It’s never been so easy to look stylish. Over the past few years, the march of minimalism in men’s style has, to some extent, demystified fashion. Everything is stripped back – the palette, the dress codes, even the menswear rulebook itself, which is today slim enough to skim-read in its entirety on your commute.
We approve, of course. In fact, we positively championed the movement. Style should be accessible. It should be inclusive. And yes, to roll out an overused term, it should also be effortless.
The trouble is, when something is easy, there is a danger that it becomes predictable – and even dull. As a result, you could argue that there’s a constitutional crisis in menswear right now. Social media has shifted fashion’s power to the people, but it’s also stripped away some of the excitement. Instagram’s most-liked men’s fashion is now just grids of grey T-shirts and blue suits, scrolling to infinity.
It’s an odd thing to write about – menswear’s stagger into boringness – because in a macro sense, menswear has always been boring. Compared to womenswear, which lurches between styles with the violence of John Galliano crossing a restaurant, men have always worn the same thing: suits in the week and blazers on the weekend, preferably in black or grey or navy, thank you very much.
Yes, there has always been capital-F Fashion: the stuff that occurs at the fringes, that was photographed in thick magazines and that no one ever really wore. But when the internet arrived, it provided a space for guys who were normally intimidated by clothes to seek advice. Forums like Ask Andy About Clothes and Reddit’s Male Fashion Advice were clubby and familiar; it didn’t matter if you couldn’t tell a lapel from a collar stay, someone would enlighten you. Unlike men’s magazines, which banged on about bespoke as if all men trawled Savile Row every weekend, it made fashion interesting to guys who’d never admit to being interested in fashion.
There’s a flipside to accessibility, though. Fashion, for better and worse, has built its myth on exclusivity. There’s a mystery to style; when you know the rules of fit, or how to contrast textures to add depth, you step the other side of the velvet rope. Conversely, the winner-takes-all mentality of social media rewards not uniqueness, but similarity: the photographs that float to the top of your feed are the ones that stick closest to a formula, that can be scanned, absorbed and double-tapped in seconds.
“It means that, to an extent, ideas of how to wear clothes have become stale,” says stylist Chris Tang, the former fashion editor at style magazine Jocks & Nerds. “I remember, at the beginning of ‘hashtag menswear’, it became this new platform for men to draw inspiration from. But ultimately it has led to men looking at the same Instagram pages, blogs and websites. At some point, it started to feel mundane.”
Of course, fashion’s mercuriality is as much to blame as identikit influencers. Hashtag menswear was born in a nebula of dazzling pocket squares, as men in their first flush of love for clothes tacked hard from their safe navies and greys. By the time the look saturated the mainstream, landing in the Apprentice boardroom like a Fisher Price Mad Men with matchy-matchy pocket square sets, its originators had moved on. Now everyone was a peacock, fashion’s pendulum swung back to blending in.
Enter normcore, the sartorial Nuremberg that promised never again would men dress like fin de siécle sex offenders. It ushered in minimalism, workwear, looks in which the individual was subsumed by his uniform. What was once novel became ubiquitous. All trends tend toward a point when everyone looks the same but with minimalism, it means everyone literally looks the same. We evicted flamboyance, but we also purged personality.
Which makes now the ideal time to make a change. “People judge your character by how you present yourself,” says Tang, “and your style plays a big part in that.” Cleave too close to the crowd and you abandon your individuality. At the sharp end, menswear has grown increasingly exciting, as high-fashion brands foxtrot away from smart lines and simple shapes to the oversized, the avant-garde and, in some instances, the borderline ugly.
Even Calvin Klein, bastion of everything clean and the crisp, has jazzed up. Now Raf Simons is at the helm, he’s plunked all those monochrome suits in the dumpster to make room for mesh jumpers and plastic-wrapped overcoats. And at Gucci, Alessandro Michele continues his deep dive into the 1970s, proving that the decade style supposedly forgot isn’t as amnesiac as everyone thought.
Not that you need to go full Jared Leto to stand out. The upside of everyone dressing like Star Trek extras is that even small tweaks to your usual look have a huge impact. These techniques are the simplest way to take back the power, to wrench fashion away from ubiquity. Fashions may fade, style may be eternal, but Yves Saint Laurent didn’t mean you should dress in things that never date – after all, this is a man who reinvented womenswear at least three times. He just knew that flair, confidence and clothes that reflect something essential about the man inside them will always be on trend.
Avoid Instagram boredom with the runway trends that prove menswear can be maximalist. Try these essential inbound autumn/winter fashion trends to revitalise your style.
Written off as the bad-taste decade for its acres of velvet and burnt orange everything, the 1970s are now the height of fashion, as designers rediscover the tactile pleasures of velvet and how effective orange is at making any look pop.
Prada showed the look head-to-toe, but IRL that can look a little fancy dress. Instead, stick to single pieces – a velvet bomber makes even all-black looks feel deep, not flat.
Perhaps it’s an extension of the logo flips that are streetwear’s bedrock, or it’s just designers getting political, but this season brands from Lanvin to Valentino to Christopher Shannon emblazoned messages across their models’ chests.
No, Female Body Inspector tees are not back in fashion (they were never in fashion). But snappier lines are. Stick to either the funny (‘Constant Stress’ in the CK font at Shannon) or the abstract (Raf Simons’ Warning Sign tees).
A quick caveat – we’re not talking the paisley monstrosities that defined the darkest days of hashtag menswear. But this season, tailoring’s brightened up. For many men, wearing a suit to work is now an oddity, not expected. So designers have cut weekend-ready takes in camel (at Ermenegildo Zegna), moss green (E. Tautz and Valentino) and even burgundy (Marni). Just keep everything else muted and embrace the lighter side.
“Checks were particularly prominent on the runway this season,” says Tang. At Prada, they turned up on belted coats; at Lanvin, everywhere from shirts to suits.
The key to introducing the pattern to your own wardrobe is to ground it with basics, so it stands out. “A checked overcoat or a pair of trousers can lift a look. It makes an outfit feel more contemporary.”
If you’re bored with boring menswear, fear not. There are fashion quick-fixes that will turn the so-so into so, so good.
“If you’re bored with your wardrobe, the solution isn’t always to buy more clothes,” says Tang. “Try mixing pieces you’ve never put together. Something simple like a white tee tucked into suit trousers makes tailoring feel more fresh.” The same could be said for denim jackets or padded gilets under your blazer.
Not into colours? Play with shape. Menswear’s moving from super-slim to looser cuts, so swapping your skinny jeans for a wider leg immediately updates your look.
Think beyond the button-down. “Brands have been playing with collars, whether it’s a camp collar, granddad shirts or even quarter-zip sweatshirts,” says Tang. “They look great on their own or under a single-breasted jacket.”
Rethink the old orders and try outer layers nearer your skin. “Try a down layer under an overcoat, or a vest – not a waistcoat, that’s too hashtag menswear – over a sweater,” says Tang. Roll necks under V-neck jumpers or even tees are also a key (and unexpected) move this season.
Time was that only a shirt went inside your waistband. Now, anything goes. Try it with knitwear, sweatshirts, even hoodies, particularly if your trousers are wide-legged or high-waisted.
House of Fraser
If your wardrobe feels stale, one upside is that it’s a blank canvas for interesting textures. “Try something like Our Legacy’s terry cloth T-shirts,” says Tang. “It’s a way of playing around with fabrications that doesn’t feel too garish.”