An off-kilter shot. Not an objectively a good photo, but I like it. It fits my taste and that’s what makes it good to me.
Let’s apply that to menswear, shall we?
A few weeks ago, I saw a discussion about J. Crew Ludlow suits and how they were unfairly maligned by most people in the #menswear space, particularly by “power users” (I’m borrowing a phrase used to describe recurring contributors on MFA). The main thesis posited that J. Crew suits can be upheld, since they are just fine to be worn to work and occasions, perhaps even marking them superior to other suits. This stood out as a half argument and was ultimately quite odd to me as it neglected the idea that fashion is an aesthetically driven form of personal expression. Fitting into an “appropriate” context is certainly important, but the aesthetic details matter as well—perhaps even more so to hardcore enthusiasts and people dressing for the art of it. As to most people, a suit is just a suit; non-clothing nerds are not going to notice la spalla camicia or the spacing between a tie’s geometrics. Attention and passion for certain aesthetics are what transform clothing into something more than just functional (though beautiful clothing can still remain functional).
I ended up voicing a pushback on his position, citing that at the end of the day, menswear is about taste and some people just have specific preferences on it. It’s fashion after all!
This led to quite a few DMs about the topic, as you might have expected. One in particular stood out to me, where a guy wanted to know why I didn’t like J. Crew Ludlow and why I [presumably] wouldn’t recommend it to him as a beginner sportcoat or suit, mainly because he actually liked it; it also included a J. Crew post of the suit. I responded to him by saying that there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with a Ludlow suit, but I would still not enjoy it personally. I decided to dig a bit deeper and asked him why he liked the J. Crew suit. The DMer replied by saying that the suit would be functional, getting him through most formal and business occasions with the added benefit that the suit looked reasonably nice with moderate lapels and a trim fit. He then pushed me for a more concrete answer on why I didn’t like the J. Crew suit.
I simply sent him a photo of a 1930s 3-roll-2 jacket and said, “I don’t like the Ludlow because it doesn’t look like this.” I pointed out how the lapels, buttoning point, and silhouette between the two jackets were completely different; I then sent a photo of the Armoury’s Ring Jacket model and showed how I buy jackets that follow that 1930s look. However, I made sure to emphasize that these nuanced differences don’t really play into the functional and formality reasons for wearing a suit. As a result, neither of the jackets are inherently better than the other. They both serve the same function and have different aesthetics—the question just becomes which aesthetics you prefer.
Or perhaps more nebulously (sorry guys), it all becomes a question of taste!
Before reading onward, I recommend listening to the podcast episode below. I also apologize for the lack of photos here, but it’s really hard to find a visual representation of a philosophy.
Menswear exists in an odd place in the world of fashion. Unlike other forms of dressing (or even art), there is an emphasis on “correct dress”, which usually hinges on elements of your immediate context and formality. This is what has served as the guide for much of menswear media for the past hundred years; even the Esquire Man, which had a lot of variety and niche forms of tailoring still used occasion as the basis for their copy. Newcomers and stalwarts alike often use this faux-appropriateness to uphold rules, all while wondering why menswear, at least worn in the “old ways,” is dying.
In reality, this obsession with appropriateness doesn’t mean anything. Dress codes have relaxed across the board, putting less emphasis on the old reasons for wearing a suit. Offices, at least ones where people actually show up, are full of a variety of styles; you can see the same things for date nights out at a fancy bar or restaurant—the fancy refers to the accoutrements of the location rather than the attire.
Put plainly, nothing is really “required” anymore. Fashion is now guided by looking “good” (whatever that means) and how you choose to personally express yourself. I find that the two are connected, where “good” simply relies on how well you’ve executed the vision you had for yourself. That’s why I’ve seen IT professionals rock everything from hoodies and sweats to bespoke suits and Rick Owens. Unless you’re some form of purist, none of these styles are inherently more correct than the others—it’s all about your own personal taste. Fashion (at least for the lucky ones who don’t get a dress code or a judgmental community) has become a hobby akin to art or music, just in a way that others can see not just in your free time, but in almost any context you can think of.
Social media and the post-pandemic mood has only exacerbated this approach for classic menswear, showing that classic menswear is no longer beholden just to occasions or specific people of socio-economic contexts or lifestyles. Skaters and hypebeasts can rock prep clothing without being connected to a WASP-y family. An LA office guy can wear 70s tailoring without visiting Edward Sexton or visiting Husbands in Paris. Loafers aren’t only for trads. Chore coats aren’t for painters. Ties aren’t for office workers. Blazers aren’t just for country clubs. Everything can go—and in a world where everything can go, taste is the true differentiator between yourself and not just beginners, but for others practicing the hobby as well. Everyone has a form of it, and it’s really a form of true north once you’ve developed it.
