These are menswear looks- I’d even call some of these classic menswear! Let me explain (as best as I can).
I’ve always said that I write the way that I talk. My words are brash, vague, and generally hard to understand (maybe it’s like jazz). It’s one of the biggest critiques I get, both from menswear enthusiasts and my friends/family who happen to read my essays when I post them on Facebook. I know I covered this a bit in the Audience Essay, but I thought it would be interesting to expand on this idea, especially since its telling on how I approach menswear.
Now if you’re a regular pod listener, I have a feeling I’m going to be redundant, so if you don’t want to hear something twice (or just prefer to hear my voice rather than my words), I suggest you listen to the podcast episode below. I’m not sure what new points I’m going to make in this piece, so beware!
If I could boil down the entire theme of this essay, it would be that “menswear” is whatever I want it to be. It’s an all encompassing term that fits my entire mode of dress. I realize this sounds quite dumb, but its the truth. I’ve pondered why this is. Obviously, a majority of menswear content is based around rules and guidelines. It was never pertinent to my life, especially as a vintage enthusiast who has seen plenty of “odd” choices done throughout time. Only until fairly recently was menswear condemned to a boring, corporate-or-occasion only mode of dress. With the experience I’ve had looking at Apparel Arts to noticing just how cool slouch is, it never felt right to reduce menswear to something proper and hardlined. Sure, there are some broad strokes about “proper” fit, but even in Esquire’s copy, they knew never to put something as an immoveable standard.
The other aspect of my vague menswear-ness stems from being aware just how much I fluctuate in my style. As many of you know, my entire style journey is one about breaking out of self imposed boxes and learning to lean into emotional dressing. Emotions can be vague and volatile- sometimes I like to play into ivy and other times I like to subvert it. But despite my loose approach to casual style or how my POV is formed, it still feels quite menswear; it doesn’t look too much like streetwear or avant garde, even if there are a few (incredibly nuanced) references to it.
The result is a style that is menswear in broad terms, or at least if you put it on a spectrum. For example, I think that a rugged ivy look with a rugby shirt, patchwork work pants, and chunky loafers has more in common with menswear than streetwear. It’s not even really about being casual or being formal, but instead being about a general aesthetic or vibe. Keeping things vague (or is the right term versatile?) seems to be the best thing for my POV of clothing. Otherwise, with more specific language, I’d find myself correcting previous essay and printing retractions every other week! Being vague (to an extent) keeps me able to still be me, even if I don’t dress in the same way I used to, whether it was in 2015 or 2020.
It’s a bit film score, where references and thematic material all play together as tools for the composer to augment based on the desired narrative. A good motif can be twisted and augmented as needed. My motif happens to be menswear- an idea with merit, but perhaps not as specific as a theme. I want to repeat that I am not a music writer/historian and I (as well as a few people on JWFan) tend to mix up the usage of “theme” and “motif”. This plays into how terms like “menswear” or “tailoring” can be applied to whatever the hell I want it to be.
Now to reiterate again, the purpose of this method isn’t to be confusing despite how general my manner of speaking is (or how I posit questions I have no real answer to). The idea here is to show the gestation of my thoughts on menswear and how I formulate outfits and opinions. In short, the real thing to learn is how I think. It’s broad and emotional but despite the nebulous factor, it leads to very intentional style. It’s almost like talking through indecision. Not to make a definitive answer, but to create a bit of a guideline that makes me happy. A way to describe the general feeling of what makes “my style” that still involves references to the specific.
This idea of the battle between the generic and the specific came to me while I was reading Stephanie Schwartz’s Walker Evans: No Politics. I’m still early on (so I could be misinterpreting it wildly), but the Schwartz posits that when documenting the tenant farmers of the Depression, Evans wasn’t trying to create a narrative of specific people in the area- he was trying to paint a generic picture of what those tenant farmers could be. Something familiar that occasionally drills down to the specific (a close up of a face or sign), but one that still plays into the generic. Reading those words resonated with how I write and talk about menswear.
As I focus on the emotional and personal side of dressing, I like the idea of parsing down things to the generic. Not that everyone should dress the same, but that people should get the same feeling when they look at my work, which here means essays, photography, and outfits. Even if the pieces or style moves are specific, the goal is still generic, dumbed down to my own POV of menswear that can still be applied to how others dress. This only works when dressing up is something tied to expression and “cosplay” rather than dressing for an external force like occasion or work.
One of the best examples of this is how I started using the word slouchy across my work. As you know, the theme of slouch perfectly encapsulates my entire vibe even if it isn’t something easily explained. Like pornography, you know it when you see it (the theme of the entire podcast topic tbh). Talking the concept through with Spencer and writing about it really goes to show that the fun of this entire menswear endeavor lies in figuring out what clothing means to us, both in the goals and execution. Overall, creativity (or rationalization?) comes in the thinking and the combinations.
