Men’s clothing trends have traditionally been outshone by women’s brands
The Western media has always been dominated by man’s quest to attract the opposite sex: the love story between the red-blooded leading man and his damsel. Think about it: the ‘main man’, whether actor or politician, used to be the distinguished, well-groomed type, such as Carey Grant, and later the iconic, boyish but stylish James Dean. In the ’80s and ’90s however, this devolved into unidentifiable and unrelatable cold-hearted man-machine action stars such as Sly Stallone and Arnie. Beyond pecs and biceps, the relevance of men’s ‘style’ hit a brick wall, and expressing yourself through fashion was confined to radical sub-cultures such as mods, punks and, later, New Romantics, who all married music and fashion to amplify their distaste for conformity. Sartorial expression was looked down upon by mainstream society, and the action-star icons never sold the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable to express emotions or show ‘panache’. Instead, masculinity was bottled and sold to us as aftershaves, razors and cigars.
Yes, there were rock stars, such as David Bowie and Prince, but their gender-bending image was deemed far too unorthodox for the Average Joe. Time has been kind to these pioneers, but it has taken their innovative messages close to 30 years to ripple into everyday mainstream men’s fashion, to really be recognised and now championed.
Times have changed, however. Take David Beckham, who is arguably the most prolific men’s style icon of recent years. In 1998 we were quick to question why a married, heterosexual, professional footballer would want to wear a sarong. More importantly, why were men everywhere turning to icons of football for style tips? But not any more.
Here was a man who was able to defy conventional style rules, yet become a mainstream hero. Now he bucks the alpha-male trend, yet appears masculine, and … well, dandy.
Dandyism was an underground fashion movement that bubbled up through the French Revolution to revolt against the flamboyant mile-high wigs of Louis XIV’s decadent aristocracy. Perriwigs were swapped for hair gel and mutton chops, and men started dressing themselves for themselves – much like today.
Today’s fashion climate is not about the elite and their rules, but the individual. Fashion allows men to be comfortable with their identity and wear their hearts on their rolled-up sleeves.
In a further step, other metrosexuals such as Kanye West took mainstream fashion to a young African-American audience in the noughties, proving that you don’t have to be as flamboyant as Prince to express personality and emotion through bold colours and innovative styles. As recently as the 2011 Coachella Music Festival, the fashion industry praised Kanye for wearing a silk top from designer womenswear brand Celine. More importantly, it was welcomed by hip-hop fans.
The differing reactions to both Kanye in 2011 and David Beckham in 1998 show us just how the boundaries of men’s fashion have changed in such a short space of time. Musicians-turned-style-icons Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z broke through with a look that was relevant to the modern man. Both would later capitalise on their perceived image by launching their own fashion labels. Justin’s William Rast and Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Wear target the man on the street looking to emulate their style icons.
From rappers to actors and even beyond to politicians and sports stars, today’s male style icon comes in all shapes, colours and sizes.
Men are now also looking side to side instead of up into the stars for inspiration. Fashion blogs keep up with trends: the most pioneering the dandy-inspired The Sartorialist. The site created a ‘fourth wall’ by taking conventional fashion photography to the streets and snapping real people. The popularity of these blogs among men shows that they are not only curious about fashion, but more so about their fellow man’s style. The model carved from dreams has been replaced by the man on the street.
Fashion brands are also making men’s fashion more accessible. ‘At Ted Baker we have seen menswear purchases become more prevalent across the world,’ says Emma Pearcy, the store’s brand manager in the Middle East. ‘Men are doing well at taking better care of their appearance. As proof of this, Ted Baker recently opened the third ‘‘Ted’s Grooming Room’’: while travelling in Istanbul, Ted came across the joys of a traditional Turkish wet shave. He then brought this treatment to the UK – after all, it is important for gentlemen to keep things “trim and proper”.’
Men’s retail is no longer confined to the corner next to the kids’ section. Floorspace has increased and many retailers now offer standalone men’s stores (such as Mango H.E., launched in 2008 and presently in The Dubai Mall). These stores are increasingly drawing inspiration from international fashion houses, which are dedicating more and more time to men’s fashion.
Last season saw Asia’s first (and the world’s third) dedicated men’s fashion week take place in Singapore. At the same time, internet shopping portal Net-a-Porter launched Mr Porter, the first dedicated global menswear retail site, offering accessible men’s style from designer labels to niche brands, alongside directories and advice.
Then again, fashion is always going to be subjective. One man’s knitted reindeer sweater is another’ man’s haute couture. As long as it’s worn with confidence, what anyone else thinks is, really, irrelevant