The Strange Relationship Between Men And Fashion

A guest post by Tom Johnson

I like clothes. I’m interested in fashion, or at least style. Even to the extent that I occasionally blog about it. But as a man I seem to be somewhat of an outlier. If you were to ask most men about their interests, I would hazard a guess that clothes and fashion would not feature that highly in most of their answers. It interests me as to why that is.

Of course most men have at least some sort of passing interest in clothes. Considering they are one of life’s essentials, they have no choice. But I think to have a genuine interest in clothes and fashion to the extent that I do is still seen as slightly unusual.

I notice it even amongst friends and work colleagues when talking about my blog. Although it’s all very good natured, there is often a mildly mocking tone regarding the concept of me not only being interested in clothes and style, but that I would actually want to write about it and comment on it. Worse still that I spend time with a female stylist friend of mine, producing videos and blogs discussing men’s fashion.

There is a stereotypical attitude that people seem to not only believe, but actually plays out in reality: The idea that women and gay men are interested in clothes, but your “traditional” straight man is not.

There are, of course, exceptions, but you only need to look at the number of female fashion bloggers and influencers compared to male ones (of any sexual orientation!) to see that fashion seems to largely still be a female domain. It is certainly not something that is on the radar of your so-called “everyday bloke”.

Like a lot of things relating to the concept of masculinity I think men’s relationship with clothes, fashion, and their appearance is a complex one. On the one hand when you look back at the traditional, old-fashioned idea of a man, clothes did, indeed, play a part. Dressing smartly was imperative, whatever a man’s class or job. Tailoring  is still very much seen as a male domain and that continues today both in the traditional tailors of Saville Row and more contemporary tailors such as Ozwald Boateng.

But despite there being a need to dress smartly and take pride in your appearance there was less encouragement to express yourself through the way you dressed. Although we might look back now on a time where men all wore smart suits and hats as a time of sartorial elegance, in fact it was more uniform. Dressing smartly was simply what was done.

Even so, when you look at the fashion industry as a whole, both through history and today, men are still quite dominant amongst the key figures. It’s a similar situation to the “celebrity chef” culture, where despite the traditional archaic view of the kitchen being a female domain, the majority of famous chefs are men. Think of big names like Georgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Alexander McQueen and you’ll see how fashion is dominated by male figures.

And yet, in day to day life, fashion doesn’t really seem to play a big part in men’s lives. Why is that? Despite the progressive world we live in, or supposedly live in, I still think that some of those more traditional attitudes I’ve described penetrate the male conscious. There is an underlying feeling amongst a lot of straight men that somehow fashion and caring too much about their appearance is not for them, it’s not masculine.

But I do think that those attitudes are changing, there are areas of fashion that do infiltrate the man on the street. Casual culture is one example. You only need to look at the popularity of ranges like the Adidas Spezial collection to see how much fashion means to your archetypal match going football casual. Indeed, publications such as Mundial Magazine and Proper Mag also celebrate clothes, and indeed inclusivity, as part of football casual culture.

I think men care a lot more about fashion and their appearance than they might let on. Despite the mocking tone I sense from friends and colleagues about my interest in clothes, I will often have them quietly asking my opinion on what to wear to an event or on a date or whatever. Ultimately, whether we like it or not, everyone has a way in which they want to be perceived. Fashion is just one way of people expressing themselves and outwardly portraying who we are as individuals. Both men and women.

My message to men would be to embrace it. Giving a shit about your appearance is a good thing, it doesn’t make you vain. Clothes and fashion can be enjoyable and a way to express ourselves. And hey, if you need any fashion advice, you know where I am!

About the Author:
Tom is the owner of The Gentleman Casual, a blog about football casual culture, men’s fashion, and masculinity.