Of the many contradictions-in-terms available to the speaker of English (examples: “military intelligence” and “jumbo shrimp”), there are few to surpass the phrase “men’s fashion.” You are doubtless sniggering already. Looking about oneself, the material evidence of this contradiction is found in abundance. Here are some thoughts then on men’s fashion as I have observed it from the ground.
First we must dispense with some counterpoints that are likely to arise. I will not be claiming in this essay that women’s fashion is all well and good, and that men should aspire to something comparable, whatever that means. The topic under consideration is perhaps better called Style, a term which in its present usage designates an active effort to do something creative, interesting, and individual with one’s coverings. This is not a consideration of style in the abstract, but rather of what stylistically men have at their disposal, and what this means to the individual man who is interested in the creative play of clothing. In other words, this is not about the fashion industry, but rather about one’s options and choices, as considered from the point of view of men. There are many examples of women who have no interest in this topic, or whose interest perhaps is deficient, but such is not my concern. What can be asserted on solid evidence is that much thought and creative energy goes into the ongoing design and production of women’s clothing and that in general this is not the case with clothing made for men. Men are an afterthought in this endeavour.
For instance, when you consider the cut of men’s clothing you find almost without exception the active principle inherent in its design: utilitarianism, its chief purpose being a functional one — viz, to cover the person in a manner which obscures the fact that a human may be discovered underneath. Men’s clothing is designed to keep us from falling upon the thorny fact that men have bodies. In most individual instances of clothed men, this is a good thing. Pants designed to obscure the fact of legs are perhaps merciful, as are shirts designed to hide the very suggestion of a torso. But notice that the opposite is the case when one considers the cut of a woman’s clothing, the design of which always bears the assumption that the shape of a woman’s body ought to be taken into account and indeed underscored. As I have already noted, an extraordinary amount of creative ingenuity goes into the design of women’s fashions, whereas a man’s clothes are the same year to year and are cut invariably in the shape of a potato sack, with holes to allow the escape of appendages.
We should note in passing that clothing for men is severely deficient in content as well as design. It consists of pants and shirts, more specifically straight leg blue jeans and T-shirts, dress shirts, and golf shirts. There are a few types of shoes, all of which are roughly the same cut, and a short list of accessories: socks and ties. All of these are square or rectangular blocks of fabric sewn up for the universal male body, which presumably looks like Bender, the robot from Futurama. The entire range and vocabulary of men’s fashion would fit in the corner of a typical Sears, behind the appliances, which is where you will find it in any North American mall.
The only area of fashion in which men have something of equal standing with women is the Italian suit. Nothing can touch it for elegance, style, and visual power. A well-cut suit is the only thing a style-conscious man can wear and feel completely victorious, sartorially speaking. When I am down-and-out and need inspiration, I find that a visit to The Sartorialist never fails, and that the sight of a man in a well-cut suit restores my faith in the ability of our species to rise above Barbarism. This limit of range however does not apply to women, who have well-cut options at their disposal across the entire specturm of apparel, from the track suit to the evening gown. (Women, please note: your velour Juicy Couture track suit is for the indoors only.) To reiterate, men have jeans and T-shirts cut in the shape of Cheerios boxes.
An article of women’s clothing may be shirred, bias cut, asymmetrically hemmed, ruched, studded, glittered, embroidered, laced, sheer, flared, tapered, bell-sleeved, accented, shimmered, sequined, tied, wrapped or faux-wrapped, beaded, embellished, ruffled, pleated, pointelled, trimmed, keyholed, pintucked, cropped, or blended with Lycra spandex or modal or polyester to render it stretchy. I am not necessarily recommending these innovations, but merely pointing them out. The list of innovations introduced to men’s clothing is somewhat shorter and includes the name and number of your favourite team player. The clothing industry does men the service of offering fashions free of challenge, novelty, or interest, staying as it does safely within established convention. To re-cap, men have Levis and ringers cut in the shape of Flat Stanley.
The only thing which remains unclear is the responsible agent. Do men determine through an act of will the cut and range of men’s clothing? Or are these determined from above? Or something altogether else? Suppose for instance we took the secret weapon of women’s jeans, the addition of 1-3 percent spandex to make them more accommodating of the individual human form, and secretly introduced it into men’s jeans. Would there be a revolt? Would men even notice?
It is questions like this that make you realize how limited the area of men’s fashion really is.