Wednesday 17 April 2013

The Trouble With Menswear

A knock-on effect of covering ethical fashion for Pier32 has been the growth of my interest in clothing in general. I like to think that I cut a slightly sharper silhouette than I used to before I started this gig. I'm dressing to suit my shape these days. Less baggy clothes, and I'm certainly no fan of the kid-in-a-romper-suit and big trainers that a lot of men my age have devolved to. Sure, comfort is a factor, but at the same time I'd rather look like a grown-up, ta very much.

Which brings me to an interesting point. Men's clothes are boring. There's no real sense of experimentation. Look at the ladies (which I do with a purely professional eye, I assure you). There's a panoply of styles, looks, prints, fabrics, colours and shapes on display. Every high street is a fashion show. For the men, there are four looks. Workwear. Jeans and a top. Smart casual. Sportswear. That's about it. It's the same wherever you go. Check out any awards show, and you see the problem laid bare. The ladies are a rainbow, a dazzling kaleidoscope of colour and form. The gents are in suits. Black tie. This is the best you can aspire to. Unless you have the nerve and the legs for a kilt which, frankly, I don't.

It's a shame, when you look at the peacock dandies of history. Doublets and hose. Ruffs. Codpieces. Once upon a time invention and innovation was as much a part of men's fashion as it was women. But as the Georgian era moved into the Victorian, we pulled our legs into trousers, put a jacket on and gave up.

It's not a situation that's likely to change anytime soon. There's a fashion push every five years or so to put men in skirts. It never works. You can take all the pictures of Beckham in a sarong you like. You'll never get Joe Bloke strutting down his local high street in a swishy print wrap-around, unless he's working out his gender issues. Also, I refer you to my point about the kilt above.

So, if there's to be change, it has to arrive gently. If you can't change the shape, you can change the fabric, or play with form in clever, subtle ways. We're living in the 21st century, now. We can go space-age without draping ourselves in tinfoil.

For example, Ministry Of Supply, who have just successfully funded a production run through Kickstarter, have launched the Apollo Shirt. This is made from the same knit synthetic blend that NASA make their space-suits from. This stuff offers exemplary odor and moisture management, and moves with, rather than against you. The end result? You stay crumple-free, tucked in and looking cool all day.

Meanwhile Voy Voy, a relaxed surfer-skewed brand make t-shirts and polos with neat breast pockets in contrasting colours and stripes. This little pop of colour makes them stand out in a clean, sharp way. Again, there's innovation in the whole production line too, with an insistance on organic cotton and local labour to cut down on distribution and transport costs. A lot of these smaller companies are able to base their whole corporate philosophy around ethical principles, which helps them keep costs down without compromising on quality.

With sites like Kickstarter allowing these small start-ups to reach out to a much wider audience than would have possible a few years ago, we're beginning to see a real boom in clever designers pushing out great new ideas. Maybe the time is right for men's clothing in the 21st century to shrug off the old ways, and herald in a new renaissance.

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