Fashion, Opinion

Menswear: An Under-appreciated Market

Let me clarify things: I am a women, I wear women’s clothes and in my life have only ever purchased women’s clothes for myself (apart from that summer a few years ago when I was obsessed with printed t-shirts and I discovered that the men’s section in Primark did the best ones) and the only time that I buy menswear is as gifts for others. So why have I got any interest in it whatsoever? That is something that I am questioning myself. If I can’t wear it, and therefore participate in it, why should I care?

Menswear Collections Spring 2015 (from L-R) Prada, Dior Homme, Dolce & Gabbana, Givenchy

Menswear Collections Spring 2015 (from L-R) Prada, Dior Homme, Dolce & Gabbana, Givenchy

Men’s fashion is a whole different playing field than its female counterpart , hence making it so intriguing. The rules that apply to women’s fashion, or lack of, do not apply to men. They play from a different rule book and the objective of their game is entirely different than ours. Where women are flamboyant, men are conformist; where women are praised, men are criticised. It is for that reason that men’s fashion can be thought of as a little bit dull in comparison, mainly for the fact that menswear is much more outwardly simple than womenswear, although underneath it all that might not be the case. 

When I say men are conformist, I mean that as a sweeping generalisation and not at all as an insult. Us women are lucky in the fact that we really can wear anything with few questions asked: skirts, trousers, shorts, skorts.  Men, on the other hand, face difficulty in that area. Think of Kanye West and the fact that he has never lived down the time he wore a skirt, which was a custom made leather Givenchy kilt nonetheless. It sparked backlash from the hip-hop community (in particular) and people all around the world, showing that the world really isn’t ready for men in skirts.

The infamous kilt...

The infamous kilt…

So with the more limited options that men face, how does menswear continue to be interesting? Menswear designers, I’d say, have less freedom than womenswear designers. As fashion is a business and profits are key, designers need to create things that are bound to sell and as a result, need to make things that regular men would buy and wear often. There is no point in creating the wild, out-there things that some womenswear designers can get off with doing because, for one, the market is smaller and less reliable – think of womenswear designers creating abstract couture pieces which may be worn by actresses on red carpets or performers on tour; then think of the men of Hollywood who generally play it safe and wear a classic tuxedo -and secondly, the funds are lesser. That really is the crux of the matter and perhaps why menswear is a little bit underdeveloped in comparison to womenswear: money.

Historically, your classic client at a couture house is female. Since decades ago, maybe even hundreds of years, women have had it drilled into them that they must be attractive and they must dress well and, when it comes down to it, to do so means you must be able to afford it. Think of the elaborate dresses, corsets and undergarments worn by royals in the 16th century and beyond, they were the ultimate display of wealth and status. From then on, and really since the start of fashion design as we know it in the modern day, the focus has been on women. Traditional clients of couturiers were wealthy women from high up society families, socialites, movie stars, heiresses and the wives of very wealthy men: the only place for men in this equation was to provide the funds. The early designers like Charles Fredrick Worth and Paul Poiret (whose house is making a comeback) created couture for society’s elite, and eventually over time, fashion trickled down into ready-to-wear and became available to the masses. However, one thing has always remained pivotal: women remain the nucleus of fashion.

Although women are the key, men are almost equally as important. However, the way men shop is entirely different than women. They are less likely to buy into trends, more likely to buy classics that will last for years. They buy because they need to, not because they necessarily want to (as research by Mintel has shown). Women are more likely to buy into the latest fads just because women traditionally care about fashion more. It can be thought of as vanity to care about your appearance, clothing included, so many men shy away from this, not wanting to be perceived as superficial and less intellectual. Other men simply don’t care. My grandfather, for an example, doesn’t do his shopping himself and leaves that up to my grandmother to pick out his clothes. Perhaps he fits into the “don’t care” group?

Examples of Kanye's outfits

Examples of Kanye’s outfits

It is because many men don’t care, and simply buy clothes just because they have to, that menswear is an undeveloped market in comparison to womenswear. If men purchased more designer clothing, the market could grow. The lack of funds for many brands stops them from staging the elaborate shows and productions that we are used to seeing from womenswear designers. The shows are what define fashion and, really, what get the most press. It is because of the underexposure of menswear brands that the market isn’t as vast as womenswear, because population-wise, we are rather equal in numbers. Since menswear generally gets less coverage than womenswear in the mainstream media, perhaps because attitudes are still that fashion is woman’s game, it is down to the smaller outlets, such as blogs like my own, to try and provide the publicity that the smaller brands so desire. We all know Prada, Givenchy and the big fashion houses but what about the smaller ones?

Don’t get me wrong, menswear is not a failing market. In fact, it has grown by 18% in the past 5 years and sales are catching up with womenswear. A study by Mintel shows that the industry is worth £12.9 billion and by 2018 is set to be worth £16.4 billion: that is big money. However, the general attitude and thoughts surrounding menswear need to change I’d say. If men have a desire to learn more and be more involved in fashion, the stigma that surrounds it needs to be removed. It is not vain to be interested in fashion and it is not frivolous to care about clothes. Just because gender roles dictate that women are the ones who fuss over their appearance whereas men are the ones who fuss over their strength, doesn’t mean that you cannot do both. Yes, you can be a successful man who buys designer clothes and yes, you can care about trends in the same way that women do. Think like Kanye West and develop your own personal style whilst turning a blind eye to those who criticise you for doing so: Givenchy kilt wearing is optional.

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