An Inflection Point in Menswear?

Band of Outsiders A/W 2011 | Source: Band of Outsiders

On the eve of the menswear shows at London Fashion Week, our Tokyo Associate Contributor W. David Marx considers an inflection point in menswear trends.

TOKYO, Japan — On the streets of Tokyo, the heritage look still rules. The patchwork tweed jackets and rough wool bowties in the windows of “select shop” boutiques like Beams Plus and United Arrows’ Beauty & Youth continued to draw a steady crowd last autumn. But after two solid years of celebrating Anglo-American “neo-trad” style, influential Japanese fashion magazine Brutus and its little brother publication Popeye began to turn towards a darker, more European vision.

Fashion has always been a celebration of perpetual difference. Back in 2004, after years of European luxury looks, Thom Browne sparked a re-evaluation of American trad style with his new take on the charcoal gray sack suit, white oxford shirt and rep tie.

A large part of the industry eventually followed suit, creating more nostalgic, traditional clothing. Soon came classic British suits, tweeds and plaids, followed by rugged workwear like chambray shirts and high lace-up boots. But there are growing signs that the enormously successful heritage boom may finally be peaking.

Heritage saturation has been building for some time. Last September, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “L.L. Bean Driving the Runway?!,” while the anonymous Tumblr “Fuck Yeah Menswear” quickly gained notoriety for waxing satirically on the excesses of Alden snobbery and necktie obsession. Indeed, with heritage overload in evidence at Pitti Immagine again this season, the novelty of beards, Barbour coats and Indy boots is quickly wearing off.

Trend saturation is a cue for the fashion industry to move on. “After years of fashion looks that have borrowed from railway sidings, rice paddies, shipyards and law enforcement agencies, it seems that the workwear era has come to an end,” wrote Tyler Brulé in the FT following last month’s menswear shows in Milan. “The future will be well-tailored,” he continued.

Tailored and darker, one might add. Indeed, noting the black-on-black that dominated the Fall mens collections at Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Gucci, Jil Sander, Givenchy, John Varvatos and others, GQ announced: “Brace yourself for a blackout… not since the ’90s have we seen this many pitch black get-ups on the runways.”

“I feel there’s a change coming,” agreed former Cloak and Versace designer Alexandre Plokhov whose debut namesake collection of exquisitely tailored and finished looks was very well received at the Paris men’s shows this season, with influential retailers like Barneys and Atelier in New York, and Joyce in Hong Kong, picking up the line.

“I cannot do preppy anymore. I cannot do this neo-American traditionalism,” Plokhov told BoF. “All those kids in Williamsburg [Brooklyn] wearing Red Wing boots and beards — it’s time to experiment and try something new.” Indeed, Mr. Plokhov’s collection featured the kind of razor-sharp tailoring and angular construction that seemed to target an edgier consumer who is looking for design, not nostalgia.

Evidence of this shift was afoot at the recent New York shows as well, where Simon Spurr presented a mens collection that was “a lot more European” in approach. “It’s definitely a more sinister take on menswear,” he told Style.com.

But for the industry at large, the issue is this: the heritage boom has been incredibly successful at attracting a large new consumer base of young men who otherwise had little interest in fashion, feel comfortable with their American brogued wingtips and Band of Outsiders oxfords, and prefer the idea that style is a stable set of tastes and values. With a potentially seismic shift afoot, the question looms large: will these new consumers follow the industry’s shift towards darker, tailored European looks?

In influential Japanese fashion magazines, the heritage trend of the last few years had a clear and tightly woven story. But based on the same barometer, it seems the return to a sleeker European style still lacks narrative clarity, suggesting a shift that has yet to take root in the broader fashion psyche. Indeed, last week in New York, at Scott Sternberg’s first-ever runway show for Band of Outsiders, there were plenty of work boots, boating shoes and college stripes on display.

W. David Marx is an Associate Contributor at The Business of Fashion.

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11 comments

  1. Dear Imran

    Good points. But I think due to technology, trends in menswear (which inherently moves far slower than womenswear) will become increasingly irrelevant. Instead, we will see ‘tribes’ or communities ala the preps, the urban woodsmen, the mods, the sartorialists, etc. Internet makes this possible for people from everywhere to form and maintain (men are more Pavlovian in fashion than women of course) communities and hence create a pool of demand for the merchandise. If the size of those tribes or communities reach a certain scale, they may be able to sustain a certain fashion look/trend/orientation for a long time. In other words, we may be seeing the effect of the ‘long tail’ in fashion. What do you think?