In the podcast, I try best to define taste. which I will reiterate here. To me, taste is an expansion (or addendum) to the concept of POV which serves as the basis for self expression in menswear. It’s good to know how you want to be perceived and to be conscious of the decisions you can make in it. Unlike POV however, taste (to me) hinges on the why behind the POV. It’s more introspective, leaning more on gut feeling and what you feel is beautiful and aesthetically appropriate. Taste is about the preferences that create your POV, which means that taste can be composed of context, emotional connection, or even just the appreciation of certain aesthetics. This requires knowledge, not of details but of yourself,to be introspective and articulate in your predilections. In short, taste is the guide that is used to determine why you like something or why you don’t like something.
All of this hinges on the fact that I see (or wish that) menswear as an art form of personal expression. In this evolving world, the rules and appropriateness increasingly play less of a factor within menswear. Sure, the guidelines of fit (you don’t want to wear a shirt collar or a pant waist that is literally too big for you) are important. But when it comes to the styling and visual aesthetics of menswear, rules, appropriateness, and history are there as mere guidelines and enrichments. But there is a difference between diving into the prowess of playing beginner Suzuki piano lessons (or those 4th grade recorder groups for music class) and the debating the merits of jazz vs. rock. Once you’ve gotten past the foundational stages and knowledge (which I presume you haves since the blog is not for outright beginners), personal taste (and POV) becomes the true basis for deciding what to wear. This is because classic menswear, like any other form of fashion (or art form), has quite a few sub genres contained within it, with each one not necessarily “more correct” than the other in the modern world.
Taste is what determines your chosen attire, even before POV comes into play. Sometimes taste can be of a lower depth—making you look at the color of the cloth and general fit. Other times it can be deeper and more nuanced (which honestly just means sillier). It can be a taste in certain silhouettes or proportions, perhaps even for specifics in tie patterns, collar shapes, or low vamps loafers. With all the varieties of details, you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason other than personal taste when it comes down to choosing a tie or a bespoke house style. You could try to find justification for some of this stuff, but sometimes it is just a gut feeling (that can definitely be articulated further) that when put all together with your lifestyle and context, creates a POV. After all, its difficult to explain the nuances of taste but its infinitely easier to describe what you consider to be great taste. It’s more fun to be personal about these things.
And since it is quite personal, I’ll iterate again that taste (to me) requires a lot of introspection—this is why I like to ask everyone, including beginners, to figure out “what they want to look like” as I firmly believe developing personal taste is the single most important thing with enjoying clothing. While emotion plays a big part in taste (which is hard to describe), I think it’s best to think on the why, as it will lead to a more concrete understanding of your enjoyment of a piece of clothing or your discarding of another.
I’m reminded of a Patreon member (who admitted he was a beginner to menswear) who mentioned in our Discord that he was intrigued by a brown and blue windowpane tweed coat he saw online.. He remarked that he liked the piece and went on to ask us how this would fit into his style and how he could find “more stuff like this” to add to his burgeoning wardrobe. Like the J. Crew conversation in the introduction,, I decided to take the opportunity to dig deeper and use it as an example of why it’s good to think critically about taste.. I asked what drew him to the coat. Was it the big dramatic collar? Was it the double breasted closure? Or perhaps it was the windowpane check? Or maybe this Patron just liked the idea of long coats.
All of those questions were important and are indicative of how he could hone his clothing direction in the future! Big dramatic collars would lead to a preference for vintage peacoats or other cool balmacaans. Liking double breasted closure echoes the peacoats but might lead to some exciting suit purchases. Appreciating the windowpane cloth is a great way to step into the world of checked jackets (and the opposite view may lead to delving into solids instead). And if he likes coats (but might not pick this one due to his climate), then perhaps he’d look into workwear dusters or linen coats that might be more amenable to his personal context. As you can see, this is all about taste—the preferences that lead to holistic POV.
