Designers and customers are breaking the rules. Formerly functional and drab, menswear is now undergoing a renaissance. And social media is catalyzing the shift.
“Fashion is the first and universal language,” said Kenneth Cole Mar. 25 to open a panel on the casualization of menswear sponsored by Fashion Group International and GQ magazine.
GQ Vice President Chris Mitchell moderated the panel, which included Cole, GQ Senior Style Editor Will Welch, Saks Fifth Avenue Vice President and Fashion Director Eric Jennings and designer Todd Snyder.
A Menswear Renaissance
A few years ago, men relished taking off their suits after eight hours at the office. That ship has sailed – more than half of American men have included formal wear in their casual aesthetic. Now that they do not have to wear a suit uniform everyday, they have more opportunities for sartorial creativity than ever.
“Men’s dressing has changed drastically from five to ten years ago,” Cole remarked, starting off the discussion. In fact, the growth of men’s fashion has outpaced women’s over the last ten years. The shift in lifestyle has caused a shift in fashion awareness and aesthetic – particularly for the millennial generation, which has adopted a youthful, casual yet polished look.
“The blazer is the basis of men’s fashion, said Cole, as it doubles as formal and casual wear. Because form exclusively follows function in this piece, designers can do anything they want – make it as drab and office-like as the suit of old, or make it modern, with shoulder patches and unexpected colors, patterns and fits. The blazer (and trousers) have been updated and are more tailored and fitted than ever before.
The well-dressed dandy from the 1800s has truly returned, and wears suits with pocket squares, ties, topcoats and vests to go to clubs and on dates – men actually want to have their clothes tailored. Jennings attributed this to the increasing visibility of such accouterments on celebrities and NBA players, whom we see leaving the locker rooms dressed as a menswear designer’s dream, and increasing number of rappers singing in part about suits.
“The appetite is like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Welch noted.
Separates are Key
Men’s fashion is like a chef (carefully) throwing ingredients together to create a chef d’oeuvre. “We are limited to the number of pieces we have,” Snyder said of man’s fashion plight. So men have to mix the things they know together to have an edge. How would one do this? He suggested combining a formal blazer with a sweatshirt or military-style pieces. “I’m really trying to push my customer to try new things,” continued Snyder, who currently retails a suit at Nordstrom for $795.
“Take suits and dress them down,” said Welch. He proposed jeans paired with a suit jacket and tie. “There are always new directions … no end of things you can do.” Designers need to give people what makes them feel good, but is also unexpected – something dynamic but also true to them, said Cole. He boldly claimed that “They want your interpretation of what they want.”
No Longer Afraid of Fashion
A designer’s success or failure hinges on timing. For men as much as for women, designers cannot introduce novel styles so soon that they alienate the customer. But they have to introduce them early enough to be a leader.
When people hear “blazer” they immediately think: preppy, private school, gold crest. But we need avant-garde to change us. Today, men want something other than the traditional preppy look – they want something a little more edgy, something that will identify them rather than lose them in the fashionable yet anonymous crowd.
You would be surprised by how many men – even quote-on-quote manly, “I don’t care what I look like” men – are actually converting to the casualized formal menswear phenomenon. Jennings visited a group of over 100 new recruits for the NBA earlier this year to give a tutorial on how to dress well and follow the NBA’s dress code. Amazingly, every single audience member – all around 19 or 20 years old, ‘macho’ football players who spend most of their waking moments sweating profusely and downing protein powder shakes – were highly interested in fashion, and knew exactly who their favorite designers were.
Millenial men are just “not afraid of fashion anymore,” said Snyder. With social media and men’s magazines like GQ and now NBA players, whom Snyder calls them “basically the best dressed men nowadays,” men have access to so many people’s personal styles – from designers to their peers. Street style and the music world are having a huge impact on men by demystifying fashion and making it more accessible. Looking like well-dressed NBA players and other guys on the street is a lot less terrifying than feeling like you’re part of a runway show or an androgynous man in a glossy airbrushed ad.
The Price Point.
Snyder attributes part of this aesthetic shift to the recession of 2008. “Guys are realizing that the better dressed you are, the more likely you are to succeed, whether it be in business or in dating.”
Men buy suits for a reason – a big event, a job, for longevity. They have no problem investing and choosing new things if they know it will last. So it is the company’s job to tell the story of why a piece is the best quality, fit and cut. Hot items like sneakers have no price resistance, whereas tailored, better quality and more expensive items like suits have much higher price resistance. “The make, fit and brand of the suit defines its price,” said Cole. The brand, in particular, defines expectations with its consistent quality, aesthetic, and acceptability. “Price is important… I want to dress a lot of people,” said Snyder. And the way to do that is by selling menswear at affordable prices – like his $795 suit.
Many young men get into suits through fast fashion – buying a $100-200 suit and then “graduating” to one of better quality. Indeed, “the more trendy, the less pressure on tailoring,” said Cole. “Suit tailoring is a different mindset, a different purchase,” Welch concluded. Today’s man is starting to buy tailored items the same way he buy sneakers for the season.
Now that the spark has been lit in so many men’s minds, and is being stoked by increased social media exposure and designers’ attentive to the sartorial transition, the trend may turn into a way of life. As it is particularly affecting the younger generation, it is likely that this fashion-aware mindset will travel with them through their careers. Will we continue to see men buying their milk in ratty old shirts and sagging sweatpants? Certainly. But start keeping a tally of the blazered and pocket-square-wearing men in your grocery store. I guarantee the number will surprise you.