Note: I wanted to try my hand at writing “shorter” blog posts (we’ll see) about topics that may not necessarily work as a full-length essay and podcast but would still be great to canonize in order to reference in those future blog posts. Think of them like my hang-out recaps (which is my favorite thing to write about) but about random menswear thought starters that I get from reading books or conversations with friends. It’s my hope that these shorter blogs will reduce the length of future essays as well as personally help me by getting more of my random thoughts out. It’s tough to keep it all in!
It is undoubtedly absurd to read books on art and philosophy in the hope that some concept or epiphany will be relatable to my hobby of wearing classic menswear. But like the uselessness of a tie, I do it anyway. I did it most recently with the blog post on Expression (which came after reading a book on musical expression), but others have had this too like referencing the physiognomy of a character or vibe through POV and Cinematic Dressing or talking about Taste after reading Absolutely on Music, the recorded conversations between Murakami and Ozawa. I think it’s a fun exercise which helps me get more connected with my clothes and how I think about hobbies in general.
Anyway, the current book I’m reading (quite slowly I might add) is Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation. It’s a collection of essays about art, which actually makes for a straight forward read; I was actually concerned if it was going to be more of a textbook. I’m only on the third essay but I’m already enthralled by various thesis that the critics point out. Again, it may be tough to fully relate to menswear as a hobby, but there is usually something to apply even if wearing clothes in a specific way is decidedly not high art.
The second essay in the book, “The Originality of the Avant-Garde: A Postmodernist Repetition” by Rosalind Kraus, was one that really got me. The main part of it was about how Rodin’s The Gates of Hell ought not be considered an “original work” due to the fact that Rodin died before he completed the final cast (and never fully decided the placements), which means that French government was left to put it together and display it on their terms. The rest of the essay is about copying and repetition and how this affects what we think about as avant garde.
Now before you get any ideas, I am not here to talk about what constitutes “original” style, at least not at length. Personally, I think that originality is a fool’s errand to pursue. We should only be concerned with authenticity, which is rooted in “personal enjoyment independent of social benefits” instead of…well, the dumbass statements that say “you can’t be authentic if there is someone out there who likes that thing”. I saw a tiktok that said authenticity comes from community not from individualism and I think that applies here.
No, what stood out to me from this essay was a brief tangent on “singularity”. Krauss mentions the 1801 Supplement to Johnson’s Dictionary which has six definitions for the term “picturesque”. They are
- what pleases the eye
- remarkable for singularity
- striking the imagination with the force of paintings
- to be expressed in painting
- affording a good subject for a landscape
- proper to take a landscape from
Krauss notes that it is odd to include “singularity” when it so clearly contrasts with the presence of five other valid definitions. However, this is reconciled with Gilpin’s Observations on Cumberland and Westmoreland which makes the singularity the function of the beholder. Gilpin says that a viewer may see one scene, but multiple landscapes. Distances may be blotted out or “pleasantly exposed”, all depending on the time of day. Krauss goes on to say that “the landscape’s singularity is thus not something which a bit of topography does or does not possess; it is rather a function of the images it figures forth at any moment in time and the way these pictures register in the imagination…[The] landscape is not static, but constantly recomposing itself into different, separate, or singular pictures”.
Where does menswear apply into this you might ask? Well, I think this goes hand in hand with how I view the ideal wardrobe. A foundational, holistic wardrobe may still be afforded variety while still maintaining cohesion, or I guess singularity. A lot of people view the ideal wardrobe to be pragmatic and minimal, focused more on achieving external benefits with minimal effort. But to me, this always removes the personal (or “artful”) approach to dressing. Vying for singularity or POV or just personal expression should be the goal of dressing at least if you want something more engaging and less shallow than “wearing clothes to not be naked”.
That whole thing brought to mind how general/pop culture views singularity. It’s less about cohension and more about those sci-fi horror stories where AI/machines (or even humans) seek to consume everything to create one entity. I think that has a place in menswear too, especially when we’re concerned with the lack of monoculture and discussions on originality and authenticity. While I am opposed to the idea that there is (or should be) one correct way to dress, there is something about how menswear culture has been approaching The Singularity.
We already have seen things become same-y in Post Pandemic, where most trendy brands are defined by a slouchy, neo-Americana/prep/ivy vibe. The ones that don’t end up going with an updated western look. With the rise of “little shirt, big pants” and Zoomers wanting to simultaneously dress in Old Money aesthetic and the Edgy Albert look, it seems that everything really is coming to a head. Simon Crompton even calls this whole phenomenon the “Menswear Merger”. Maybe he should call it the Menswear Singularity at this point!
The Singularity actually came up in a conversation with a friend in my DMs where she (a nonmenswear person, mind you) noted the similar fashion vibes between my friends and me. While she did notice that the individual pieces were different (some of us had cowboy hats, others jeans, some loafers, etc) there was a cohesive vibe. A holistic theme. I told her that this could just be that we’re friends and we copy each other; this would be the lazy answer that removes any room for personal authenticity.
