I don’t know about the rest of you, but lately I’ve been suffering through a bit of insomnia. I start off with my usual routine, I brush my teeth with diamond encrusted toothpaste, toss on my silk Versace PJ's, crawl into a pile of my custom Pendleton blankets, but right when I close my eyes the night terrors begin. Visions of teenagers in blue blazers camping outside Suit Supply waiting for the next drop. Rubinacci scarves going for fifteen times their resale value on eBay. Kids sitting at home knitting their own fake Cucinelli sweaters. I don’t know exactly when it’s going to hit, but the storm is brewing. The very same people that once spent their days worshipping the high streetwear gods of Supreme and Jeff Staple, are beginning to find their new idols in menswear. They’re trading in their box logos for knit ties, their camp caps for Borsalinos, their Nike SB’s for double monks. Make no mistake about it, menswear is becoming the new streetwear.
There was a time when streetwear was made by skateboarders for skateboarders. While the mass market thought skaters spent all their time huffing paint and eating pizza rolls, smaller labels understood them, making clunky shoes and graphic tees so ugly that parents had to hate them—naturally kids became obsessed. Somewhere in the mid-nineties things began to shift. Thanks to Supreme, and a few other New York City based brands that have since disappeared amidst clouds of weed smoke, the streetwear we know today was born. These companies might’ve been loosely, or not not so loosely, related to skating, but what they were really peddling was an early version of hype. They were able to package the once intangible downtown New York sense of cool, produced limited runs and barely did any traditional marketing, leaving it up to their customer base to do their advertising for them. These same tactics are what keeps streetwear extremely relevant today. It often feels like the never-ending machine is actually focused on producing the feeling of hype more so than actual products in some cases. What’s even more interesting is that this same proven system is now fueling menswear.
All you have to do is take the old streetwear template, sub out New York for whatever buzz word is peaking this month (Neapolitan, Heritage, Americana, Anglo, etc.) and you have the current state of menswear.
I mean sure, it’s not like menswear ever started out small. There was a time when everyone wore a suit, and that was the norm, but we all know the tired story of how casual Friday came along and punched it in the face. For the past few decades the average man has cared more about his fantasy football team than how he looks. But recently things have taken a turn for the sartorial. We’re all too familiar with the late aughts explosion of menswear blogging that has slowly but surely made dressing, well, cool again (wishful thinking) and given rise to the importance of quality, nerding out and discovery. Yet, this past year, I’ve begun to notice menswear looking an awful lot like its step brother.
The generation that was once raised on rare streetwear is growing up, but they aren’t losing their mentality. The same people that once trolled their small little corners of the Internet, finding the most obscure items and taking photos of their “steeziest” kits hoping to get rep from a bunch of other dudes are now getting jobs and starting to wear big boy clothes, but they can’t seem to shake the all hype everything attitude. All you have to do is take the old streetwear template, sub out New York for whatever buzz word is peaking this month (Neapolitan, Heritage, Americana, Anglo, etc.) and you have the current state of menswear. The only thing is, it’s happening so much faster than it ever did for streetwear. Menswear's recent rise owes much to social media, but, like any good double-edged sword, that dependence may also be draining the life out of it.
The number of Tumblrs out there with the words "swag" and "suit" in their URL is higher than the combined total of all those kids' bank accounts. Kids are sitting at home in T-shirts and jeans (totally acceptable) reblogging pictures of Nick Wooster and Isaia jackets writing captions saying “this is how I dress.” You know who wears Isaia? Isaia employees and my dad. You know what my Dad does? He works a real job that actually requires a real suit. Menswear centric social media fiends are creating a gassed up world where a goddamn lapel pin goes for $50 on eBay. How did we get here?
The answer is accessibility. Once hard to find, double monks and soft shoulder sportcoats are now as ubiquitous as ever and this would have never happened if it wasn’t for the mass-market acceptance of #menswear. A couple years ago these items barely touched U.S. soil and then suddenly, as if overnight, the hype was right there for the taking. Oh shit, a cutaway collar linen shirt for thirty bucks? Suede tassel loafers for less than a hundred? A bright blue unstructured DB that won’t force me into child slavery? The chance to finally wear a suit and make it look as over the top as an all-over print hoodie with matching cargo pants? Hell yeah, bro, I’m there.
We're in a vicious cycle of menswear brands hopping on trends, producing lower quality clothes and selling them for cheaper all in the interest of getting a piece of the action.
And much the same way that all the normal Supreme stuff always go on sale, while all the “instacop” pieces sell out in 5 minutes, it’s always the flashiest of trends that #menswear latches onto—skinny suits, cropped pants, unblucked monks, maybe even repurposed Nike running shoes to really flex your inner only child. Whether we’re talking about streetwear or menswear, it’s really just a bunch of kids wearing things not because they want to, but because they think they should—label whores for clothes that you can’t even see the label of.
What does it all mean? It means a suit, once a benchmark for stepping into the real world, something you invested in for your first job, is now something to have right now at this very second because Daniel Craig wears suits and Daniel Craig is James Bond and James Bond gets bitches. Our never ending sources of digital inspiration make us think that wearing a suit makes you instantly cooler. And when you’re basing decisions off that you’re not doing it for yourself, but for the recognition of others. Streetwear kids did it on forums and menswear kids are doing it on Tumblr via reblogs. We're in a vicious cycle of menswear brands hopping on trends, producing lower quality clothes and selling them for cheaper all in the interest of getting a piece of the action. This is great for some people, but in the end raises a lot of difficult questions.
It takes only a few minutes to point out a brand awkwardly adjusting to all this. They have their own try too hard Tumblrs and Twitters and ad campaigns that strive for of the moment relevancy. All the while the children of the Internet are hungry (starving) and they’re busy buying up all they can for as little as they can, just trying to be a bit more dapper. As for me, I think this shit sucks, but that's the price you pay when what you love suddenly becomes bigger than just you. Regardless, you can bet your ass I just listed one of my dad’s Isaia lapel pins on eBay. I'm trying to cash in too.