The Shopping Guide: How Men Are Making Their Choices By Richard Benson
It’s always a rather dreary moment when you’re looking at a designer’s new collection and someone beside you asks, “But who in the real world is ever going to wear it?” Because of course a collection isn’t just meant to be a set of wearable samples. It can also be a statement of ideas and a series of suggestions.
And yes, sometimes it can be a load of unremarkable leisurewear enlivened by two or three mad pairs of trousers that will appear in fashion stories but nowhere else, ever. And in any case, people in the real world are sometimes more adventurous than they’re given credit for. It still surprises me that the pointy, jester-toed shoe not only caught on, but has tragically remained a default suburban footwear option for what seems about 20 years.
So thinking about the interface of proper fashion and the real-world punter can seem a bit reductive and is inevitably difficult. Who is the real-world punter? The kid with the undercut and Off-White hoodie mooching about in Colette, the GQ reader buying cheap, ASOS versions of stuff that was in the last issue, or the bloke from your office who goes to Next after work twice a year to buy multipack T-shirts and thinks he’s a bit interesting because one of them is yellow or something?
We decided to risk dreariness and canvas three of our favourite buyers from London: Dean Cook at Browns, Bosse Myhr from Selfridges and Damien Paul of Matches. What do their male customers actually buy, we asked. How do they shop? Whose looks do they covet? Are designers getting it right or wrong? And just to balance it up, we also spoke to a man with shop-floor experience in two of London’s big, upmarket department stores to ask what he had learnt from observing men shopping close up – as we were hoping he’d be indiscreet, we said he could remain anonymous. This, men, is what we found.
1. OBVIOUSLY IT’S ALL ABOUT GUCCI AND SAINT LAURENT
But also, for our buyers, Vetements, Off- White and Craig Green. No big surprises then, though Myhr points out how the interest in Craig Green, with his precise, intellectual tailoring, runs counter to what men like to see in their designers. “Customers now like the idea of designers as generally creative people, who could come from any walk of life and design clothes without any formal training. It’s being a creative talent who can turn to different things that counts – Craig Green purity really contrasts with that, but he still does very well for us, and will continue to this season.”
2. MEN LOVE DOING THEIR RESEARCH
Nowadays, we all shop with a phone in our hand and do the initial browse on the website before coming into the store to inspect potential purchases, which have been grouped by sending them to the checkout page. However, men seem to do more pre-shop work. “They do a lot more research than women when they buy,” says Paul. “That’s where our editorial content and social channels come in, to help them make informed decisions.” The most common confusion is with formalwear. Modern, fashion-friendly males are “certainly very confident when buying footwear and accessories, and they do also seem quite clear on sizing when purchasing tees and sweats”, Paul says, but they’re less sure when it comes to suits and the like – most of Matches’s sizing enquiries are to do with tailoring. Our shop-floor spy is more graphic – “I have seen men in tears, literally in tears, trying to work out their wedding suit,” he says. “And it’s not the romance getting to them, it’s that they realise they haven’t got a clue about how to make a suit look good. The size is the least of their worries, and they know it. They all know they could end up looking like a bouncer in a cheap suit, but they’re not sure how to avoid it. Usually, they need a size bigger for starters.”
3. NOBODY WANTS TO BUY WORK SUITS
Again, no big surprise, but as fewer and fewer workplaces require formalwear, so the demand for the standard, cheapish, off- the-peg suit has fallen off, while made-to- measure sales have increased. Off-the-peg suits that sell well have a strong element of lifestyle and a range of complementary accessories: Tom Ford, Zegna and Armani were given honorary mentions.
4. BUT EVERYBODY LOVES A STATEMENT PIECE
“I call him Jacket Man,” says the shop- floor spy. “There are loads of them. They save up to buy that one big thing and then wear it all the time, like that’s their thing for this season. At the moment it’s probably a Gucci jacket, but you know, it could just as easily be the new Yeezy trainers or whatever. They decide what they want and then watch Instagram to see when it’s going to drop, and then go queue to get it. Manipulating all that on social media is what retail is now, really.”
