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Yet, while most of my friends found the idea of ‘being thought gay for dressing well’ outdated, the (few) men who compliment me on my dress choices often follow up with a defensive comment like, “I promise I’m straight”.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

  • Cara66599

    Among my friends, we will never fail to be impressed by a guy who dresses well, perhaps because it really is a rarity, and therefore a pleasant surprise, to come across a straight guy who takes a keen interest in what he wears. However, I think Emma’s right, it’s still very much ‘style over fashion’ much more for guys than it is for girls. Is this a historical throw back? Throughout history, men’s tailoring has fluctuated much less than women’s fashion (was ‘fashion’ created for women?).
    I went out with a very fashion concious guy for 3 years. Trends, fashion blogs and shopping around were important to him and he was discriminate about his clothing choices. This did mean people took his effeminate image as proof that we was gay. He didn’t mind (and neither did I) but I did have to spend three years explaining to people that my gay best friend was actually my boyfriend.

  • A great article!

    I would certainly say that straight men and fashion can mix.

    But as for myself, well, I am no fashionista! But I like to think that I am considerate about my style. I am not on trend, but I like clothes that are comfortable and make me look good.

    I am quite a reserved shopper, and I suspect part of it comes from the fact that I am still gaining autonomy in my shopping experiences – growing up, I only ever went clothes shopping with my mum! I’m now trying to define my own style, but I can find shopping alone quite daunting.

    It’s not something I talk about with my male friends. It’d be nice to see a discussion!

  • Askura

    As one incredibly stylish individual, who’s obviously straight from how dynamite my chemistry is with with women, I have to say I feel it is less about fashion and more about the effect a lot of modern media has had on young men in the last decade or so.

    The casual not giving a fuck look is over and done with.

    Being street, “real”, or what not doesn’t cut it. Films like Inception, Bond, and others that feature a suave and dapper look have ingrained a need to grow up a little into younger men. It’s cool to wear a suit that fits, with perhaps a waistcoat, or that sweater vest. It’s no longer stuffy or boring – which is exactly how that casual look came around. Because people didn’t want to look like they were trying too hard.

    Personally I’m glad that little fad is dying. I look awesome in a suit.

    The flip side of this is you’ll have those who feel that their casual look equates to being masculine and will result to playground-esque ridiculing of those that do the opposite simply because they feel that their own sexuality is being threatened.

    Which, if they saw me in a suit, it would be.

  • EK584

    I think it’s nice to see that, as Askura says, people are no longer content with the “I don’t care about my appearance” look – it’s more seen as either lazy or smug and arrogant. People are no longer admired for being ‘better’ than effort, and I think it’s nice that as a reaction to that guys are starting to put thought into appearance. Sure, it’s not necessarily fashion, people are just less afraid to express themselves in their attire and they get a lot more respect for doing so.

  • James

    Personally I’ve always worn what I’ve been comfortable in and that’s generally waistcoats, suits, cravates, and knee-high boots over trousers. Maybe it’s different down south but up north there’s a more traditionalist sense of gender where men wearing knee-high boots is considered strange and outlandish.

    I take a lot of flak from friends and strangers alike, but amongst friends – once they realised their comments didn’t bother me – they seemed to take it as a matter of course with me. One friend even praised the fact that I wear what I want despite static prejudices for men’s fashion.

    I’m glad to see more up here in suits for a night out but I just wish those few insecure would get over the perception that men should have a set standard fashion to adhere to. Maybe then I can walk down a street without caterwauling idiots.

    Nice article Em 🙂

  • dan

    A good answer to this lies within the sociology rather than the psychology of a man. It’s not necessarily what we think of ourselves, but how we fit into the broader social picture.
    Another I’d say is men don’t like to be seen to be taking things too seriously.
    Finally, it’s a fine line, between being that sexy guy that gets it right and is reaping the rewards, to being the guy that tries and just looks a bit camp and is suspected of being gay. Fashion is a tight rope that has a lot at stake socially.

  • Interesting article. We, of course, make it possible for men to be stylish and have positive impact on people and planet in what they wear, with our organic cotton “proper” shirts. Proud to sport our Blue Butterfly and be part of Positive Luxury.