In Brooklyn recently, the missus turned to me as I examined a neat rack of hand-tooled leather belts and said grumpily, “Here we are, in yet another awesome menswear store!” She then clarified (in case I missed the hint), “I’m BORED.”
Michael is, in fact, an extremely energetic lady who believes life should be about maximizing engagement with one’s surroundings. This is a good philosophy, but I did remind her (smugly, perhaps) of all the years I’d spent sitting on couches in the middle of some lady store, reading super old copies of GQ and failing to do a good job of visualizing her in the shirt she inevitably held up for me. (I am terrible at this. I cannot visualize. Lest I paint myself as some sort of Cretan, I regularly offer outfit opinions once the clothes are actually on the body.)
The point is, something has happened in menswear lately, and since I’ve benefited from it tremendously, I’ve wondered a lot about the seeming seachange that allows Americana-inspired stores like Brooklyn Circus to not only flourish, but outshine boutiques specializing in womenswear (and Barney’s for that matter–Michael, I’ve noticed, is almost always behind me, touching the pocket squares and ties longingly after an irritating stint in the other half of the store, which she usually ultimately pronounces “tacky,” or, more generously, “eh.”)
And then I realized: we are in a zeitgeist moment, and somehow guys like me: folks with a Libra love of aesthetics and objects, a romantic view of ruggedness, and an interest in looking to the past for a cool and contained masculinity are in luck. Call it nostalgia if you want, but modern updates on the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and even early-’70s (America’s last “golden age”) are looking way better than our economy.
I realize that I could unpack this (and others surely have) in relationship to the recession, the American urge for optimism sublimated into a look backwards instead of ahead during these dark times of post-manufacturing, poor education, and China’s rise on the broken backs of its people and the capitalist model that we’ve pioneered/benefit from. There’s some heavy stuff right there, and it’s real, and very disturbing.
But to divorce the cultural underpinning of nostalgia from this a little bit, there’s certainly a visual benefit to a more grounded, classic style. Instead of seeing this as purely a fantasy of bygone times, maybe we could suit up and remind ourselves to stop trading in “futures” and get to work right now on what’s practical, changeable, and in front of us.
In every time–even the coke-binge of the ’80s–the understated, aesthetically oriented guy has been acknowledged, but never have we been the vanguard of our own movement. The vanguard usually looks something like this:
Which is obviously awesome, but outdated. Remember when the ’80s/early-’90s were back for a minute?
Point is, the look that’s popped up in menswear is appealing because it focuses on what folks like me adore: the classic, grown-up ease of dudes wearing clothes that fit right, look good, and are correct for the occasion.
This moment in time didn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s just that, for once (in my humble opinion), we looked in the right direction. Here, then, are a collection of style icons we owe the current moment in menswear to:
Steve McQueen’s crisp, classic style has “prep resurgence with a West Coast twist” written all over it. He was a glamorous movie star not afraid to tarnish the gold a little. Now that tailored-but-relaxed look is as high-flying as we’re willing to go. Proof?
Also, regarding this:
Speaking of Hollywood ruggedness x glamour, you didn’t think I’d leave out my favorite style icon, patron saint of denim, did you?
Chambray was actual workwear, and sailors used to look like this:
The hardscrabble, tortured look of Marlon Brando owed as much to motorcycles, white t-shirts, and flannel as it did to his dark features:
Now that I think about it: bleached whites and motorcycles, tailored flannels and chambray shirts: as the upper/lower class mishmash of preppy and workwear continues its beautiful blend, maybe we can find a metaphor there. Maybe America is making something new right now, a real melting pot of past and present, an uncertain future looking that much sharper for it.
Or maybe I can’t help being an optimist, after all.