I realize that these questions are quite specific and can be seen as pedantic, which funnily enough echoes a passage by Bordieu where he mentions the need for a cipher or code for programmes of perception like art, or in this case fashion. Some people might use this “cultural competence” as a case for the rules or the long storied history of correct dress in menswear. However, I don’t think that applies outside of conversations on the basics of fit or formality. In this particular example, it is truly a question of personal taste, one independent of a dress code context, and is certainly not a beginner problem. This is not about finding a starter suit or a capsule wardrobe for work—this is about what you like to wear.
Instead, this code, or vocabulary/lexicon of the subject matter, is needed to have deep conversations about clothing, especially as it relates to personal preference. Sure, I can agree that there is some form of objectivity about what constitutes a good photograph or painting. But once that basic metric is passed, it becomes a multi-faceted discussion on the taste of the artist and the observer, where the code is done to guide the conversation. Even so, the goal of art isn’t to create something objectively superior to the rest. I’m barely a creative, but when I make things (whether outfits or music), it’s about the pursuit of expressing personal taste rather than to create that hits all the objective metrics, most of which are established by historical precedent. It feels more obligatory than fun, which shouldn’t be the case with art, at least when it comes to framing it as personal expression. It’s much more interesting for me to discuss the merits of portrait vs. candid photography, and how they relate to personal preferences rather than just saying “this is a bad photo” or “representative art is superior to abstract because it is closer to classical art.”
Perhaps this is the STEM (or finance bro) mindset creeping into art, where people want to min-max everything or find the most perfect and timeless thing to own. There seems to be some obsession with authority when it comes to this type of thing, where guys want to be able to find some metric to judge themselves against in order have the “best” choice or the most “inoffensive” outfit or the most “versatile” piece. Adherence to some form of hierarchy in menswear (like dress codes or formality) or the belief in a linga franca of sorts actually removes the ability to discuss menswear in terms of personal taste, which I guess is why a few guys who follow the old mindsets are often aggressive and anti-fashion.
In reality, a lot of fashion subgroups get along quite well and are able to find commonalities, as they are fully self aware in the fact that everything comes down to personal preferences and expression. It becomes flat. Equal. I’m reminded of how few American fashion magazines there are when compared to how the plethora of ones coming from Japan, which seemingly has one for every genre of style. The fun is about finding group to be. A place where personal taste is the guide, which obviously goes against a STEM or a logic/formality/”best” choice driven mindset. Fashion exists outside of the lab.
I still come across a lot of people become frustrated with fashion as they try to find the “pinnacle of style” in order to plant their feet and stop paying attention to it; they often feel out of the loop as tastes in fashion move on around them. They don’t see style as a creative journey but as a faux-art form that has a clear point to stop. To minimize mistakes. Clothing is a function to them (at least based on how these people talk about it), rather than an art form. And when they get to that peak of function. (or wherever they surmise it to be), they stop. It’s almost as if they want everyone else to stop with them, not realizing that function is only half of the occasion; form matters too.
In my dealings with such people through Reddit comments and DMs, its seems that they like the idea that fashion is dictated by something rigid rather than embrace the idea that menswear can be fractured, loose, and have a multitude of contexts and preferences. Perhaps that’s why most menswear debates often attack that use of societal function (business/occasion appropriateness) rather than have it be a conversation about expression and aesthetics. Classic menswear seems to be rooted in that past, making it unlike any other forms of fashion in the current day. To me, it seems that those rigid guys want it to remain there, all while lacking the self awareness that fashion has moved to being question of taste and preferences.
I still believe that most of these adherences to rigidity, dress codes, and linga franca are emotional and based on personal taste, even if some form of objectivity is used in some regard. Its nice to back up preferences with articulated reasoning since I think that these emotional responses can be dissected to a cogent discussion. And I still maintain that the fact that such discussion can happen really concludes that fashion (including menswear) is ultimately subjective.
I will concede that a bit of experience is needed to be able to navigate one’s personal taste, at least to the point of this intentionality and fruitful discussion. This is not about reading every menswear book or learning fashion history (though it can help). Instead, this is about celebrating discovery, exploration, and introspection. Taste in menswear, just like taste in art or food, needs to develop, and both brands and dressers can do that by exposing themselves to a variety of different styles. It is more than just looking at trends—it is about looking at the world critically and determining what you like (which also leads to what you don’t like), all with the goal of finding some connective application to yourself. I mean, it’s just great fun to create inspo albums, and I definitely believe that the activity adds to developing (or affirming) personal taste. Personal taste is also how I can identify with Derek’s vague notions of bookcore while still knowing exactly what I want to look like.
