I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this and it was honestly a big challenge to put them all here. Bare with me!
If you aren’t aware already, I have a Patreon which I made during the pandemic to allow people to support the podcast and blog if they so feel inclined. The Discord is the main benefit (I don’t really have time for extra content) and it’s a great community! It’s divided into different channels, each dedicated to their own topic. There’s one for tailoring, where we can discuss suits and related garments (there is also a DIY channel for those actually attempting tailoring on their own). Inspo is where we drop photos (or illustrations) that inspire our outfits. And yes, there is one just for the outfits we have chosen to wear for that day.
In the “Articles” channel, we dropped in a piece by G. Bruce Boyer in which he reminisced about the Manhattan that he knows. This was later followed closely by a post in our “meet up” channel, where a few of the NYC guys were making plans to attend the latest Christopher St. shindig (which was put on by WM Brown, J. Mueser, F.E Castleberry, and Leffot). A member remarked on how the menswear world is small (media and industry alike) and seems to only have a handful of personalities and recurring figures. This later became a conversation about BIPOC representation, which of course, led to me wondering about Asians and the space they occupy in the menswear world.
Before I go on, I want to preface this with the fact that these are all personal opinions. I am not a true scholar of anthropology, sociology, or Asian American (or Asian Diaspora) studies nor do I lay claim that I (and my friends) are the only 2nd Gen Asians in this space. We must also keep in mind the breadth of immigrant experiences. Not everyone immigrated here at the same age, income level, or even location. Some families are progressive; some are traditional. The word “Asian” is representative of a bunch of countries- it is not a monolith. I can’t even begin to speak to anything other than what I perceive on my own and even then, I’m just in my own bubble. And even the term of “Asian American” is something still debated due to just how vague it is.
Think of this more as a ramble, which is honestly how you should look at this entire blog anyway. You should also listen to the podcast episode below before moving down to the rest of this essay.
Quite obviously, Asians are a big part of classic menswear. However, in my eyes, it is mainly due to native (or homeland) Asians. Ametora tells us how Japan co-opted (and improved) American style- it’s a fascinating read to see how a separate culture can adopt trad clothing and make it their own. To me, there are better trad looks coming out from the plethora of Japanese magazines and IG accounts than the people who live around John (who has told me as such). The obsession of American (or Western) style clothing has even erupted to many odd ateliers and shops around Asia. I’m sure we’re familiar with Beams, Tomorrowland, and United Arrows, but what about Brio in Beijing? Signet in the Philippines? The Decorum in Bangkok (which just expanded to Singapore with the addition of Charles Yap). The Armoury in Hong Kong. I’m sure there plenty of others that the algorithms of #menswear and the mainstream menswear media haven’t discovered (and promoted).
After all, we can’t forget Asia’s tradition of tailoring. I’m sure it started as cheap tailors who were serving the
White Western industrialists traveling through who needed a quick custom suit. Can’t knock them for getting the bag after years of imperialism! But I do think that this evolved into Asia being one of the pillars of the custom tailoring world. Looking over my very limited purview of menswear reveals to me that nearly every Asian country has a tailor of note. Yamamoto-San, Nigashi-san, and Ueki-san in Japan (there’s obviously more than that). Kayjen and Dylan & Son in Singapore. B&Tailor in South Korea. Brio just started Pechino for his Beijing Atelier and Clarance Wong uses Kirin Tailors (in Japan) to bring his tailoring style to Guangzhao.
Now I don’t want to simplify things, but if you haven’t noticed already, these are all native Asians in their homeland. I am not a native Asian. I was born here in the United States to a Filipino mother and Chinese father, both of whom were originally from the Philippines. The experience of immigrant Asians compared to homeland ones is quite different, namely because we are not around our own people. Citizens yes. Ethnicity and race, not always.
Menswear is no exception to it. Despite all of the Asian representation that exists among influencers, tailors, shopkeepers, and photographers, there wasn’t much in the way of 2nd Gen Asians, by which I use the USCB’s definition, referring to children born from foreign parents (my parents should technically be generation 1.5, but let’s not get in the weeds). And to add wood to the fire, much of tailoring is still aimed toward white/Western people. Someone even told me how Engineered Garments uses white models in marketing (yes their IG does show their Asian shopkeepers) and has a huge cult following outside of its own homeland.
