Boys love their streetwear. But for a new generation of young men in their twenties, street cred is more about perfect suits than palace t-shirts.
Young men who read American Psycho for the first time, can be divided into two segments: the post-yuppie generation, who got the irony of Patrick Bateman’s obsession with tailoring, and the much later generation of boys, who would kill for his wardrobe. The Bateman era of suit worship was, unsurprisingly, followed by a reaction against the conservative yet foppish approach to male dressing. Grunge and goth faded into rave and logo mania, and for young men, tailoring became a dusty dinosaur. But beneath the fad of flashy fashion, overpriced denim, and the devouring streetwear tsunami, the tailoring dream was slowly starting to simmer. Fuelled by Bateman nostalgia and everything that came before – the dashing Duke of Windsor in his elegant three-piece suits, a cultured John F. Kennedy in single-breasted Savile Row – the gentleman’s uniform found its way into the wardrobes of a new tribe of young men.
“I can be quite boyish at times but wearing a fancy suit makes me stand-up straight, feel like more of a grown-up and stops me shrieking so much in meetings.”
‘Modern dandy’ is the term used to characterise the debonair boys in question, but it’s a label with a problematic history. “It once referred to chaps that liked to peacock around in all manner of different attire,” Sean Baker says, a twenty-something and frequent suit wearer himself. “Now the word is much more defined by its association with plaid waistcoats, pocket squares and penny loafers. A peacock I am but a modern day dandy I ain't.” The former Online Editor at i-D, Baker does creative marketing at Paul Smith and has, naturally, developed a penchant for tailoring. After wearing a Marks & Spencer suit literally do death in school, Baker rejoiced in the freedom of “short shorts and spaghetti strapped vests” while at i-D, until he discovered the finer things. “I can be quite boyish at times but wearing a fancy suit makes me stand-up straight, feel like more of a grown-up and stops me shrieking so much in meetings,” he says.
A striking contrast to the wave of streetwear dominant with the other camp of young men right now, the suit movement is almost rebellious in its anti-rebellious point of departure. For so long, men were rioting against the conformist, confining concept of the suit only to embrace it again and take complete ownership of it. “I don't think streetwear suits me and I feel far more confident with my colleagues in a jacket than I would in a hoodie,” Nick Carvell says. “That said I'm a big fan of wearing tailored joggers to work right now – streetwear I can slip on with my blazer and a pair of Oxfords. Perfect.” The Online Fashion Editor at British GQ, Carvell is a tailoring devotee in his twenties, who shares Baker’s concerns about the ‘dandy’ label. “I hear dandy, I immediately think floral pocket squares and bow ties rather than true dandies like Beau Brummell, for example.”
But unlike the dandies of the 1800s – Brummel, Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire – the young suit pride of the twenty-first century doesn’t manifest itself in “the uninterruptedly sublime” so key in Baudelaire’s handbook to being a ‘perfect dandy’ (which also includes guidelines like “live and sleep in front of a mirror”), but rather in a re-appropriation of the meaning of tailoring. More than anything, a suit is now about ease. “Guys like a uniform and wearing a suit and tie is a formula you can constantly riff on by changing accessories without too much trouble and not a huge amount of added expense,” Carvell notes. Baker finds that a suit has a longer-lasting presentability throughout rainy days of cycling around London, and insists he doesn’t wear them as a reaction against streetwear. “Quite the opposite. I've spent the last two years trying to figure out how to dress up a jumpsuit. A bow tie is definitely not the answer,” he quips.
While the effortlessness observed by today’s generation of young suit wearers in the classic men’s uniform far from corresponds to the opulent ideas of traditional dandyism, the young suit-clad gentlemen of the 2010s share their forefathers’ intense appreciation of artisanal value.
While the effortlessness observed by today’s generation of young suit wearers in the classic men’s uniform far from corresponds to the opulent ideas of traditional dandyism, the young suit-clad gentlemen of the 2010s share their forefathers’ intense appreciation of artisanal value. Since Baker got to Paul Smith, he says, “I've really enjoyed learning about the different cloths, the ceremonial significance of different cuts, and the effect each can have on your posture and manoeuvrability.” It’s the kind of admiration of excellence so many young men experienced reading American Psycho decades after it was first published, and what sets the tailoring aficionados apart from a lot of other young male fashion fans, who care more about trophy jumpers than intricate garments. In that sense, modern dandyism – if it can be called that – actually stands for an understanding of menswear on a much higher level than your average male fashion victim.
Carvell partly credits the rise of tailoring to phenomena such as Mad Men, “and even well-dressed characters like Chuck in Gossip Girl.” Both Chuck Bass and the advertising execs of the 60s are, of course, rebels wrapped in gentleman’s attire, a duality that’s doubtlessly contributed to a new appreciation of tailoring. In other words, a suit doesn’t make you old and boring. “My biggest regret in life is that I didn't buy up every piece that Adam Kimmel made for Supreme when they were collaborating. The collection once included an incredible corduroy suit. That was young tailoring,” Baker says. “And just look at how many typically younger high street labels now offer suiting,” Carvell adds. But aren’t ironed shirts, pressed trousers, dry-cleaned blazers and all the trimmings a lot of work? “I think if you're finding it ‘work’ to dress, then you haven't quite found out what's best for you yet,” Carvell says. “That's when you makes mistakes… of which I have many in my past!”
While today’s young dandies probably need a more suitable moniker with less flamboyant connotations, the appeal of the power pieces of the classic men’s wardrobe is sometimes still hard to resist. Enter any old-school men’s store in Jermyn Street and the effect of the endless accessories and wardrobe gadgets is irresistible. (The men’s wardrobe is actually far more elaborate than the women’s wardrobe, at least when it comes to gear.) Baker admits he does own a rather dandy shoehorn, while Carvell once went all out with “a black wool cape I got to go to the opera back in the day. Bertie Wooster would be proud.”