At a certain point, taste becomes something authoritative to one’s self. Not in a way to lord over others, but in an introspective way that can guide you. In a world where your explore page can provide a plethora of styles, personal taste is what gives you true north (to yourself). Just like with POV, your gut will help you decide what to add to your wardrobe and what may not potentially work for you. Most clothes out there are already objectively acceptable (a standard suit from the mall will always get you through most formal situations!), which means that at a certain point, a discussion on fashion and creating outfits becomes an art-esque discussion on personally subjective preferences. In other words, people can be personally subjective on how they apply objective things. And when we get subjective, good articulation and a critical, introspective view on personal taste is necessary to defend your chosen takes (as well as an open mind and a good sense when to not be an asshole).
This is where hyperbole comes into play—which I think is completely appropriate as we are already operating in a subjective arena for clothing rather than objective. I tend to operate on considering what I like is “good” and what I dislike is “bad”. It’s extremely personal, but I (and hopefully you guys) know that this is all for fun, for a creative expression of classic menswear. Murakami, in his book Absolutely on Music (which is transcripts of conversations with conductor Seiji Ozawa), remarks that “creative people have to be fundamentally egotistic” and tend to rely heavily on “individual concentration”. I take this to mean the authority aspect I mentioned in the previous essay- creative people (like Ozawa and Murakami) tend to be stubborn and like things a certain way, all due to their dedication of their own personal expression.
I can’t reasonably defend my particular appreciation of certain proportions, tie geometrics, the “right” OCBD collar, or even button-pocket harmony on an objective level. It’s all personal and subjective, which I consider simultaneously silly and yet important as I apply all of these on how I like to dress. And as a guy who grew up with ranking the multiple variants of Stormtrooper armor arbitrarily with my friends (Storm Commandos from Legends are the best obviously), my speech and writing are littered with hyperbolic-yet totally serious language. If you look at it in terms of taste, its like a journal. But trying to reading into it and trying to gleam some sort of prescriptive command is not only absurd and will not hold water in any objective conversation, but it is completely antithetical to my mindset of considering an entire menswear endeavor as an ongoing artistic exercise and personal journey. What matters is recognizing the why behind the preferences and how it results in personal expression— isn’t that the whole idea of fashion and personal style?
For example, I have been known to have a strong preference for brown suits and jackets. A deep brown just has a depth and attractive quality that finds itself across my entire wardrobe,, from shell cordovan shoes to my beloved checks. I could say that this taste is built on my preference for casual/country/sportswear attire or how other colors (like grey) lack the same depth and results in a sterile look. These are all subjective reasons. In reality, brown is not inherently superior to grey, but as a result of this specifically silly taste, my wardrobe has more of an emphasis on brown than grey. It just so happens that I like the color and I prefer to look more casual than “formal” (even if those words are quite loose in interpretation). And to be even more transparent, I’ve actually wanted a grey suit for a few months to deliberately invoke why I avoided it in the past, especially as I’ve gotten into the corporate/yuppie look. Grey is no longer “bad” but is now cool to me (grey suit essay coming as soon as I commission one). It proves that those words are all loaded, subjective, and never written in stone. Taste is not stoic; it can expand.
Taste can be funky too. People can prefer somber suits while others have a penchant for bold patterns and colors. Neither choice is inherently better than the other and like the Marvel vs. Film bro kerfuffle, neither points really affect the other. In the end, you will know what you like to wear (like the choice between keeping your head bare or wearing a beret) and what you want to watch (three hours of the Irishman or three hours of Endgame). I’ve done both and I have no rationale between the two other than my mood (which informed my taste in that moment). That’s why I never like being an arbiter of anything and I like to tell people to think about this stuff [deeply] on their own.
With an introspective approach to taste, I’d say that all reasoning (including emotional and gut ones) can still be articulated, but it eventually becomes subconscious and a reflex. I also want to add that the subjectivity built on taste in menswear isn’t so much about “anything goes” but rather “what works for me”—most people know that this works in artistic expression, especially when you are an artist yourself. Sticking to personal taste is what results in a cohesive style, one that has a clear throughline, even as you delve into other things. It’s why my tailoring-adjacent casual style still follows my personal taste even if the surface level inspirations are different. Or why I’ve been able to incorporate sneakers or hoodies into a tailored wardrobe. Good taste isn’t supposed to be rigid. In fact, it’s less about what the taste is but how you use it when expressing yourself.