Anyway back to slouch. In looking back over that topic, I realized that menswear for me is more of a spectrum rather than a hardlined dichotomy. After all, I have a unique context where it doesn’t really matter what I wear; the freedom informs the spectrum. Slouch becomes something I can lean into with my choices, with different pieces playing into or subverting that desired outcome. We could debate the “soul” of the pieces, as Simon does in Flash vs. Fuddy, but it doesn’t matter as much as the whole outfit worn together. The very idea of slouch comes with a generic view rather than a specific one. It’s why I feel like I could slouch in anything, even if it doesn’t seem so on paper. This human element also plays into how we can’t be specific about these things- human nature isn’t specific!
This idea of a spectrum is a good way to look at how I approach menswear. Let’s dive in a bit more. To me, a lot of things can be considered menswear, much to the chagrin of a few hardliners and trads. As I say in the pod, knowing the history of clothing and seeing historical precedent for many obscure things only means that they have a basis in “menswear”. Apparel Arts, Niche Vintage, and old photographs shows precedent for wild things like parkas and military/workwear inspired pieces in tailoring. They also show how it’s worn, leading menswear to also be considered a descriptor for a “look” rather than pieces. If we insert the use of a spectrum, it means that some outfits can be considered more “menswear” than others. It’s not a hard science, but its something that when you know it, you see it.
My use of the word “tailoring” is another good example of this process. Tailoring clearly refers to sartorial pieces (suits and sportcoats) but it can also be applied to “like things”. For example, a mass produced military chino isn’t tailoring to me, but a games chino meant to be part of a workwear-inspired Games Suit fits the bill a little bit more. Things can approach the ideas of tailoring and make a tailored look. It’s also clear that I don’t use tailoring to simply mean something made by a tailor (which could be anything in menswear) or something that has been altered at the tailor shop- it means something a bit more that applies more to an overall style rather than a specific piece.
The podcast episode goes into much more detail about specific terms we use. I speak on vintage, which mainly refers to older, non-designer clothing; it can also refer to a type of look (though I’ve since started using the term “period-accurate”). Describing #menswear was a fun one since it can apply to IG explore page/iGent looks of slim gurkha pants and spread collars to things that are just codifiers of the discerning menswear community and industry like security guarding, a Drake’s tie, or an Orazio jacket (though I typically like using classic/contemporary menswear to differentiate the two).
None of these words (and by extension my essays) are inherently more correct than how Boyer, Coggins, Crompton, or Flusser uses them. In fact, I’m a big ‘ol nobody compared to them; I’m just a dude raised in SoCal who has no discernable roots or ties to menswear other than a big passion for slouchy shoulders and high rise trousers. My context is different. Things have always been about a vibe rather than a dress code. And most of the connotations I have are loose, based on what I’ve seen on other people (who are in a wildly different context than me) or just straight up taken from pop culture. Go figure!
Obviously the goal Spencer and I have is different than the traditional method of dressing (or at least when menswear is involved). Instead of striving getting somewhere specific with my clothing choices, I’m concerned about the general feeling about my attire It’s volatile and emotional- it’s also silly and absurd. It just doesn’t make sense to be specific, at least in the way I approach menswear (and life it seems). The journey and process may be incredibly nebulous, but that’s the fun of it! Despite its convoluted and vague nature, my thought process led me to an style that makes sense for me. I consider it “menswear”, but it’s also just being me, expressed through the specific pieces I like.
This is my friends, inspirations, and I are able to take garments and either play into their roots or subvert them (this goes with silhouettes as well). When everything is menswear, you start to see things as alternates to each other, being able to be swapped at will. Ultimately, this makes a lot of our clothing quite versatile, meaning that berets or sneakers can go equally well with button ups or tee shirts. It definitely helps for you to know the history of menswear or at least the plethora of things that could [potentially] belong to the term, but that only makes it easier to apply it as you see fit. It’s about the sum of the clothes rather than the specifics; I apply the same process to how I wear, write, and talk about my clothes. In the end, it will make sense.
With my method, there is always room for experimentation and error, where bricked fits aren’t necessarily a big deal. Expanding your style and incorporating new things (or archiving your clothing for use later) is something to take pride in; we don’t like being static. Everything can be menswear.
That’s why I think that the true audience of the blog is one that gets this same approach, finding first what is specific to them to approximate a generic image of what they think it means to dress in menswear. With most of us having a variety of contexts that diverge from a “traditional” menswear lifestyle, it helps keep our terms and thought process a bit loose. Not unguided, but versatile. You’ll know it when you see it.
I’m just glad that some of you understand what I’m getting at and potentially learn something. And if not, I’m sincerely very sorry.
By the way the photos I included should help illustrate my method. It’s also just an excuse to share some good fits, both from my life and from my inspirations.
- 06:27 – Topic Start
- 09:31 – We’re Vague and Emotional
- 19:13 – What We Call Good or Bad
- 25:52 – What Menswear Means
- 31:53 – Tailoring
- 38:40 – Vintage
- 44:30 – Golden Era
- 47:58 – “#Menswear”
- 58:16 – High Rise and Wide Leg
- 1:01:56 – Ethan’s and Spencer’s Specific Terms
- 1:08:31 – Wrap-up
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Always a pleasure,
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