    jati hidayat from Jakarta, Jakarta Raya, Indonesia
  2. I agree with Jati to an extent, the tribal reference is spot on and something we see in all quarters of marketing. I considered the ‘American dandy’ take for a good two years yet could never make the plunge, just not me. Regarding tweed jackets and leather elbow pads, I’m not a physics teacher! The workwear appeal has certainly been successful for indie brands and indie retailers, but in doing so they’ve neglected a long-term trail of thought. They’ll have to be careful with how they move forward. It’s an intriguing situation though.

    moi from Yeovil, Somerset, United Kingdom
  3. @Jati Hidayat, Nice to hear from you all the way from Indonesia. Completely agree with you on the importance of style tribes and that menswear trends tend to move more slowly. But move they do, as David points out and as Alexander Plokhov suggests, it may be time to move onto something new. And, even in menswear, it’s still undeniable that certain things come in and out of style, hipsters in heritage wear may be one of the defining style tribes of the noughties, but methinks that they will not be around for much longer in the same numbers. Change may take some time to take hold, but let’s see. They may go the way of the hippy. Still present amongst a hard-core few, but mostly a vestige of the 1970s.

    Imran Amed, Editor from London, London, United Kingdom
  4. I feel the rush to the “Euro-style” is relevant in the U.S, the woodsmen & traditionally has been kind of old anyway, designers like Rick Owens and Damir Doma is the future of menswear and its changing the way we view and understand fashion. Understanding it more as a art and we are wanting more design than just an aesthetic of nostalgia from designers such as Band of Outsiders and Marc Jacobs who still by the way can make a casual shirt and cardigan, but its futile to think we cant get those basics of traditional items for way less cheaper at a fast fashion store such as H&M, would you not agree?

    ahmad rouse from New York, NY, United States
  5. I say just stick with Vivienne Westwood and you can’t go wrong :-)

    The Cult of Tyler from London, London, United Kingdom
  6. The heritage trend has been the first time I’ve been excited about Men’s fashion in a long time. Men actually being comfortable wearing something besides jeans, a t-shirt, and Converse, and wearing slightly more formal shirts in less formal situations. Why do people want this to go away so quickly? I’m still waiting for it to catch on in a wider scale.

    Bart from New York, NY, United States
  7. In Australia, the heritage trend is only just taking off. The black drapey neo-goth look that Rick Owens, Damir Doma et al have pushed for quite a number of seasons is a little tired here and not many guys pull it off that confidently.

    Finally we’re seeing more chinos, plaids, boots and colour on the streets of Melbourne. It’s much more relaxed. And a lot more effortless.

    Amen.

    Brett from Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  8. Is it really time to move on to something new? In the eyes of the consumer, I don’t think so. I think to an extent, we will see consumer sovereignty. Which is probably why men’s fashion is way behind women’s.

    Martin A. from Brooklyn, MD, United States
  9. I think perhaps the influence of heritage on mainstream fashion brands will be in decline but they were never really pushing the trend anyways. I think it was guided by a sort of grassroots embrace of the idea of longevity over frivolity. The reason a lot of men did not get into fashion before this I think has to do with the fact that fashion foward silhouttes tended to be thin and young and not paticularly flattering on anyone else, besides I think popular brands like Engineered garments, Patrik Ervell and Our Legacy that are popular with that crowd are more adventurous than people give them credit for being. You can’t say Bright floral shirts and linen suits are “classic american menswear” nor are they angular futurism , they are subtle tweaks on a look that men can intergrate into their wardrobes and I think that is the future.

    Luke from Wexford, County Wexford, Ireland
  10. The impact of the Internet on global culture, subculture and counter culture is huge !

    Whatever it’s in Williamburg (NY) or Shoreditch (London), everyone can follow or discover new trends. (Btw, I was shocked on how men’s fashion trends on those 2 neighborhoods got some many similarities.)

    Shops in Tokyo, like Beams, United Arrows will be always neo-american style, or even heritage Native American vibe…. because this style is perfect for japanese crowd !

    Japanese magazines are now more watched outside of Japan. Since 4 years, they re doing special editorial with European luxury brand. (Popeye, Brutus, Men’s no no, Sense, Huge…etc…)
    With economic crisis, I think it’s more on financial impact. Advertising leads on editorial !

    Japan is a very special country by how they communicate with the rest of the world. They’re still very late on social media, very loyal on following trend from magazine….

    I think Fast Retail, understand that men’s market is underrated… Last year it was “who make the cheapest cashmere cardigan ?”, this year it’s “Who make the best chinos ?”

    Luxury is following, like Coach aiming to double menswear business lately…

    For me the winner of this race it’s Alexander Wang, who exploded with his own style, helped by fashion magazines and internet.
    Developing both high fashion label, and an cheaper diffusion line….
    BI-Winning ! ! ! ^^

  11. I enjoy your work , thanks for all the great content .

    Yuma from Ukraine