Wednesday, 26 May 2010

How Male Fashion Changes

Talking to some menswear designers and models at a fashion shoot a couple of days ago took me back to when I ran shoots in the eighties. I was fashion editor of Country Life, at that time one of the great weekly publications, which covered fashion in a rather bemused way as if not quite knowing how it had slipped into its august pages. The editorial offices were a cabinet of eccentricities as each writer pursued his own obsessions with total disregard for anything else. How it was ever published on time I have no idea.

Fashion was a challenge, an alien … but I am pleased to say that I managed to get two fashion covers - unheard of at Country Life and the cause of much indignant snorting in the grander counties and quite a few cancelled subscriptions. But we stuck to or guns until probably the least suitable editor in the history of magazines took over and destroyed the aesthetic of a unique publication, making it as bourgeois as any other magazine. Country Life never recovered. She retired abroad but the damage she had done was absolute.

One battle I did not win, even in a magazine with a much bigger male than female readership, was featuring menswear. 'Absolutely not us,' I was told. And in many respects the situation hasn't improved much in any publications except men's magazines desperate to keep going by raking in the men's fashion ads that only come if the editorial pages are already there. And in a way I could see why, looking at the clothes being photographed at the shoot.

Nothing seems to kill the strength of male clothing more quickly than overemphatic design. Subtlety is all. Nothing must ever look 'fashion'. So men's fashion change comes not from the clothes but from how they are worn. Teenage boys took the cheap Calvin Klein trick of showing their cool by exposing the waistband of their underpants and changed it by pulling their jeans so low on their bums that only a ludicrous crablike walk keeps them on at all. And we have the nerve to call women fashion victims.

In fact, as that exponent of uber-cool style, Tom Ford, has shown, the secret is to take existing elements, exaggerate some and diminish others and then never change anything. Then you have a style for life – just as all those rangy old aristocrats who loved Country Life did. Even today, thousands of men want to dress like a lord in the thirties. No modern fashionable woman wants to look like his wife, Her Ladyship, from the same period.

Maybe that is why, in the main, male fashion is still so unchallenging.


  1. I find this to be so true. By why does it have to be this way. I read that this uniformity comes from the past formalities and practicalities of clothes for men, such as country wear. This became even strictor around the war, but now I question whether clothes need to be focused around such a practical nature. Can a man identify to nothing but a grey suit? I say bring back the overall, the dungeree and re-make them in a fashionable light. I wonder why men are so afraid to express themselves visually?

  2. "Nothing seems to kill the strength of male clothing more quickly than overemphatic design. Subtlety is all. Nothing must ever look 'fashion'."

    I hate this kind of (sexist) opinion. And looking at celebrated young menswear designers (e.g. Katie Eary or James Long), and how many young guys dress nowadays, the opinion is thankfully dying out.