men and their complex relationship to fashion

When it comes to fashion, men tend to operate at opposite sides of the spectrum. They are either not interested or they are obsessed. There seems to be little middle ground. At one end, you’ve got the man who doesn’t know his cravat from his crew neck...

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Dec 16 2015, 11:00am

Amongst men, there is a definite culture of one-upmanship for specialty lines and one-of-a-kind holy-grail pieces. Like champagne connoisseurs or trainspotters, when men are into fashion, they tend to take it to extremes.

The most zealous manifestation of this has to be the 'hypebeast', a pejorative label, which refers to the person - nearly all of them are men - who spends the cold grueling night queuing for a trainer convention. While these men might look a whole lot hipper than the ones you'd find outside a Comic Con, there are unmistakable parallels to be drawn. Just like manga enthusiasts, Supreme groupies from Shibuya worship what are essentially pieces of 'kit'. Fabric gadgets.

Saying that, there are clear distinctions. Unlike your middling suburban geek, the average 'hypebeast' collects hyped up garms, shoes and accessories, in order to impress others. From the sneaker riots in New York ten years ago to the shop in Lower Manhattan, which exclusively sells sold out Supreme items at a turbo-inflated rate, these young men will stop at nothing to acquire limited edition pieces.

Another cult brand is Stone Island. While it was synonymous with football hooligan culture in the late 90s, in recent years, it has experienced something of a resurgence, having been worn by the likes of Drake, Mike Skinner and Frank Ocean. Enjoying a bizarrely unparalleled following in menswear, devotees of "Stoneys" venerate the Italian brand on dedicated forums and specialist websites. What's more, Stone Island is expensive, aspirational and exclusive - demand often outstrips supply - thus boosting its appeal.

Despite the Italian label's relatively short history, its vintage collectors' market has boomed in recent years. Oliver Beer is one of those collectors. At his peak, Beer owned more than 200 coats, but he has now trimmed down his collection to about 50. He's so into the gear that he has stipulated the exact model of coat he wants to be cremated in his will. For the record, it's a 1988 CP Company parka with a rabbit-fur hood.

But Beer isn't alone. There are plenty of men with overflowing clothes collections. Take Hiroshi Fujiwara, the influential streetwear designer and mentor to designers such as Nigo and Jun Takahashi, who not only owns virtually every piece Vivienne Westwood produced for her Seditionaries' shop in the late 70s but has one of the world's best Rolex 'Paul Newman' Daytona watch collections.

Beer and Fujiwara might sound like two extreme examples, but across society, male fashionistas appear more likely to compete over sell-out pieces than their female counterparts. The growth of the Internet and social media no doubt makes this boyish propensity to geek out even stronger.

Or perhaps it all boils down to the collecting gene? Many fashion aficionados passionately accumulate clothes in a way that mimics a collector. In the same way that Mr Dickinson collects antiques or Donald Trump collects skyscrapers or Napoleon collected countries, others amass trainers. Just like peacocks spread their feathers to attract potential mates, perhaps clothes are the human equivalent. After all, they provide a way for a man to entice a woman and impress fellow men by heralding his capacity to accumulate riches.

It's worth noting that these characteristics seem to transcend class. Men from all walks of life lust after status watches or exclusive raincoats. Take the working class football hooligan culture of the 80s and 90s whereby fans donned luxury designer labels like Stone Island, Burberry, Aquascutum, Lacoste and Sergio Tacchini.

More recently, the menswear explosion has made it increasingly socially acceptable for men to be interested in fashion. No longer discarded as an afterthought to women's fashion, menswear sales are skyrocketing and quickly catching up with womenswear. To put this into context, the UK market for men's fashion has grown by 18 per cent in the past five years and by 2018, it'll be worth £16.4bn.

As you'd imagine, millennial men are most fashion conscious of all. After all, just over a quarter of men aged between 25-34 admitted they were driven by the latest fashions when purchasing clothes - compared with 17 per cent of women in the identical age bracket.

With the modern man now embracing fashion, we are clearly moving away from the days when self-conscious blokes were too scared of getting it wrong to dress outside the box. Increasingly men are able to embrace fashion without being dubbed 'metrosexual'. Although ironically, it has to be said that a lot of men's attitude to fashion continues to be very, well, "male". Gripped by exclusive high-profile collaborations and one-off signature pieces, men seem more likely to veer down the competitive, gung ho arms race of my-watch-is-bigger-than-yours. Still, the ongoing interest of males, in particularly young males, in the output of fashion will mean for a more diverse spectrum of males to showcase their style and that in itself has got to be a good thing.

Credits


Text Maya Oppenheim
Photography T.Young