There’s no such thing as a designer of menswear—it’s only history. The suit around the world is based on the English suit, which began in about 1670.– Hardy Amies
The digital team at Vogue has been doing its damnedest to remind me that men’s fashion weeks are still going on. Here I am wanting to sort through pre-fall collections in preparation for the fall women’s ready-to-wear season, which begins February 11 in New York, and my email inbox is full of pictures of men in suits or jeans or suits with jeans trying to grab my attention. Sorry folks, it’s not working.
I don’t mean to disparage the men’s fashion industry. The sector has seen tremendous growth over the past three years and even men’s fragrances crossed the billion-dollar sales mark last year. Neither can one say that men don’t care about what they wear. Men can be every bit as meticulous about their clothing as are women. I know several who are absolutely, disturbingly, OCD about their wardrobe.
However, men’s fashion still is a long way from having the overwhelming impact of women’s ready-to-wear. Not only do men’s lines not have anywhere near the same sales numbers, they don’t hold men’s interest, and men are not the obsessive fans of specific designers in the same way as women. I’m even going to go out on a limb here and say that 98% of men not only don’t care who made the shirt they’re wearing right now, but they don’t have a clue. Interestingly enough, they’re more likely to know who made their pants (I’m wearing black Levis today) and their shoes than any other garments.
Why are men, generally speaking, not fashion horses like their female counterparts? Why doesn’t men’s fashion hold our interest? There are some distinct reasons and you should know them.
- Men are, traditionally, more practical in their wardrobe choices. Playing to traditional gender-oriented stereotypes, men still choose a significant portion of their wardrobe based upon what is appropriate for their occupation. These are the men for whom the term “blue collar” was coined. They need clothes that are sturdy, can stand up to rough conditions, daily washings, and severe stress on the fabric. Pre-torn jeans are of no interest to the man working outdoors in sub-freezing weather. They’d rather drop good money on a solid pair of coveralls that will last them several years than a suit with shiny shoes.
- Men don’t desire wide variety in their wardrobe. Have you met me? I wear black. That’s it. I have dress ensembles and casual ensembles, but everything in my closet is designed so that I don’t have to think too hard about what to wear each morning. I recently added a shawl collared cardigan to the collection and chose the design for one specific reason: it goes with everything. Pierre Cardin famously said: “I can go all over the world with just three outfits: a blue blazer and gray flannel pants, a gray flannel suit, and black tie.”
- More men are color blind. No, this isn’t a joke. Men really are more likely to be at least partially color blind than women, and the trait is genetic, passed on from father to son. As a result, men are not as likely to respond to colorful designs and patterns with the same enthusiasm as women. In the US, ten percent of men are totally colorblind, versus only 0.4 percent of women. Ethnicity also plays into this problem, with Caucasian men being far more likely to be color blind than Asian (five percent) or African (four percent) men. Eskimo men have the lowest rate, 0.01 percent, but they don’t tend to spend much on high fashion.
- Men don’t like to shop for clothes. We’ll spend all day looking at tools, cars, computers, or video games, but pull a man into a department store to look at clothes and expect a groan, at least internally. Even when we know we need new clothes, we would rather walk in, grab the first thing we see that fits, and leave. This plays into another interesting statistic that men are more likely to buy their clothes online. Depending upon which study one considers, men’s online wardrobe shopping outpaces women’s by 20-30 percent! And what do we buy most? Replacements for the things we already have.
- Men pay less attention to what’s “in style.” Remember the leisure suits and wide ties of the 70s? As horrible as that style was, it lasted well over half a decade because men, as a group, care less about current fashions. While women anxiously await the new season’s clothes hitting the stores, and are ultimately responsible for the fast-fashion trend that’s driving designers crazy, men are more content continuing to wear the same thing from season to season. Unless a garment is stained or torn or no longer fits, we’re still likely to wear it.
Please let me emphasize, again, that these are generalizations. We all know people who are exceptions and those people are absolutely wonderful. However, for fashion to be viable it has to appeal to masses, not individuals, and men’s fashion has yet to achieve that desirable goal. So, dear friends at Vogue, please stop filling my inbox with photos of today’s DSquared² runway. I’ll catch up with the brilliant Caten brothers in a month when they’re showing women’s wear.
Until then, I think I have some napping to do.