I’m actually reminded of a funny instance of my time back in the Tumblr days. I reblogged a photo from B&Tailor showing one of their shopkeepers wearing an immaculate bespoke suit. I was more on the fandom side of Tumblr during those days and as a result, my circles ran largely with high school and early college SJW types. A mutual of a mutual of a mutual commented how the photo showed one of the culturally-violent effects of Western Supremacy- the dour expression of the Korean man shows how suits are constricting and represent how imperialism has forced Asians to shed their cultural garments in favor of corporate attire. As true as that may be in a historical overview of the world, it’s still perfectly viable that an Asian, whether an native one, an immigrant, or a 2nd Gen can still develop a genuine love and passion for tailoring. Filipino immigrants in the 1930s caused a stir by wearing Macintosh suits whose nipped waists, padded shoulders, and wide legs flattered their frame nicely; stylish Filipinos would also play a hand in developing the riot-inducing Zoot Suit look.
On the flip side, I remember seeing an iconic photo of Kevin Wang and Minn Hurr dressed in double breasted suits at the Jazz Age Lawn Party. Kevin is Taiwanese, but Minn as far as I knew, was a Korean American; the latter’s label was what they were wearing. It sticks in my mind because despite the “dated” aspects of their look (mainly the horizontal peaks and wide set buttons), they were quite contemporary. At the time (2013), this was also one of the first instances I saw an Asian American wearing menswear (in a way that called out to me) in the United States.
Before I go any further, I’ll admit that there is not much to this essay other than reflection, general wonderment and a healthy dose of word vomit, but it is interesting to note how there doesn’t seem to be a market of 2nd Gen Asian enthusiasts in menswear. Why is it that we have so many American menswear enthusiasts and groups and yet, as diverse a country as America is, the majority of them are white? Yes, Mark Cho has a degree from Brown and is quite the world traveler (prior to the pandemic, he split his time between Hong Kong, Japan, London, and NYC), but it doesn’t hit the mark for me. In looking over even all of my inspiration pictures, almost all the Asians I post are from the homeland rather than my own country. To be clear, this isn’t something that I thought about until that fateful Discord discussion I mentioned at the top did trigger a few things (including the podcast episode linked here).
After years of being emasculated and reduced in pop culture in the States, it makes sense that Asian Americans would certainly want to forge a new identity. I remember swagapinos rising in popularity during my time in high school. It was the first time I saw a distinct Asian American aesthetic, rather than a general physiognomy of being “Asian”. Later, I saw a Facebook group called Subtle Asian Traits rose in popularity over the past few years in order to forge an identity for the Asian diaspora and to bring a wholesome camaraderie for the Asian immigrant experience. You may even remember a few mentions of Socal Asian Interactive or “SAI”, a localized group meant to bring together Asians in SoCal for hangs, pop up on my blog and podcast. As menswear doesn’t have many Asians outside the homeland (and as my friend group trends toward enthusiasts now, who tend to be White), it’s nice to be around other people who you share something in common with, even if it is as basic as ethnicity and race.
In retrospect, these friend groups don’t always pan out due to the complexities of a Diaspora cultural identity. It often turns into a sliding scale of “who is more Asian”, which is quite reductive. I know I’ve felt that from these groups. In reality, people immigrate at different age groups and income levels. How “Asian” you are (whatever that means) is also dependent on context and the groups you are around. Being born/immigrated Asian in America or any other Western country doesn’t always mean boba hangs and anime memes. The term “Asian” is also not limited to just China, Japan, and Korea and not everyone moves to big, diverse cities like LA, London, or Toronto.. And it isn’t always as wholesome. The hypermasculinity of swagapinos is certainly problematic as it showed explicitly how Asian Americans can borrow heavily from Black and Latinx culture. On a personal note, swagapinos made me feel that I wasn’t even “cool” enough to be in a micro-clique made up of my own culture. Even in SAI, I don’t always feel like I connect! Is that an issue with this 2nd Gen identity or simply due to my niche interests?
I guess we were all still figuring it out: To find out what this all means and how to be ourselves, while under pressure to connect with people who are, on the surface, similar to us. SAI, swagapinos, Subtle Asian Traits- they are all examples of how immigrants of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generations make efforts in forging an identity. To be something on their own, free from past injustices and preconceptions. That if they are going to inherently be labeled as “the other” due to their appearance and name, these Asians might as well do it in a way that is empowering. It’s been said that the entire exercise in immigrant identity is one of privilege and I do agree- this stuff seems to have never crossed my grandparents’ or parents’ minds. However, that’s what makes it extremely important!