At Browns, says Cook, this has become more and more important, and it’s really driven by jackets: typically, the statement purchaser will be looking to buy a jacket, trainers and one other piece. “It used to be about a toned-down, heritage feel, but that’s changed in the past couple of years to something more flamboyant. You notice that price is not a barrier – that may have something to do with people being happy to buy pieces and then sell them on.”
5. BECKS STILL HAS INFLUENCE, BUT WE SHALL NOT SEE HIS LIKE AGAIN
Of course everyone is keen to say men don’t want to just copy looks and don’t have that hero-worship thing with celebs that people used to have. However, when pushed, they will name names: Cook says it’s mainly Justin Bieber and Kanye West, Harry Styles to an extent, David Beckham for the older lot. But Myhr at Selfridges points out that, now, the influence is organised and given a structure, and specific customer bases are targeted with creatives who bring in fans. “I think sportsmen, musicians and actors have more of a vested interest in style and are often replacing models as the face of brands,” Paul says. “In many respects this has made ‘fashion’ for men more accessible.” The collaboration between Metallica and Brioni is cited by Myhr as an example. Arguably, that targeting means that the time when a single man could have a massive influence across the whole market has come to an end, and explains why no one has ever really deposed Beckham; nobody is going to, because the model is obsolete. Still, he’s had an amazing run at 20 years – the historical equivalent would have been men trying to dress like George Best in 1990.
6. THE BOYFRIEND LOOK GOES BOTH WAYS
We all know that the ladies like to raid the menswear departments, but it can work the other way as well, because in the age of the outsized hoodie, large-size womenswear can present options when the menswear is sold out. Cook at Browns says they see the occasional bloke buying womenswear, and Matches have noticed men buying women’s Vetements sweatshirts. It’s not a huge thing, but still, it’s a thing.
7. MEN ARE TIDIER THAN WOMEN
“I’ve done men’s and women’s, and when it comes to the changing rooms… You know, dropping stuff on the floor, getting marks on it, leaving litter behind them. Women make men look like OCD neat freaks,” says our shop-floor spy. “Nobody wants to be in the women’s department at 6pm on a Saturday, believe me.”
8. AND THEY’RE GENUINELY BECOMING MORE INTERESTED IN SUSTAINABILITY
“You really do get men asking about the sourcing of the materials and the carbon footprint and so on nowadays,” says Myhr. “Yes, really – ‘Where was it made?’ and ‘How was it made?’ are quite standard questions now.”
9. BIG BRANDS HAVE SORT OF SPOILED THEIR PRE-COLLECTIONS
One way that big brands have honed their offer and perhaps made it easier to shop is by focusing on the brand DNA and making sure it’s there in everything they do. That’s all very well, says Paul, but it has diminished the pre-collections. “They used to be where you’d get the perfect black trouser, a great navy peacoat and so on – those brilliant wardrobe items that every man should own,” he says. “Now the big designer brands don’t tend to do this any more, because the catwalk-show trends travel through to the pre-collections. So at Matches we’ve focused on finding great unknown designers and brands who do create these perfect wardrobe pieces.”
10. THE 2010S ARE A GOLDEN PERIOD FOR MEN’S SHOPPING
Not just because men have become more interested in fashion, which everyone says they have, but then everyone has been saying that since the 1950s. The important thing is that the rise of sportswear has made it so much easier. Five years ago, when I wrote a story about suits for 10, several buyers pointed out that big brands were pushing the Hedi Slimane skinny cut and shops felt obliged to stock it, but in reality it didn’t always sell. The problem was the men with the money to buy tended to be older, and therefore a bit too large to fit the cut. You just don’t have the same problem with the sweatshirts, blousons and souvenir jackets de nos jours. Myhr sees in some of what is called “sportswear” a whole new mode of dressing. “You have to remember, menswear is still a relatively new concept,” he says, “and men are still unsure of it, which is why they still buy so much uniform- based fashion. But the new generation of designers such as Charles Casely-Hayford, Virgil Abloh and Vetements has changed that, with clothes that remind me of the smarter ’90s skatewear, with an extra layer added. It’s not streetwear, it’s something else. It’s new.”
Taken from Issue 45 of 10 Men, FLUID UNIQUE BRAVE, on newsstands now…
Illustration Charles Jeffrey