I often stare at menswear in shop windows. And look at mens’ fashion shows. And there is something that I have noticed that makes traditionalists (like my husband) get rather angry. Do you know what it is?
Here is a random selection of TopMan, Moss Bros and Paul Smith suits.
Nick’s traditional advice on trousers is that they should break at the shoe. None of these suit trousers come anywhere near. In fact the most expensive suit here (the Paul Smith) would reveal the ankles if the wearer was not wearing socks.
At one point I would have agreed with my husband but slowly a new aesthetic has crept into menswear and it has affected women too. My recent jacket purchase (from Jigsaw) has a feeling of being a bit shrunken – the sleeves are short and at a glance appears to have come from John Lewis school uniform department. Ladies trousers too are much shorter than they used to be. Remember how your jeans got all bedraggled at the bottom? Not any more. All trousers seem to be a sort of 7/8 length, or “half mast” as we used to say. In fact my friend Marijana wears her son’s school pants to work. Here are a few examples.
I have been wondering how we progressed from the idea that short trousers on tall boys were a sign of poverty, to the idea that long pants are passe.
Back in 2001 Thom Browne challenged the accepted notion of good style by offering flat front trousers, exposed ankles and sleeves that hit mid wrist.
And with marketing nouse, or even with a sense of irony, they produced their own style guides.
I am not writing this post about Thom Browne New York designer specifically. I just wanted to work out where this look – of altered proportions – was coming from. If your jacket and trousers are getting shorter, if you wear shoes without socks, if you wear tight, tailored shorts to work, or even sports shoes with a suit then you are being influenced by Thom Browne. He doesn’t design hoodies or oversized T shirts with graffiti on – his inspiration is less “street” than the 1960s Mod Suit has been taken to a logical conclusion – these suits remind me of Ray Eames, mid century furniture, Kraftwerk, Japanese precision, architecture and clean, minimal modernism. Some of the designs make me think of the Russian revolutionary wear. It’s like the traditional suit no longer had anything to say to the fashionable youth – it was tired and traditional and overplayed. So Browne introduced fresh elements to ensure the suit would talk to youth; the popularity of Mad Men helped do the rest.
Of course the designs he produces are, like most designer fashion, far too extreme for the average person.
But they are appealing and challenging at the same time. His most recent collection put men into “non-bifurbicated garments” ie dresses. In a time when gender specific labels are being challenged I think this is a good design initiative and I hope it may catch on in the next decade or two.
At the same time there is a version for the masses. Even Mrs Obama wore a nice Browne coat at her husband’s second inauguration. Browne has been doing womenswear since last year. “Women’s is fun but it’s more of a challenge because there’s so much that has already been done,” he says. “Men’s is easier because if you push it a bit, it’s a lot.”