My reasoning behind taste is built on a few things: menswear history, environmental context, and most of all, emotion. None of these are imperative, but my entire menswear experience has helped me develop this taste. The more niche you go (or perhaps more specific your style gets), the more pedantic the use of taste can be, leading to further internalized discussions on your preferences. Being able to be articulate on taste is good when discussing these with other people in your community, leading to deeper conversations that can potentially build your existing taste.
To be clear, I don’t believe that one person’s taste is better than another’s, at least objectively speaking. historically, the way we’ve differentiated between “good” and “bad” taste has been problematic. It’s difficult to talk about this stuff without being hierarchical in some way. I’m not sure if I can iterate this properly, but I do think that in the “common discourse” people’s tastes are on flat ground, with the use of anecdotes and superlatives (or the fact that you own a garment), being an expression of everyone’s different goals and contexts. Taste is the basis and result of having preferences, which makes even questions of taste to be ultimately subjective in my view.
To bring the intro example back, a guy might want to buy a J. Crew suit to look smart for a work party is like a guy that might watch a Marvel movie for the pure enjoyment of seeing a comic come to life. They aren’t here to pick apart the cinematography of the writing, just as how most people out there don’t care about proportions or trouser rise or the which tailored aesthetic their suit falls into (which can are all subjective things at the end of the day). In fact, you might get more enjoyment out of life if you don’t dig too deep and just have fun, focusing on what you enjoy.
Some people don’t need to think about specific POVs and how the details interact with each other and that’s perfectly okay! They aren’t trying to be film critics or movie makers. And it’s not that film critics and filmmakers are better than the average movie watcher—they all just like things for different reasons and want to accomplish different things with their preferences. Not everyone wants to be a film maker/critic and not everyone wants to watch things casually; it all comes down to taste and expression. Perhaps that’s why community is so important.
With that said, I think its quite absurd to base your taste purely on someone else’s, at least in a way that doesn’t leave room for subjectivity. The Star Wars fans who hated the The Last Jedi have no bearing on the critics score and negative reviews of Eternals hasn’t stopped plenty of positive anecdotes you can see across Marvel fans on Youtube and Reddit. It’s good to challenge conventional wisdom and have your own basis for your opinions. Focusing on a flat “bad” or “good” is the wrong way of looking at it. Those terms are loaded and subjective, which is why the focus should be on the personal preferences behind them (whether its for Marvel or menswear), especially when it comes to expressing it. It should be empowering for you to think critically in how you express your preferences, critically meaning having confidence and rationale (even if its personal). To me, taste is about staying true to yourself— not about lording over others to gatekeep.
I enjoy watching both Marvel and “cinema”(I use this term loosely as many people make fun of the movies I watch). And those who know me well know that I originally wanted to be a filmmaker. If I was making films now, they would probably be closer to the latter than the former, but I don’t even know if that’s true. Anyone who has seen my personal YouTube channel knows that I’ve always wanted to make action films ever since high school (my Soundcloud is filled with Bond-style cues). I’ll say again, I believe that both sides have equal footing to an extent (perhaps specifically in a conversational space), which is why personal taste is what dictates where you put your attention and ultimately shapes the execution of your preferences.
A deep appreciation of film score/orchestral music is what truly prepared me for that exercise. From early on, I knew that film score was an entirely subjective thing, for both the filmmakers and the audience watching it. However, it is still up to the filmmaker’s taste to decide how to approach scoring the film. A full orchestral motif isn’t inherently better than a minimalistic, droning synth melody. You might even say that this depends on the film, but an orchestra can be minimal and synths can be complex. What it comes down to is the taste of the composer (and by extension, the filmmakers that chose the composer). And since it’s a question of taste that is not dependent on objectivity, it was important for me to develop a deep subjective taste, especially because I knew for a fact that I didn’t enjoy certain styles of film score.
My taste in film scores is deeper than a question of synth vs. full orchestra—it’s about the actual composition of a piece, from the backing chords to how the melody itself was constructed. Again, comparing my film score selections to my favorite non-film score orchestral pieces will show an element of taste, one that guides how I pick music for both playlists and how I write my own music. I don’t compose in order to write in every style of music or to create generic/agnostic music—I just want to write music that I like, which happens to be similar to the music I like to listen to. My sound expression is built off the taste I had developed. It’s not inherently better than anyone else’s just due to the influences or the intention, but I certainly prefer it (and call it “good”) simply because it fits what I want, both in what I listen to and what I produce. And even then I’m not always here to write a complex concerto— I still write cues for the Bond flick I’ve made in my head. This is a simultaneously and absurd and serious expression of my personal taste.
