groovy flipflop made of recycled tyre, that whispers adult man and not college kid on spring break in Baja. And my fave, coz I do like a man who pays attention to details, The Oxfam Shop Australia makes these stylish bicycle chain cufflinks. Vey cool and green-chic smart hot!
If however, I had to endure another menswear-only shopping excursion, I’d hope my shopping companion would carry out a few pieces Huckleberry and Apolis. These looks are masculine, powerful, retro, and sophisticated. The new menswear image is symbolic of the “everyman” fashion fantasy (travel, sporty and socially awake) and reality (luxurious, well-tailored, wearable). And a ton of swagger.