To me, menswear is very important. Obviously because I’m a man, and I wear menswear. But not only that, but also because it allows all men to show what they are comfortable wearing: an unconscious paragraph of who you are that is passed on to everyone you meet before you even speak. It’d be lovely to say that people don’t judge you on what you wear, and that they should wait until they get to know you before making any judgements, but that’s a load of baloney. Making the most of the latest trends and using them to their fullest advantages will have you leaping over fences while the Samaritan in a tan, badly fitted suit is still leaving the gate.
But something terrible has happened over the last decade. Menswear has lost its way and strayed into the choppy waters of ever changing trends and this is not a good thing, however fetching One Direction may look in suits and brogues.
Where does the problem stem from? Personally, it may seem short sighted, but the very first time that I noticed that the standards of menswear were dropping were during Topman’s ascendancy to lynch pin of the High Street.
It was around the turn of the millennium and Russell Brand was the hottest property going. He had the distinctive look that was enforced with his rebellious nature. Everyone knew his name, and was aware that his hair looked like someone had detonated a crow inside Tim Burton’s imagination. So it was inevitable that someone was going to try and sell an affordable version of his look, and taking the lead happened to be Topman. For the first time we saw something on the High Street that hadn’t been seen since the 70s: skinny jeans.
It may seem a trivial thing by today’s standards, but they were a brand new addition to a boring wardrobe. There was nothing as form fitting for men. If they were lucky a pair of straight leg jeans might be cut a little too short on their ankles. For the first time in decades, menswear was hit by a ‘trend.’ And that trend was to look like an heroin addict as much as you can.
A “rockier edge” (a phrase that makes me want to crawl inside my own anus to die) is still something that Topman holds true in their ethos. Even now, almost a decade after Pete Doherty overdosed for the first time, and Amy Winehouse was a buxom jazz star, Topman’s clothes are still made for those of us who are skinny enough to play Where’s Wally in a pile of twigs. Which, not only smacks of the least amount of innovation possible, but also, laziness.
For the first time there was a trendy trouser that seemed new, and exclusive. To begin with, you couldn’t find skinny jeans anywhere, and then Topman democratised them and they flooded the market. Everyone had their own make and style until eventually, they became the norm, and a norm is a terrifying concept in fashion. True fashion should never be normal, or even usual. It should be special, different and individual to you. Which I promise is the wankiest that this article will sound.
There has been trends before; disco, punk, New Romanticism, they’ve usually gone hand in hand with whatever music is in vogue at the time, so having people dress up as the bands of the day: Razorlight, The Strokes, some other awful indie cunts, is nothing new, but the trends of decades past lasted for years at a time (its rumoured that disco didn’t die until 1980 when Diana Ross’ favourite batwing dress caught fire one night because it was so extravagantly created), this time round, the Indie Bollocks Trend only seemed to last for a year, maybe two, tops and then died a death. Razorlight went back to Australia, only to pop up again combined into Noel Fielding and Russell Brand offended ageing celebrities and married young celebrities, but this was only the beginning of the problem.
Buoyed by the success of the Indie Bollocks trend, Topman’s profits reached a record high and started to establish themselves as an influential name on the High Street; an area that had longed for a new market to reinvigorate itself with. But how do you continue a success? By making the market for yourself. So Topman set off mimicking the very successful womenswear plan of having trends that come in one season and are discarded the season after, leaving behind out of touch lotharios like Frankie Cocozza and Russell Brand in their wake.
Although these trends are summed up in new packages with fancy new graphics, they all stem from the same principle. In the Spring/Summer months there will be a nautical inspired look, this year it’s focused more on Scandanavian fisherman than last year’s 40s sailors, and in Autumn/Winter, there’s the wrap up warm, chunky knits that, although may look different from last year’s (A/W11 has cable knit and encouraged hideous prints) are essentially the same thing. The whole process is very shallow. In that there’s no depth to it, and everything is just a facsimile of the previous year; a rehash of what worked and what didn’t.
Unfortunately where Topman leads, everyone else follows, so eventually the same homogenised product is found wherever you go. Whichever store you go in, you’re destined to find the same thing. Stripey t-shirts in a variety of colours tend to be the most popular repetition.
This Slight Altering of a Trend plan has watered down what could make menswear something truly special. I’m not looking for some drastic change of fashion so that massive shoulder pads are necessary for men, or that skirts are going to be de rigeur. We still have self esteem. Waltzing around in a bra would be a mistake.
“But why does it work for women and not for men?” I hear you ask. Well first of all, drop the attitude. Second of all, it works easier for womenswear because womenswear has a wide and varied selection of looks to be copied year after year. Although they stick to a tried and tested regime of ‘Nautical then Knitted’, women have more variation in shapes and fabrics that can be employed to bring differentiation to the trend. For instance, with menswear, jumpers come in one style: jumper. But for women, they come in jumper dress both long sleeved and short, jumper again short sleeved and long and cardigan (long length, mid length and bolero). There’s a lot of difference in that one area of garment alone.
Menswear doesn’t have that variation so eventually everything is going to seem like you’ve seen it before, because essentially, you have. How many hundreds of jumpers did you trawl through last year to find the perfect one? Were they essentially the same thing but with a slightly different design? Of course they were.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing much that can be done because of it. Once something is democratised then it becomes very difficult to depose instilled ideas of what the norm is, leading to self-propelled ideas becoming rehashed and rehashed. When upcoming fashions can be deduced like a piece of trigonometry, then something is definitely wrong somewhere.
Obviously I can’t tell you what to wear, I can’t even find something suitable for me to wear. There’s just so much around, it’s a shame that it all looks the same.