This process played directly into my sartorial journey, especially at the beginning. My brother, friends, and randoms on reddit would always say that a suit is a suit to them. So if that was the case, I’d have to develop my own taste in what I wanted to wear—it’s my form of expressing myself! Naturally this was built all on my past in collecting vintage, specifically the 1930s-1960s. Every decade had a suit style and people today wear outfits inspired by all decades, so in the end, it really was about developing my own taste to buy the vintage I wanted. And as you could expect, this hinged on specific types of lapels, buttoning points, sport collar styles, even tie patterns. I didn’t just buy every 30s/40s piece I could find—I bought the ones that aligned with my tastes. That’s why Spencer and I had different outfits when we went out, despite liking the same era. We just had different tastes.
As you’d expect, this approach to personal taste extends to my current approach to menswear. The taste I developed during my vintage collecting years certainly affects which Drake’s ties I buy down to how I’d handle commissioning my own custom shirts and suits. Sometimes my taste factors in the vintage aspect quite heavily (such as leg opening, trouser rise, and lapel treatment), but there are many nuances that come with this new direction (that I’ve been on for the past five years). Soft shoulders are a new addition to my taste, as are types of denim jackets and chore coats, or even certain styles of sneakers. It hasn’t resulted in a completely new look, but instead I’m able to navigate the wide world of fashion and find the things I can add to my own expression of classic menswear. Perhaps what I consider to be “good” taste is really just a curation of references and how it is executed (but even that is a subjective statement).
I’d even say that taste has gone even deeper, affecting how I view my outfits holistically. It is no longer about looking sharp or period, but how all of these pieces factor together to create a POV, what colors work best for a certain look, and ultimately, if it excites me. Taste can be both abstract and concrete, but because it’s the true differentiator and personal guiding star, it should be considered a fun endeavor to think critically about. It’s exciting, not daunting; all in pursuit of creativity within fashion, something that menswear was bound to have after years of being “proper.”
I want menswear to be considered a form of artistic expression, which is simultaneously a critical exercise as both a consumer and as a creator. If you are creating something, it is important to have personal taste. This is how we have different genres of music, film, painting, and photography, as well as the especially creative fellows who mix and subvert these categories. Fashion has been in that stage for a while, but menswear should certainly follow. It should be removed from its old rules, dress codes, and general conventional wisdom. I think that with menswear becoming more artistic is a democratic move and can be personally empowering to know authoritatively what you like and what you don’t like. It results in intentional outfits that can point to a specific aesthetic, akin to writing music in a certain genre or painting in a specific movement.
This calls to mind a recent MFA thread where a poster felt lost with what the sub considered fashionable in 2022, especially as the OP had taken a break from participating in the sub for a few years. The responses were actually quite nice, explaining to the OP how the taste in what was “good” had moved away from being a pursuit of the “classic and timeless” looks and instead moved toward a personal exercise in expression of an aesthetic (i.e, taste), which has resulted in many current fits being quite different than what was popular five or six years ago. I’ve been an active member in MFA for that time, which is probably why sentiments match the comments. Menswear is no longer about looking nice, blending in, and remaining stoic; it can be more than that. It can be artistic.
There’s nothing wrong with being generic or agnostic with anything, but having a specific POV (and taste) is something that naturally goes along with artistic expression, at least in your desired avenue. At its core, taste is the method of separating yourself from other enthusiasts and creators of art, from casual enjoyers and beginners to others in your same cohort. If anything, it only adds to the conversation, providing nuance and depth to a menswear discussion, making it more about a discussion of personal introspection rather than lording appropriateness (which as we know, isn’t really a thing anymore).
This is why I don’t think having strong personal taste is inherently a form of snobbery—fashion in my view is an inherently subjective thing (which menswear should also be), so the entire expression is built on personal taste. A J. Crew suit simply isn’t an Armoury jacket; it should be avoided if your taste lies elsewhere. It’s not bad to make that distinction! It comes with the subjective territory of clothing. Sticking to your taste and expression is all a part of the fun. We don’t think that a musician doing a crazy solo is a form of snobbery, right? Or a painter or photographer showing off their work on social media? It’s actually appropriate and even encouraged for art.