So again, when it comes to fashion, I’m not surprised that 2nd Gens don’t gravitate to a mode of dress that represents tradition and the “good old days” that doesn’t really apply to them at all. They don’t have the connection to heritage or perception of classic clothing, nor do they feel like it’s normal. They aren’t WASPs or a native Japanese salaryman in work attire. They are immigrants who are wearing, for lack of a better term, bold clothing (relatively speaking). Even on a simpler level, it’s probably easier to evoke personality and creativity through almost any other form of dress that isn’t a suit. Not many people are able to grasp that in general, Asian or not. It’s just that making waves and calling attention just isn’t always the best choice when being an immigrant.
And for me, consciously picking the attention-grabbing, odd choice of loving menswear was, in retrospect, quite alienating. Not to the point of bullying, but just in that it made me feel alone. As I got older, I did wonder if I was doing something wrong by picking something “white” or at the very least, not-Asian. We know this isn’t true, considering the stories of Filipinos in the 1930s and the photos of Asian Americans in ivy, scanned by Berkeley Breathes. However, there is still a difference between growing up in an era where people are inherently dressed in classic clothing and making the conscious decision to wear said clothing when it isn’t the norm. You might think I’m being a bit sensitive, but after a while, I did notice how many of my menswear friends and contacts weren’t Asian- outside of the ones who lived directly in their native countries like Hong Kong or Japan.
To be clear, my perceived lack of Asian Americans (or general hyphenates or 2nd gens) in menswear shouldn’t be considered a criticism against the menswear world. It is a thought starter, but I’m sure there is push and pull from both sides, neither of which are inherently malicious or racist (hopefully). I can think of one example from our side that may be a culprit. As my compatriots know, we 2nd Gens already go up against high standards from our family- especially when it comes to career paths. That attitude and overall conformist culture exhibited by 1st Gens is definitely a deterrent to working in menswear. Hell, it might even result in avoiding bold fashion in general! But that’s an easy excuse and one that is not as relevant today. The truth is that many 2nd Gens are working in creative industries within fashion, though it’s not always classic menswear.
It’s not the fact that classic menswear isn’t cool (I will fight tooth and nail for it!), but that other fashion avenues are even cooler. If you want to break into the creative space in LA or New York, why do it in tailoring? Why not do something that is on the pulse? Streetwear, hype, designer, avant garde, and vintage picking (for those merch shirts and Dickies work pants). These are all things with a bit more cred than menswear. You can’t blame them for picking something cool. After all, Min Hurr later moved on from tailoring to focus on more streetwear/designer focused clothing. Jian De Leon worked at Complex and High Snobiety before moving onto Nordstrom. Tommy Ton didn’t only shoot classic menswear.
As a result, I’ve felt a bit alone or awkward in having this big passion for menswear. Yes, there were other Filipinos and Asian Americans into clothing, but not so much in specific genre of choice. Menswear spaces have always been quite welcoming in my experience, but the fact still remains that I was one of the only Asians (or BIPOC) people there. Even my Patreon Discord has a low Asian population. It’s just interesting to think about when it comes to identity and community, especially with how AAPI communities and justice has been in the conversation over the past year and how October was Filipino Heritage Month!
What I have noticed is that most young Asians I’ve met who are into classic menswear tend to be immigrants/native born Asians themselves, instead of being 2nd Gens (or later) like myself or Producer MJ. I’m not entirely sure why that is. Perhaps it’s because homeland countries tend to have a bigger emphasis on office attire and tradition compared to the States. Maybe the look of corporate attire or even ivy-trad is something easy that they can gleam onto, which fortunately has led many of my immigrant friends like Hal and Nguyen to expand their menswear expression into the slouchy takes you see across the blog. In short, I’ve found that it’s easier to sell menswear to immigrants (recent or not) as opposetd to 2nd Gen. I even think it was even a fluke for me to have gotten into this shit!
In my mind, having immigrant parents and grandparents really meant that I have no roots in American style, at least when compared to other people who have a heritage of well dressed family members (like Spencer or so). I was already here, so there was no idealizing any sort of clothing that a few of my immigrant friends had. There was no old movies, because my parents didn’t show me old movies (since they had no interest in it). My grandparents didn’t dress up (outside of church at least), because they worked in the hospital. My dad was fairly normal in his attire. It wasn’t that they weren’t stylish (the photos I’ve included below prove that), but it was just clothes for them. They wore what other people wore and didn’t think anything else of it. You can even see how their style was simply reflective of the times and context.
It was my mom who paid a bit more attention to her clothing as an aesthetic– she watched those 80s movies and read The Preppy Handbook and became enamored with dressing up, despite not having any other roots to it. She had her own version of swagapino it seems. I didn’t. I think my parents wanted me to be a blank slate. One blind to race, though it really meant that I had no real ties to anything. No history and no drive. I’m sure this is deeper than just race and ethnicity, but I know those factors still play a part.
