NEW YORK, United States - Openly spreading the latest fashion gospel to an uninitiated crowd has always been anathema to the fashion elite. Until recently, this required fashion media to work a delicate balance between informing the mass public of the latest trends without being too direct as to make those new trends over-exposed and passé.
The internet — web 2.0 media and blogs, in particular — has been kicking down doors and fostering greater inclusion in most cultural fields. With fashion, the net has created unprecedented opportunities for fashion pedagogy, making old media look decidedly old-school.
So what’s an old media brand to do in this new environment? Men's fashion bible GQ has responded with a web-offshoot called GQ Rules, possibly the greatest experiment in mass fashion teaching ever attempted.
Up until recently, good advice about menswear on the Internet was rare. Then, sites like The Sartorialist appeared, creating new interest in the way real men around the world are dressing, thereby dragging the leading edge of menswear away from fantastical and abstract magazine spreads and onto the reality of the streets. Thanks to Scott Schuman’s discerning eye, his genuine relationship with his readership, and fiery debate in the comments section, the site makes for engaging, addictive reading and even manages to teach a thing or two.
GQ Rules is an apparent response to both the proliferation of independent menswear fashion sites on the Internet as well as to the seemingly-record high interest in menswear at the moment. GQ Rules Director and producer Andrew Comer, however, does not see this as anything new: "GQ has been a reference point for men for over fifty years. We see GQ Rules as a logical extension of our longstanding mission."
True to his word and GQ’s heritage, the new site sharpens its age-old message of proper gentlemanly style, while introducing its editors and philosophy to a whole new generation of men. Over the course of one month and under the tagline "How to Become a Well-Dressed Rebel in 30 Days," Style Editor Adam Rapoport, Creative Director Jim Moore, and "Style Guy" Glenn O'Brien offer a daily three-minute video teaching the basics of men's style. Viewers learn how to wear suits more casually with Band of Outsiders' Scott Sternberg, how to style T-shirts with Gap's Patrick Robinson, and how to pull off eccentric pocket squares with Derrick Miller from Barker Black.
Although nominally focused on "basics," a few segments go off into extremely au courant specifics, which may leave some non-fashion types scratching their heads. Thom Browne personally introduces the concept of suited socklessness, and the editors also try to convince viewers that Patagonia down vests make perfect sense over wool suits.
The result has been an active and vibrant dialogue. GQ Rules videos have received thousands of comments — sometimes within minutes of posting, thanks in part to special promotion that allows participants to win a special gift card from J. Crew. This is a long way from the past, when magazines like GQ could create a monolithic direction on style without any rebuttals on the same page.
"The comments are both for other readers (to interact with one another about these topics) and for us (to learn, just as we would from print “letters to the editor”), says Comer. “And we don’t shy away from disagreement—it’s not about consensus. It’s about engaging with our readers."
Perhaps the comments were even too successful: who wants to sift through 4,100 one-sentence quips to find possible pearls of wisdom from peers? For future versions of GQ Rules, some functionality to provide peer-ratings on the most useful comments, as is seen on sites like Trip Advisor and YouTube, would help to make sure the cream of the comments rises to the top.
On the whole, however, GQ Rules is an excellent case study of how old media can embrace new media, by adding meaningful and useful content to the mix. After watching an entire month of these videos, studious newbies should possess the vocabulary and base knowledge to make informed fashion decisions and avoid common pitfalls.
What's more, the site may be the warmest welcome ever for new consumers interested in high-end and hot indie fashion brands. With chic, yet accessible Adam Rapoport at the helm, even non-"fashion guys" can find an opening into cutting-edge style. Maybe they won't go for ankle "cleavage" at first but they may learn to wear a scarf and wear the right kind of sneakers with a suit.
Best of all, GQ Rules also proves a very important lesson about the current state of menswear: anything goes. In the videos we see American trad, British looks, Milano style, dapper Southern dandyism, and laid-back New York hipster cool all presented as acceptable options.
Individuality is all in the balance.