I’ve found that most detractors to a subjective approach to clothing on this tend to focus on the non-artistic/pro fashion-agnostic uses of menswear. In most cases, they like to say that those reasons are somehow superior to having specific taste, citing menswear as something “proper” when compared to other forms of dress (which has plenty of imperialist/western supremacist undertones). Lots of things are argued against by a toxically populist approach to artistic expression, which happens frequently when it comes to male fashion (and especially when tailoring is involved).
More often than not, it leads to a surface level version of taste, one that is dependent on the basic approaches to art. Think “staying within the lines” and color theory. The bad part is that most people stay there, all while avoiding an expanded discussion of art and intended aesthetic. Sure a painting of a black box with random dots might be odd but not always; perhaps the artist is trying to mix Pollack with Malevich. I gather that we’d definitely know the difference between scribbles and an intentionally abstract painting or a blurry camera misfire and a quick street snap from a 1940s depression photographer. It would be dumb to simply call them all bad!
I realize that all this is a very YMMV discussion, but it’s certainly worth keeping in mind when talking about how people wear clothes. I’d argue that the resistance to menswear as an expression of personal, artistic taste is holding it back to be accepted as a true form of dress for other people—and why it will never compete with the other genres of fashion. Focusing only on the nitpicky execution details without the artistic merits removes all the exploration and fun! And I guess when I use the term “bad”, the intent is similar to how I used it in my Old Ethan essay- my old fits were bad because they failed the image I had in my head, being unintentional and lacking true personal expression. Note that even here, my use of it is subjective and not objective, and it’s mainly used on my self! The entire blog is me explaining my taste and how it has come to be.
In any case, the surface level critique is usually done by beginners to fashion (or to any type of art form), who somehow think they become superior once they start with the basics. As I said before, it’s usually a top-down critique on the minutia rather than a peer-discussion on the intent of the artist (here meaning wearer of the clothes). Again, the preliminary knowledge and skill is important, but we can’t forget personal taste and expression as they go hand in hand in all art forms. My friend Joshua, a professional guitarist who has been a session and performing musician for over a decade, told me that he sees so many great musicians who start out on the internet. He’s often disappointed at the ones who think that they’re the shit just because they’ve evolved past the beginner level (both by skill or by internet clout). The real ones can still be technically and tastefully proficient, all while continuing to learn and see what to glean. Even if they operate on a specific genre, they know that it isn’t right to use it to lord over others. In short, taste can be a differentiator, but those who articulate and look at it critically know that it becomes something wholesome and empowering, which can be used to learn more about yourself and other people’s approaches to art.
This entire subject reminds me of a passage in Absolutely on Music. Murakami and Ozawa discuss at length the different approaches found in piano concerto recordings, featuring the pianist Glenn Gould. Gould is a master concert pianist who developed his own preferences on how a concerto should sound, but as a performer whose taste is the leader? Is it his own? The conductor? The original composer/written score? Or perhaps it’s the listener? Who knows! All that we know is that despite Gould being a technically proficient pianist who was familiar with the written score (and the precedent set before him), he still was subjective in how he applied those objective standards. It was personal taste!
Different recordings have Leonard Bernstein adjusting his conducting style (there’s even a recording of him voicing his objections) to fit Gould’s interpretations where Karajan, a more strict and traditional conductor, leads the orchestra in a straightforward way, resulting in a disjointed (but aurally compelling) listening experience. You could argue at length which one is right, and make similar allegories to menswear (or painting, etc), but the fact is that this is all dependent on taste. You just have to make the decision on where it will guide you.
I firmly believe that anyone can wear classic menswear and wear it [almost] anywhere. Taste is what will differentiate your chosen expression from other people, especially from the style (or taste) agnostic. As the mainstream/popular/basic/style agnostic camp is quite large (and all encompassing), it definitely helps to have a critical use of taste to help you navigate. I’m not sure why people in menswear avoid this idea of using taste. Perhaps this is because menswear used to be considered lingua franca, where people can slip into it and be accepted. But art isn’t about the bare minimum—it’s about self expression, which is the new currency when anything can be lingua franca. The old view is restricting, where a new art-esque take should be democratic. After all, taste and POV are things that anyone can develop and express!
With that said, it is true that menswear has quite a high barrier of entry, which is usually related to price. For example, a J. Crew suit and a Ring Jacket suit are functionally similar. However the aesthetics of one of those is much less common and is unfortunately more expensive than the other. It’s similar to how certain models of cameras or musical instruments will literally sound much different than another; if that specific detail is important to your taste and your desired end product (your outfit, the photo, the sound), then it’s a pill you’ll have to swallow. Of course there are always alternatives, such as finding similar brands or buying second hand, where your taste will help you determine what path to follow. Without taste, you’ll be left in a nebulous place. And this modern world, where there is a community and context for everything, is already quite nebulous.