Of course, we all know how the rest of the story played out. I was able to get into menswear without any of the traditional roots, both by White and Native Asian standards. No connection to heritage (which tends to come with the Diaspora). It was fully formed by a genuine love of the aesthetics of tailoring and classic/vintage menswear. There was no community behind it. No one who looked like me. Even after looking at the plethora of Asian guys who came across my tumblr, I still knew that they weren’t like me. They had a different context.
In retrospect, I wonder if my plunge into classic menswear is simply my own version of being a swagapino. In other words, it was a way to find and forge an identity for myself as a 2nd Gen Asian American. Of course it would be nice to just be considered a menswear guy, but studies and commentary on race/ethnicity continue, it’s clear that you can never shed that quality. Because it is an interesting exercise in how people get into certain hobbies or in this case, clothing. While I was able to get into it on my own and be confident in this odd little hobby, I’m sure others who share my background are also a bit deterred by the lack of clear representation in the space.
Maybe it’s a good thing I show my face and take photos with my Asian friends and family members. My blog/social media/podcast is not overtly about race (I’m just sharing what I do), but when you look at things through a racial lens, it’s important to share that I have this context. That it’s not right to be blind to it but to instead be open about it. After all, not much classic menswear inspo outside of Japanese magazines revolves around Asians, let alone BIPOCs in the States. It’s good to have representation. I am Asian, a 2nd Gen American at that. As a result, transparency plays a big part in what I do (also because I’m a literal nobody and my opinions pale in comparison to the bigger menswear media industry) and I hope it carries over into classic menswear because the more I think about this, the more I feel like we need it. On a simple level, I’m a Filipino who is into this fun aspect of fashion that isn’t streetwear or hype clothing (I’m trying to avoid pick- me language, I swear). It’s a different identity that deserves more participation and encouragement.
This is why representation is important. To repeat, I don’t think that there is anything inherently malicious about the menswear industry (other than its roots in imperialism and Western Supremacy), but it would be nice to see more of us 2nd Gens and immigrants in the space. There aren’t many menswear personalities that are Asian, outside of Mark Cho and the guys we recognize from China, Korea, and Japan. And quite obviously, there aren’t that many uses of Asian models from the brands we like, apart from the stores that have Asian shopkeepers and feature their staff on social media.
It’s all important, especially for 2nd Gens, we need to show that there is a menswear presence here outside of the homeland, because the experience is genuinely different. It’s about having this identity in menswear while simultaneously being in a place that you are the “other”. As alluded to, the easy answer is to have more Asian models in marketing and to hire more Asians in the space. People all over the world see menswear marketing and branding. The bigger effort (and perhaps the more complex one) is to share these individual voices. Not just designers or historians- They can just be regular ‘ol enthusiasts, like you and me!
All of this comes due to all the discourse around authenticity lately. No, not about wearing something that is conducive to your personality and interests, but the very idea of being “into” menswear and how you are into it. I’ve seen many menswear stalwarts and personalities talk about how the internet has ruined what it means to be into menswear and instead, we should be looking at more tangible things and trying to form independent opinions (whatever that means). While I’m always on the side of being hands on (it’s how I learned about vintage), I’m always aware of how privileged it is to be knowledgeable about menswear. As I’ve said before, I am not a WASP nor do I have any “real” connection to tailoring- many of my friends and cohorts are the same way. Menswear, with all of its rules and tradition, definitely has a few hurdles to cross in order to get it “right” as an aesthetic, not to mention the money needed for it. Without a connection to it and the presence of curmudgeons who seem to never be satisfied with how people are inspired, it seems menswear can be an odd choice to hitch your wagon to.
As I wrap up this largely useless article (I think the podcast episode is much more coherent), I feel like I must apologize if I’m making it seem that there aren’t any non-homeland Asians in the space. The reality is that there are, all doing great things by working directly in the industry or just posting some great fits for us to get some inspiration from.