My fuller response was about how I view The Singularity, which is more so about similar people approaching a similar expression of taste. I did not meet all of my friends through menswear or working in fashion, but it is true that we are similar in personality and interests, not just in clothing. I believe that these similarities in mindset/personality/philosophy will lead to similar expressions in taste.
To me, it just makes sense that a geeky guy who enjoys improv comedy, Star Wars, and a penchant for vintage (of any kind) will most likely enjoy (or appreciate) a slouchy take on Americana. For a while, I had assumed that only people who share my interests would be the only ones who would get my look. But as I meet more people, I’ve found that this isn’t entirely accurate or at least present in all cases. What I think this Singularity comes when we become aware of a thematic throughline. While improv and a jokey personality may sometimes be echoed in an easygoing approach to clothing (expressed through a slouchy silhouette), it may just be better for this discussion to focus on aesthetics.
If you like vintage military garments which have big pockets and usually have a big fit, there is a chance you may want a full cut, ivy-ish sportcoat with patch pockets. Or going further, you may realize that baggy pants seem to look best with a higher waist, in order to offset the girth of the pants; low rise + wide may just look disproportionate. So a person who wears big pants will most likely develop a preference for a higher rise. This can go on to other things: a big blousy shirt can lead to a taste for longer, soft collars. Wearing higher pants may lead to look for cropped jackets that end at the natural waist. We’re already seeing these preferences come about with zoomers who are so dedicated to a high rise that they cut inches off the hem of a tee because they want it to work with a high rise trouser. I could definitely see a zoomer being open to the ideas of classic menswear because of the similar through line (or should I call it a pipeline?).
In short, being aware of Aesthetic details like proportions can lead to other preferences, building upon which result in a style. The more people approach such details holistically (whether independently or not), they will approach a Singularity. Perhaps that’s whats happening to the menswear world– as they start to free their thoughts from typical convention (like slim fit or formality), everything tends to get slouchy, which is why the mixture of ivy/prep and sportswear with trad tailoring just makes sense. It’s not that it’s the best style, but it’s the result of following a thought process.
At least that’s what I think happened with my friend group. I think it’s equal parts a personality trait leading to aesthetic expression and following a thematic pipeline that snowballs into a style with recognizable characteristics. Again, it is easier when you’re in close proximity and see/communicate with each other often, but I definitely think there are commonalities among people who have never interacted with each other. There is a singular mood.
So where do we go from here? I’m not entirely sure. I like that Krauss’s view of singularity is positive, or at least that’s how I read it. It is possible for a work to contain multitudes and be considered holistic and singular. And I think that helps dissuade my [few] negative thoughts about the impending Singularity (or same-ness) that I think will come from menswear enthusiasts. I don’t think I have an opinion on if menswear always needs to be different or if it needs reinvention/reinvigoration apart from what it is doing now. Krauss cautions against copying if we are in pursuit true modernism/avant garde, but again, that may not be in everyone’s interest when wearing clothes. It’s also important to note that Krauss doesn’t say that the avant garde is the best art; it is just a descriptor for a mindset and type of expression.
I think it’s clear that I am in pursuit of the singularity in my wardrobe. It is not static, but able to “[figure] forth at any point in time” for my own contexts. And hey, if it seems that others make similar purchases or style moves in pursuit of singularity, then I think that just says more about what elements comprise a Singular Wardrobe in today’s age rather than just yelling that sheep follow trends. But I might be wrong and my entire approach could just be a trend from the 2020s that didn’t ultimately have any lasting power. And that’s okay.
All that matters is that I was able to wear clothes I enjoyed with people who understood why (and may have even done it with me).
Note: I realize this blog post was not short in wordcount, but it is short in the sense that it doesn’t contain an endless stream of photos. So I guess this little experiment worked and I feel great about putting this out there so I don’t have to introduce this topic in the future.
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Some interesting thoughts (and introduction to who Edgy Albert might be) but I suspect strongly Krauss meant the term ‘singularity’ differently to how you interpret it.
It seems to me that in his list of aspects of art he is thinking of a work which is singular – that is, that work is unique. A great work of art is unlike others in some significant sense.
By contrast, you are using it to look at how there is an increasingly single approach (or at least a convergence between people) in their attitudes when it comes to clothing.
Both approaches can spark interesting thoughts. For my part, I would say that the ideal is to play with the tension between something which works with the increasing ‘singularity’ (as you have it) of menswear clothing, whilst allowing the well dressed individual to be properly singular and individual looking.
Sorry, that should read “you appear to be using it …” – you know what you are saying, far better than I!
Great points Wolf! You know what, after writing my piece and introspecting on it, I suspect that you are right. He does use singular in reference to a, presumably great, landscape painting.
And yes, I agree that the ideal would be to play with tension. I’ve been hearing that a lot lately and it may be worth diving into in the future! I like that you used it in terms of individual style vs “original”, which is a far more loaded term that doesn’t really exist.
Thanks for the comment!