Let’s be honest with ourselves: We all got a bit high on fashion these past ten years.
It’s all over your Instagram feed—a (pea)cockfight of style. Dudes posing against a wall in their latest statement shirt or nursing a negroni with a five-figure watch in the shot. At first it was cool. Even thrilling. A community formed around men’s style, which we celebrate in all forms. We all went for it. So did the big fashion brands. Soon the runway reflected this shift. In a social-media culture that is 100 percent visual and democratic, quality—that intangible, onetime guarantor of style—took a back seat to visual impact, items you could ID from 50 paces. Under the banner of self-expression, loud prints and unmistakable logos proliferated. With all the Instagram photos these looks inspired, you couldn’t help but consider what was happening on the other side of the iPhone. The buddy, the wife, the assistant pressed into service to photograph a fit pic. The solitary man at a hotel bar taking shot after shot of his wrist and cocktail, letting a perfectly good drink go to waste. We laughed it off. “Doin’ it for the ’Gram,” we said with a shrug and a smirk. But it felt obligatory. We lost control. No one made note of it, but soon getting dressed became playing dressup. For whom, exactly, were we doing this? Even before the pandemic, playing dress-up was running out of steam. But as a global health crisis dislocated us from our work and social lives, it also accelerated the creeping sense that change isn’t just coming—it’s already here. And this change has as much to do with how we’re thinking about clothes as what we’re wearing. We’ve entered a new frontier of men’s style. But whether you’re a fashion fanatic, a street-style devotee, or someone who thinks wistfully of the sprezzatura era (RIP), there are still a couple inalienable truths. The first is to try not to look like a freakin’ idiot. By which I mean dressing as if you’re doing it according to someone else’s sense of what looks good, not your own. Get over that hurdle and you’re almost sorted. The second: Fashion and style are not the same thing. Fashion is what other people do; style is what you do. It’s personal. So go ahead and cover that vintage sport coat’s lapel with pins if you’re feeling it. Then throw your DIY look over a streetwear stalwart, like a vintage Bape tee. Who’s to stop you? We’re all searching for a uniform we can call our own, be it a T-shirt and jeans or a traffic-stopping ensemble. But our clothes are a reflection of who we are; they don’t turn us into someone else. Which is why clothes created by designers with a strong sense of the culture (by which I mean any culture) will always resonate deeper and longer with us than those designed by a marketing committee or conceived to trigger an algorithm. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we wear; it matters how we wear it—and how we buy it. We should expect more from our clothes, for the amount we spend on them, than five minutes of gratification or a fleeting sense of one-upmanship over our peers. Posting a fit pic on Instagram is still entirely in bounds, but you’ll be picking what you wear because of the way the clothes make you feel—not because you’re looking for likes. It’s high time we show our clothes that we, in fact, are the boss of them. Not the other way around. —Nick Sullivan