Will Utuma and Kevin Park worked at Drake’s NYC during the 2017-2018 era; Moteen and Junyin work in London, whereas Jun is an alumn. Buzz, a Hong Kong-London guy, is making great inroads with The Anthology. Agyesh is running Stoffa. Raj is still representing Maryland prep. Aldous and Derek are in Toronto. Andrew Yamato, Sora, Brittney, and Peter Xu are in NYC- I also got to meet Kevin during my trip. Eddie and Daniel are keeping Bay Area tailoring (and menswear adjacent stuff) alive. Brian runs Marol from Toronto. Joe Ha runs the Finery in Australia. Matt Choi shoots for John Simons across the bond in London. FE Castleberry, Benton, and Kiyoshi are mixed Asian, an experience told to me by Adam that is an even more murky and nebulous one compared to “full Asians”. Nathaniel Adams, writer of I am Dandy and currently living in New Orleans even admits that ethnic identity isn’t something he thinks about. Derek Guy of Die, Workwear is Asian, though his personal life is a mystery. Raymond Chu and I talk about this frequently in the DMs, not just about Asians in the menswear space, but in entertainment and media. We also can’t forget the countless Asians working in (and wearing) the milsurp and denim/workwear side of menswear (which probably has much more representation due to its roots).
I’m sure that there are even more out there, whether they’re shop keepers at your local Suit Supply or someone who loves high rise trousers but doesn’t feel the need to take a fit pic for Instagram. One thing is clear- menswear is interesting and can attract us. It is just clothes after all! As I’ve stated before, there really isn’t much rhyme or reason for me to wear these clothes. I didn’t go to an ivy league school-I don’t have a corporate job. Sure it’s a little bit of cosplay (a term that I know some ivy-trads and stalwart tailoring guys will hate), but it’s true. We wear it because we like it!
I am definitely thinking about this too much and there is a big chance my “insight” (if you can even call it that) is completely wrong. Perhaps my social anxieties and struggles with fitting in stem from my personality or the fact that my hobbies (or my approach to them) really are niche and can be considered self-alienating. But I do believe that some facet of this is important to think about, especially as I attempt to think more critically about this world of menswear and the unseen factors that affect it. I wonder if any aspect of the Diaspora affected our love of menswear. Did representation and community come up like it did for me? Did families or projected careers play a part? Or is it closer to the native Asian menswear experience after all? It’s all interesting!
I just think that there is some chance to do better (from enthusiasts to brands) to show others that we (Asians) can all get into it, because I know there are people out there who need to see others do something before they do it themselves- I know my friends are like that. Not as a “follow the leader” sort of way, but one that is empowering. For solidarity. To show that Asians have an identity in classic menswear. It deserves to grow and have their perspective shared. Maybe some of us do have trad grandparents. Or a tailor. Or someone who just loved ties. Or how despite a general fashion-agnostic context, we still were able to get into soft shoulders and general pleats. It can all happen.
And the best part, as I’ve sprinkled throughout this essay, is that it really is just clothes. Without a real tie to heritage, I firmly believe it frees us (or at least me) to get into menswear in a more freeing way. Ties, jeans, leather jackets, aloha shirts- it’s all fair game. We’re free to wear menswear the way we want!
Obviously the real issue is to look at BIPOC representation overall in the menswear space, of which there are shockingly little, at least from a general view and especially compared to whites. I was hard pressed to find the images in this essay outside of personal accounts. Brands and the menswear media need to catch up and perhaps not just interview the same people over and over again.
All I know is that I’m Asian (or specifically Filipino), raised in America, and I love classic and vintage menswear. And most importantly there are others like me out there- the ones who make the conscious choice to dress like a slouchy grandpa.
Now enjoy some photos of Asians. Not all are immigrants or 2nd Gens, but I’ve added a swath here and there to show that we can all be into this fun little hobby (and industry).
- 07:42 – Topic Start
- 09:52 – Our Backgrounds and Being Second Generation
- 20:00 – Does it Have Any Effect On Our Clothing?
- 29:12 – How Does Menswear Fit In?
- 40:13 – Menswear’s Relationship With Asian Countries and Representation
- 59:16 – Beginning Interests in Clothing
- 1:03:12 – Opposition From Family/Friends
- 1:05:58 – “Old Man Clothes”
- 1:16:14 – What We Want to See
- 1:28:40 – Wrap-Up
- Ivy-Style’s actually touching member profile with good notes on the Diaspora and how Ivy can transcend race.
- They also profiled Benton.
- Die, Workwear talking about George Wang who was born in China and raised in California and later made Brio in Beijing.
- NYT interview with Jason Jules forhis book Black Ivy, which I feel is totally relevant to this conversation and seems to contain many parallels to how Asian immigrants adopt western clothing.
Thanks for listening and reading along! Don’t forget to support us on Patreon to get some extra content and access to our exclusive Discord. We also stream on Twitch and upload the highlights to Youtube.
The Podcast is produced by MJ.
Always a pleasure,
Big thank you to our top tier Patrons (the SaDCast Fanatics): Austin, Philip, Audrey, Shane, Jarek, and James.