There are people who think men’s fashion never changes. They’re wrong. But only just. It simply changes at a glacial pace. Women seem to inherit new fashion icons constantly – one week it’s Beyonce, the next it’s Scarlett Johansson. With each seemingly arbitrary selection comes an entire heritage to be adapted and interpreted.
For example – a girl who wants to be like Beyonce suddenly has to know about hip hop, have an urban boyfriend and understand how to make Afro hair do something other than ‘the Lionel Richie’. No sooner have they got that in hand than Company are running articles on how to steal Jessie J’s look. So it’s back to New Look to pick up a skull ring and some upside cruxifix leggings.
Contrast this with male fashion – two of the biggest male fashion icons of the past 50 years are James Dean and Joey Essex, two people I never thought I’d get to mention in a sentence together. But if you squint at a picture of James Dean, maybe make the jeans a bit skinnier and the jacket a bit snazzier, it doesn’t look all that different from Joey Essex. There are a million other examples out there that are just like this. Look at guys like Dallas Green and the dude from Bon Iver – the outfits they wear wouldn’t look out of place on a member of ‘70s punk band D.O.A. (or a lumberjack…), but a lot of men today are still sticking with that look.
Does this mean that men are inherently more inclined to stick with ‘classic’ looks? Not necessarily. It’s my opinion that this gender difference is, more or less, due to two intertwining reasons.
Numero uno. Generally speaking, men are incredibly homosocial creatures. They crave the approval of other men more than they’d care to admit. And this goes for every substrata of dudes – just as juiceheads will add another 20kg to the barbell when there are other guys around, comic book geeks will suppress the fact that, actually, they kinda like Robin. Unlike women, who (according to reruns of Will & Grace, anyway) usually dissect their peers’ outfits after they’ve left the room, men will generally gang up on weaker members of the pack because of their own insecurities or their desire to assert their ‘alphaness’. Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a ‘what the hell are you wearing?!’ barrage from their male friends knows exactly why David Beckham cut out wearing that sarong. Even if Victoria still insists it looked good on him.
Secondly, the implications of the social structure outlined above have (to a significant degree) shaped how men and women shop. High street stores aimed primarily at women are by and large trend-based; Topshop, H&M and the like specialise in releasing new collections on a regular basis. With the process being very hit or miss, this sometimes results in clothes that are only a few months old ending up with a price tag bearing so many reductions that it might as well read ‘£social suicide’. Meanwhile, ‘male brands’ like APC, Obey and Vans rarely have reductions because they know that guys will spend high on ‘safe’ products that will last them for years.
But what about the exceptions? The fact that Topman exists complicates the model I’ve posited above. Brands like Topman and Urban Outfitters rely on absolute saturation. Somehow, whether it’s a girl with 5,000 Twitter followers saying she digs guys with feather earrings or some guy in a post hardcore band starting to wear wolf sweaters all the time, an item or a concept becomes popular and it becomes the backbone of (seemingly) every product in the store. It happened with jean shorts a year or two ago and, right on cue, it’s happened with tribal prints this summer. Exhibit A –
Of course, things aren’t quite as black and white as I’m making them out to be – designers and brands like Ozwald Boateng and Commes Des Garcons are mixing things up with statement pieces for men that are bold, experimental and totally…unsafe. I know it will take a LONG time for this bravery to filter down to high street menswear, but I really hope it does.