It’s all about style over fashion

Looking back on my David Gandy style icon feature, a line in David’s savvy suit quote has been playing on my mind.

“Men are still quite scared of the connotations of looking gay, even in 2010, but dressing well can be easy.”

Although the quote is from three years ago, my interest was piqued. Is this statement still true today? After a quick office poll and several texts to friends indicated that women and gay men are still thought of as much bigger shoppers and fashion followers than straight men, I started looking into the world of menswear. 

It turns out, men’s fashion is bigger than ever in 2013. As GQ pointed out at the launch of London Collections: Men in September 2012, menswear has never been so important in this country. What started out as a one-day event at London Fashion Week has grown into a full three days, running for the second time this January. According to the British Fashion Council not only is the menswear market growing, men’s items now represent 50 per cent of the luxury apparel market. So surely menswear is outgrowing the idea that caring about fashion and ‘dressing well’ is only for a niche of ‘gay men’ rather than for all.

Alexander McQueen autumn/winter 2013

Alexander McQueen autumn/winter 2013

Alexander McQueen autumn/winter 2013

Alexander McQueen autumn/winter 2013

Yet, while most of my friends found the idea of ‘being thought gay for dressing well’ outdated, the (few) men who compliment me on my dress choices often follow up with a defensive comment like, “I promise I’m straight”. What’s going on? 

Women are top dog in the shopping stakes and have been for years, perhaps men are more concerned about being thought feminine for shopping than being thought gay. ‘Femininity’ and ‘being gay’ are concepts muddled by stereotypes, and media portrayals of the gay BFF shopping with female friends probably hasn’t helped this confusion.

Public perception of ‘fashion’ is often riddled with stereotypes, the main one being it’s the opposite of a boy’s club: just for women. For me, fashion and style is universal. What we wear has a knock-on effect on the snap judgements people make about us, regardless of gender or sexuality. We can’t tell our life story to every person we meet so our clothes become a statement of who we think we are. 

The men we spoke to agreed – everyone wants to look good. One of them was Dan (the commercial director of Just Add Red) and the most stylish man in our office. He is, by the way, a heterosexual 26-year-old male with a penchant for bags. 

Dan shops online about once every two weeks, and shops regularly once a month. He says, “I don’t necessarily like going to shops all the time, and I don’t enjoy shopping – if I have something that works, I’ll buy ten of it – but I do want to look nice. I follow blogs and sartorial sites, and take bits of looks that I like, which is enjoyable. Outside of work, I’m into fashion but it’s not like I walk around in a Givenchy flower shirt. I prefer a classic style.”

Dan says that he cares less about trends, more about style. Fashion is transient – “what’s trendy right now” – whereas style is more stable. Fashion changes but good style doesn’t. Clothes that fit well is the staple of looking good and he believes quality is better in the long run – “buy cheap, buy twice”. 

As for his friends, he’d only describe one of them as “into fashion” – both of them have gone into business to set up a made-to-measure men’s suit line (David Gandy would be proud). 

Does Dan experience any negativity from being a straight man interested in fashion? He’d like to think his friends associate him with dressing well, but there is one point of contention. He wears bracelets. “Some friends think they are borderline, but if anything, they’re a good conversation starter with women.” So there.  

We haven’t stopped debating all day. What’s your opinion? Do straight men and fashion mix? 

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Emma Cooke

Emma is studying for her masters at King's College at the moment, and she is also the women's fashion editor of Paris-based magazine L’Insolent.