Menswear Fashion Freedom

Menswear Fashion Freedom

Freedom in mens’ fashion is often dictated by the ongoing conflict between confidence and conformity; the see-sawing that takes place between both informs our outlook on style and the lack thereof. Men make style-statements even when they don’t want to; if you express a disinterest in fashion through resolute conformity (whether trend-led or through true indifference) then the statement is just as cogent. You just happen to be one among many that are making it. Casualwear is getting weirder thanks to our post-internet, post-everything world. Stylistic scenes have dissolved into a psychedelic free-for-all thanks to the efforts of erstwhile bloggers and their Pinterest pin-boards. Nevertheless, it’s the average non-fashion-following fellow that will need the most convincing to break free from the norm.

T-shirt and jeans serve a comfortably familiar purpose, and they can be toyed with by designers to draft new silhouettes for men in subtle ways. Rick Owens and Damir Doma are both known for their oversized and draped, dress-like tees; recently it is Hood by Air that has really helped open up new avenues for freedom of expression in streetwear. The label founder, Shayne Oliver, has done this not necessarily through androgyny (though there is that) but also by collaborating with individuals that don’t all conform to a preconceived masculine ‘ideal’; gender-queer performance artist boychild and Harlem rapper/budding fashionista A$AP Rocky. In fact, Hood by Air’s ethos of tolerance and equality also finds itself aligned with Shayne Oliver’s involvement in an underground NY dance music scene called GHE20 G0TH1K. The ever-fashionable concept of ‘voguing’ was itself birthed from the Harlem ballroom dancing scene in New York; its proponents were comprised of those seeking escape from conformity and expectations involving sexuality, self-expression and the tyranny of self-conscious masculinity.

In an ideal situation, people should feel comfortable with the escapist spirit of fashion in the same way we escape into music through headphones or on a night out. It’s true that contemporary men’s fashion lacks a certain flamboyance compared to the boisterous poeticism of a 19th-century tail-coat or even the corporate sternness of a Don Draper-esque suit. Even in formality we usually find opportunities to stretch the boundaries of fashion freedom; the cufflinks, tie, and pocket squares that allow us to subtly betray our resignation to conformity through subversions of pattern, shape and/or colour.

One of my favourite young designers, Alan Taylor, plays with the idea of draped fabric like a skirt/kilt and reconstructs it as part of gentlemanly tailoring. It’s an aesthetic trait that has become a staple in his last few collections, and it offers an idea of how menswear can expand its horizons in seamless but visible ways. Promoting progressive silhouettes in menswear through sheer provocation tends to only parch the thirst of the fashion community; the average bloke on the high street will dismiss high fashion as ‘not for them’. As an example of said provocation, J.W. Anderson’s AW14 collection is a conceptual master-class in unbuttoning bloody-minded perceptions of menswear and patriarchy; femininity is often maligned in society, especially in males and even more so when it threatens masculinity head-on. Fashion’s main challenge then is in contorting our expectations of menswear to appeal to both the fearless and the curious. It’s not an easy task, but it’s possible.


Written by Darren Millard

Images courtesy Rick Owens, Damir Doma, Hood by Air, Alan Taylor,  J.W. Anderson.