Do Men Finally Care About Fashion?

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Do Men Finally Care About Fashion?
Do Men Finally Care About Fashion?

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The menswear market is experiencing unparalleled growth. We unpick the various influences shaping it today.

Men haven’t historically cared much for fashion. Of course, there are outliers — those who saw an Armani-clad Richard Gere in American Gigolo in 1980 and were inspired to wear louche tailoring, or the raft

Certainly, putting together a three-piece suit with a tie, pocket square and appropriate shoes demands no small level of care. But compared to the women’s market, convincing men to buy clothes has always been a bit of a hard sell.

Retailers have even been known to directly target female customers when selling menswear, to encourage them to either wear it themselves or buy it for their male companions.

Recently, however, men have been buying clothes, shoes and accessories in an unprecedented manner: according to Euromonitor International, the menswear market is growing at a rate of 5.8 per cent, outpacing womenswear (at 5.3 per cent), and is projected to be worth $547.9 billion by 2026.

Such rising demand has seen retailers broaden their menswear buys and womenswear designers create men’s collections for the first time. Sales of men’s bags are also up, as well as men’s jewellery — which was valued at $6.5 billion in 2021, up 17 per cent against 2020, according to Euromonitor.

Voluminous and genderless fashion from local label Papa Clothing. Photo / Supplied

What has persuaded men to trade in their decades-old skinny jeans and bashed-up sneakers for wide-cut selvedge denim and loafers?

“There’s a whole raft of reasons — possibly because of the internet and social media, and women demanding more of their partners,” says Luke Crowther, the founder of Edit, a menswear store with three bricks-and-mortar outposts between Auckland and Wellington.

“I’ve been doing this for 24 years and I think [the menswear market] has changed massively. I think men care now, and it’s not frowned upon to care. It’s encouraged.”

Edit stocks brands from around the world, including minimalist designers Jil Sander and Lemaire, preppy French label Drole de Monsieur and “gorpcore” brands — those that specialise in functional outdoor wear — such as CP Company and Arc’teryx. Luke says the main shift he’s seen is a move away from sneaker culture towards tailoring — “but not tailoring in the old sense: this new kind of relaxed, unstructured tailoring”.

He cites Los Angeles-based brand Fear of God, which started off designing streetwear but morphed into sporty tailoring after a collaboration with Italian house Zegna in 2020, as one of the leaders in this change.

The gradual casualisation of men’s dress codes, which was exacerbated by the pandemic, has been matched by brands creating more considered and relaxed clothes for every day. The likes of Brendon Babenzian, the founder of New York brand Noah and now creative director of J. Crew menswear, whose much-anticipated debut collection for the American institution was filled with Fair Isle sweaters, suede vests and chinos.

Or Aimé Leon Dore, also from New York, whose amalgamation of clean sportswear, tailoring and workwear has sparked the kind of hype that Supreme enjoyed in its heyday.

“I think it’s a really interesting time for men now because historically casual wear has been seen as this almost juvenile or poorly put together way of dressing,” adds Luke. “But now, men can be casual but really sophisticated and elegant, provided the fabrications and silhouettes are good.”

Soft tailoring at Fear of God. Photo / Supplied
Soft tailoring at Fear of God. Photo / Supplied

Dayne Johnston, who designs menswear for Zambesi and also lectures at AUT University, says there has been a shift in the demographic of those buying fashion. “I’ve noticed that younger males have become very aware of how they want to look, how they want to present themselves,” says Johnston, who is also partly responsible for buying the retailer’s international roster, which includes Raf Simons, Dries Van Noten, Rick Owens and Maison Margiela.

“When I studied fashion — it would have been in the 90s — menswear was kind of undiscovered in this country, and I think there was a little bit of a barrier because we are used to that macho kind of culture in New Zealand. Now when I look at it, the kind of students that I teach at AUT, they’re very aware of everything and are more open. And I think there’s been a real interest in what is happening globally. They feel very connected to the rest of the world and I think they’ve been encouraged to have individuality as well.”

Another factor contributing to the burgeoning menswear market is the proliferation of designers and celebrities pushing the boundaries in terms of what has been historically considered menswear, and catering to a broader audience in the process.

The obvious representatives for this are musician Harry Styles and actor Timothée Chalamet — who recently appeared on the red carpet for his upcoming film Bones and All in a bright red halter top by Haider Ackermann — as well as designer Thom Browne, who has become known for making trad, office-grey two-piece suits out of jackets with pleated skirts.

“I think men are exploring what it means to dress as a man, which is quite interesting to watch, especially internationally,” says New Zealand designer and Project Runway contestant Benjamin Alexander, who launched menswear in 2019 after designing womenswear for five years.

“A lot of men’s icons today, whether it’s in music, film or the fashion industry, are playing with these ideas. A man in a suit, or menswear in the traditional sense is not the be all and end all anymore.”

This shift toward gender neutral clothing has been championed internationally by designers Harris Reed, Telfar Clemens and Eckhaus Latta, and locally by Papa Clothing’s Keva Rands, who creates linen shirts, wide-leg trousers and voluminous dresses ‘to be worn by any member of the family’.

A silky co-ord set from New York-based label Willy Chavarria. Photo / Supplied
A silky co-ord set from New York-based label Willy Chavarria. Photo / Supplied

“In my community, we talk about queerness and gender a lot more than other groups,” says Keva. “And I guess the queer community are who are pushing those boundaries; they’re at the forefront of who can wear a dress and what’s appropriate for what person to wear.” Keva’s designs also serve an audience that hasn’t been catered to by the prevailing Western dress codes.

“I know that it’s not just going to be women that are drawn to these styles, because of the Pacific inspiration of those big, beautiful floral dresses you can find in the Islands,” adds Keva. “I feel like a lot of my community is Pasifika as well — a queer and Pasifika crossover — and we’re just really drawn to a subtle flex of our culture.”

For a glaring example of the changes seen in the menswear market, look to Gucci designer Alessandro Michele, who dons embellished suits and pussy bow blouses for his red-carpet appearances but whose casual look has generally consisted of scruffy skinny jeans and a scoop-neck T-shirt.

When he took his bow at the brand’s latest runway show, held in Puglia in May, he looked a little different: dressed in a baseball cap, neat checked overshirt, wide-cut chinos and colourful sneakers, he looked as if he cared.

Or, for a more salt-of-the-earth instance, look to Six60, who might not necessarily be to high-brow tastes, but who perhaps best represent typical New Zealand; the Dunedin five-piece has dressed in some variation of jeans and a T-shirt, on stage and in public appearances, for the past decade.

For their recent promotional material, however, the musicians are wearing high-waisted pleat-front pants, relaxed suits and golf vests. For their upcoming US tour, lead singer Matiu Walters is wearing Zambesi.

“Recently, we’ve worked with Sarah Murphy, who’s the stylist of Six60,” adds Johnston. “Matiu has really fallen in love with all the pieces and he looks great in them and we are proud to be affiliated with the band.” Evidence, if any, that interest in men’s fashion has gone mainstream.

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