It just doesn’t make sense to just use rules and appropriateness to guide menswear. I’m sure I could show you a variety of examples of great menswear outfits that break the rules: wearing black tailoring, creative evening wear, sandals and socks, or mixing in milsurp. Yes, these things are built on history, whether it’s for inspiration/precedent or an example to subvert, but that’s as far as they go. When it comes down to the nuances of patterns, cloth, or even the nitty gritty of silhouette and proportions, it all gets murky on what the next level is. Guides, rules, and convention stop being helpful in recommending your next steps. Hell, even my blog has limits— it’s based entirely on what I perceive to be “good” and “bad”, which I’ve always maintained have been biased, subjective statements.
In the end, only taste remains. Your taste. I don’t even think that my personal taste should be used as any sort of metric—it’s silly and based on such arbitrary decisions that technically aren’t needed for a life where you can put on anything you want and be fine. My adherence to my own preferences (and the compulsion to write about it) is absurd; hell my taste isn’t even consistent across mediums, as many people know my taste in movies and food is definitely not “high brow”. But perhaps that’s why it’s important, to at least know the exercise in being critical and introspective. It’s about self awareness. It’s good to embrace your own preferences, to know why something excites you or why you’re drawn to ward a garment or style, despite “conventional wisdom” telling you not to. Or perhaps to know for sure what you don’t like, to know why you prioritize other details, or why something doesn’t work for you. It’s all aesthetics. It’s all art. It’s all taste!
Sometimes you’ll find some garments or styles are “bad”. As Duke Ellington once said, there are only two types of music: “good music and the other kind”. Murakami, who included Ellington’s quote in his book, says that “the pure joy one experiences listening to “good” music transcends questions of genre.
This just means you need to find what you think is good. And that’s what makes this whole thing fun!
- 07:34 – Topic Intro
- 8:30 – Defining Taste
- 12:49 – Know Why You Have Taste
- 22:51 – Inspiration for this Episode
- 31:10 – “Ludlow Suits Never Look Good”
- 35:58 – Menswear Suffers From a Unique Place in History
- 37:47 – Snobbery
- 46:51 – Purpose of Taste
- 51:00 – Marvel Movie Comparison
- 56:28 – Why Do You Like It?
- 1:11:54 – Wrap-up
- POV and Authenticity
- Our stream on how we determine if a trend or style is right for us
- Marco’s Reddit post on the “soul” of clothing, which I think is directly related to personal taste.
- PTO on Developing Personal Style
- Die, Workwear –
- Permanent Style
- Ira Glass on Taste
We always follow up our streams with a livestream discussion with our Patrons and Twitch chat. In this one we have are joined not only by Producer MJ as well as Discord members Henrik and Kiyoshi. We recap the nebulous (and often contradictory) nature of how I approach taste before going into a larger commentary about how society often views expressions of strong taste, from both creatives (like filmmakers) and curators (film reviewers), as pretentious.
The discourse was quite insightful, which gradually showed that the topic is far beyond my philosophical prowess (there wasn’t much to begin with). Henrik brings up great points about how resistant the world has gotten to niche taste and how “mid” things have an almost a need to be considered not only acceptable but appreciated, despite already occupying mainstream status; he calls it a world of sore winners. Perhaps there is something here about keeping our own taste in check, lest our berets and white socks become just as ubiquitous as a Ludlow (which I highly doubt will happen).
On that note, he does like to make the distinction between between snobbery and gatekeeping. It seems our adherence and pursuit of a personal aesthetic is a form of snobbery. However, it not undemocratic as we firmly believe anyone can get to this mindset. The tools and framing are there for anyone to understand and get into, which align with how I view taste (as a method to determine preferences) as well as Spencer’s (who believes that taste is a level that can be achieved). Obviously we only have our own preferences, so not every fit or brand will work within our taste, but the taste itself can be acquired by anyone. Just think about Ratatouille!
In the end Henrik posits that if we continue this post-modern-adjacent line of subjective thinking, we will reach a point to where objectivity of any kind is almost completely moot. Where rules and reduction cease to become useful in favor of the je ne sais quoi to describe our preferences in action. In the end, as I stated in the podcast and blog, only taste remains. Our taste. What we like.
And we know it when we see it!
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, and Jarek.