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Succumbing to the Tyranny of #menswear (WSJ)

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

Buddy posted this on my facebook the other day.  Some very good observations in there.  Some things (ie. unbuckled monkstrap and unbuttoned surgeons cuff) are simply trying too hard, IMO.







It is an observation I have seen in the pages of GQ and Esquire, in blogs and tweets and retweets: American men are dressing better these days. It's true that they are certainly paying more attention to what they wear. But are men really looking better?


A brief dig into the roots of this sartorial proverb is easy enough. The rapid proliferation of men's style photographs (or #menswear, as it's known on the Web) began with a phenomenon called street style—the photographing and posting of outlandishly but carefully attired men on the sidewalks of cities like Manhattan, London and Milan. The ascent of street style marked the death of the elegant and understated suit, and opened the gates to burgundy velvet Doc Martens, double-layered silk scarves and chinos rolled halfway up the calf, cuffs crinkled for that extra dash of insouciance.


The unsuspecting victims of this #menswear craze are the guys who never paid much attention to the way they dressed to begin with. Thirty years ago the only men susceptible to fads were the few who read magazines like Vogue Hommes and went to the shows in Paris. Now, anyone with a lunch break—or anyone whose girlfriend has a lunch break—can log onto Tumblr and subject himself to incessant criticism of dressing normally.


Average young men—in the male of the species, interest in fashion dies at middle age—have become so overwhelmed by images of the flamboyant that they find their own clothing shamefully deficient. The solution? To look acceptable, dress exactly as the Internet tells you.


One of the greatest culprits is the fetishization of what the online world calls "individual style": the purposeful unbuckling of monkstrap shoes, mismatched cufflinks, button-down shirts with only one collar point fastened and, perhaps most absurd, the unbuttoning of jacket cuff buttons (a practice intended only for showing off one's functioning cuff buttons). These idiosyncrasies are so wildly circulated that they've become standard issue: No cuff button is left fastened, no monkstrap is buckled. Individuality has become a uniform.


The second force behind the flattening of men's style is the notion of "style rules." Magazines command that a man's shirt cuff must not extend more than a quarter-inch from his jacket, so I regularly see New Yorkers on crowded trains reach into the sweaty armpits of their blazers to pull their sleeves back—never mind that every James Bond from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig managed not to fret over an inch or more of visible shirt cuff. Men are told to cuff their selvedge jeans to show off the hemmed internal fabric, as though, like some freemason clan, having the right jeans will get you into a secret men's club.


There are so many photos of men saddling one arm of their sunglasses over the breast pocket of their blazers that Ray-Bans seem as common an ornament as pocket squares.


And perhaps the most laughable of these style rules is the notion that men must match the color of their belts to that of their shoes to Pantone precision. Men seem to equate going out without matching belt and shoes to leaving the house without underwear.

The hunger for belt-matching and the pandemic of cuff-unbuttoning has not only left every man in New York City looking like a salesperson at J. Crew, but it has also prevented men from knowing or learning what they actually want. The "well-dressed" urban man does not have desires or tastes. He rolls up his jeans without knowing why. He does not belong to a club, and yet he wears club ties with fake crests.


Forgoing fashion is a prerequisite for elegance. Marcello Mastroianni chose the cloth for his suits because he liked it, not because he read in Mr. Porter's Journal that Glen Plaid was the pattern of the month. Foppery can thrive alongside subtlety. As Beau Brummell, the first dandy, once said: "If people turn to look at you on the street, you are not well dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable."

The current #menswear disease is perhaps best summarized by the abundance of men wearing wing tips and other dress shoes with no socks. For two years I have seen magazines rave about the sockless look. Feet cannot bear it, but a stylish man these days never obeys his instincts, nor falters at the threat of blisters.


Mr. Aciman is a writer in New York and the author of "Twitterature" (Penguin, 2009).

post #2 of 6
Le sigh.

WDWV discussed this yesterday.
post #3 of 6

This is hilarious and applies to a lot of what's circulated here. It really comes down to whether you think that there's value in the "rules" or not. Some people will get upset and defensive/indignant; those are the people who take it too seriously.

post #4 of 6
the backlash against #menswear left the barn door and reached full gallop quite some time ago. the fact that WSJ picked up on it can signify....the backlash to the backlash is imminent...?!
post #5 of 6
Good article. Thanks for posting.
post #6 of 6
Good article. Thanks for posting.
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