With signs of a resurgent economy and dramatic shifts in the male attitude toward fashion, menswear has become an exploding classification. There was a time when men wouldn’t buy a new pair of underwear until the old ones disintegrated, or a new pair of socks until the big toe poked through a gaping hole. Men’s shopping habits revolved around the next sale and getting in and out of the store as quickly as possible – no hunting and gathering here.
Today’s man knows what he wants to wear, whether it’s for work, a weekend jaunt or a moonlit rendezvous. In the past, that frayed undergarment was merely a necessity. Now, a new one is a means of communicating personal style.
In a recent Women’s Wear Daily article, Nicholas Graham wrote, “Men are the new women.” Fashion guru David Wolfe, creative director at The Doneger Group (New York), agrees: “The younger generation of men grew up interested in fashion labels and status. This is fueling a men’s revolution.”
According to Wolfe, the men’s industry held itself back with the fear of being too fashionable. “There’s a new dude,” Wolfe says, “conscious of shapes, colors and silhouettes. A symbol of the revolution is a broad spectrum of color in everything from socks to underwear. Spring ’14 will see colored pants and shorts for men eager to take a chance. This is a new guy.”
And the revolution crosses every demographic: from the recycled, remade sensibilities of New York’s Williamsburg neighborhood, to the cobblestone streets of SoHo and the ever-evolving Fifth Avenue.
Harry Cunningham, svp visual merchandising and store design at Saks Fifth Avenue (New York), says, “Men love suits again, and all things that go with them: a lapel accessory, pocket square, colorful shoelaces and either fashion socks or no socks at all.”
Tom Beebe, longtime visual merchandiser and menswear aficionado concurs, “Men are shopping for themselves now, and sometimes together with other men. Their girlfriends used to pick out their ties. Now they know what they want: the best watch, the best shoe, a man-bag and a great pair of sunglasses.”
Retail is responding in a big way to this newfound masculine love of shopping. Saks (New York) recently launched “The Fifth Man” in its new men’s store in Beverly Hills, where it features an expansive shoe area in the center of the main floor. Additionally, the “D Bar” was created. It's a new department for men’s denim and the first full-blown shop for Saks Fifth Avenue Men’s Collection.
“Men are now experiencing fashion,” says Wolfe. “It’s a new game, not like their fathers.” He cites “The Great Gatsby” movie as part of the educational process, taking men from “grunge” to a fitted, well-appointed, new masculinity. He also sees the shopping experience as part of the educational process. “Store design is more important now than ever. In addition to being recreational and emotional, it had better be special, it had better be a destination.”
The Brunello Cucinelli (Solomeo, Italy) store on Madison Avenue fits the bill. A peek into its windows reveals beautiful and impeccable layering, which men are now mastering the art of: a vest, a rolled collar, mixing casual with dressy, or a down vest over a sport jacket.
The men’s designer business is flourishing, and it barely existed 20 years ago. Coco Chanel said of women and dressing, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” To that, Beebe adds, “When men step out, they should look in the mirror and put one thing on.”