What the Hell Happened to #Menswear?
Yesterday Tumblr released its Year In Review of 2013’s most reblogged posts. One of the categories shows what’s been really popular in the menswear hashtag—and boy is it disappointing. What once used to be a genuine pulse of men’s style on the Internet has since become a digital flotsam with little worth paying attention to. For every pair of En Noir crocodile leather sweatpants, there is an atrocious waistcoat or a collection of comically ridiculous tie knots. Service-oriented posts also proved popular, like this helpful guide on how a “blogger blue” suit should fit. To put things in perspective, two years ago Tumblr’s most recognizable #menswear figures included men like Nick Wooster, Lawrence Schlossman, and Josh Peskowitz. Now, it’s a shiba inu named Bodhi.
The term “#menswear,” pronounced “hashtag menswear,” derives its name entirely from the Tumblr hashtag, and for a short time, visibly influenced how many men learned about style. Prior to that, fledgling menswear blogs and forums like Ask Andy About Clothes, SuperFuture, and StyleForum provided a place for guys to discover and discuss the finer points of clothing. There was even the fondly-remembered Men.Style.com, a seminal pre-#menswear site with a voice that discussed men’s clothing in a casual manner akin to how guys would talk about sports (it’s since been folded into GQ.com). When Tumblr went live with #menswear in 2010, it gained a following because its earliest gatekeepers shared a similar editorial perspective, and unique voices.
Among the loudest was Lawrence Schlossman, whose How To Talk To Girls At Parties juxtaposed his taste for unstructured Italian suiting and double-monkstrap shoes with vernacular gleaned from the likes of Young Jeezy and the burgeoning “hashtag rap” scene. In the past, men gleaned inspiration from rockers like Mick Jagger and The Beatles, but this younger generation was likening the instant bolt of confidence and gratification that comes from dressing well to that feeling you get when a certified banger like Drake’s “Headlines” starts playing. Brogues and bravado became synonymous, and a niche movement of admittedly nerdy guys talking about clothing on the Internet somehow foreshadowed hip-hop’s growing relevance in the fashion industry.
Tumblr, in an effort to build its fashion cred, started sending bloggers to cover New York Fashion Week in 2011. At its height, the #menswear movement popularized a few trends and brands that still define how stylish guys dress today. It was an early proponent of geezer style, advocating unconstructed suits with soft shoulders, spread collar shirts, and knit ties. One of 2012’s GQ’s Best New Menswear Designers in America, Ovadia & Sons, blew up on the Internet long before its print debut in a 2011 issue of WWD. Words like “steez,” “based,” and “dub monks” became a regular part of the men’s style conversation. So why did #menswear start to lose its luster? Two specific things happened: First, it started to become a parody of itself. Second, men’s style has become more muddled than ever.
While there are many great men’s style resources on Tumblr like Die, Workwear! and Put This On, it’s a fact that the medium is designed to favor photos over long-form expositions on pocket squares. That’s the reason street style proliferated quickly, and photographers like Justin Chung, Tommy Ton, and Liam Goslett gained hundreds of thousands of followers, leverage they could use to get hired for assignments. The street style explosion inadvertently made Internet celebrities out of industry figures, giving men like Nick Wooster an instant personal brand. Would Wooster still have been successful without his Internet cred? Absolutely. But it definitely helped bolster his career trajectory.
The problem is there will only be one Nick Wooster. Thanks to Tumblr’s image-first, context-second interface, #menswear created a well-heeled monster: The modern day peacock—a man who dresses for the Internet, not himself. As these types of men (and their Tumblrs) started taking themselves too seriously, Lawrence Schlossman and Kevin Burrows started taking the piss out of it all, courtesy of a then-anonymous Tumblr, Fxxx Yeah Menswear. They rode that notoriety into a book deal, and now Schlossman is the editor-in-chief of Four Pins, a site whose tone is very much the spiritual successor to FYM. Other prominent voices policing the #menswear blogosphere have made similar moves. Brian Trunzo of the acerbic Nice Try, Bro now owns Carson Street Clothiers, a shop whose aesthetic tends towards #menswear’s heyday: monk straps, spread collars, and unstructured sport coats.
Ultimately, #menswear’s shift in relevance has largely to do with the fact that men’s style has become all encompassing. Shops like Mr. Porter, Barneys, and Tres Bien sell experimental designs from Maison Martin Margiela and En Noir alongside Isaia suits and Thom Browne oord shirts. Meanwhile, hip-hop style icons like A$AP Rocky and Kanye West are pushing a more casual aesthetic with an emphasis on T-shirts, stacked skinny jeans, expensive designer bomber jackets, and covetable sneakers. Logo-laden, streetwear-infused clothes are having a moment on the runway, as evidenced by the popularity labels like Hood By Air and Givenchy are enjoying. American designers like Public School are giving men’s clothes an avant-garde reinterpretation. It’s a brave new world of men’s style, and its most vocal advocates are no longer on Tumblr, but have shifted back to blogs and forums like Reddit’s popular Male Fashion Advice. The basic tenets of fit and classic menswear staples aren’t going anywhere, but the idea of a “well-dressed man” is no longer just Don Draper in a suit with a perfect side part.
I’ve made the argument for why Tumblr is killing personal style before, and its 2013 Year In Review reinforces that belief. Without any promising editorial voices and distinct visions guiding what men’s style should be, the Tumblr-tariat use their reblogs to exhibit what they think it is. From this, we can learn that what’s popular is almost never what’s actually good. In a digital age where anyone can have a voice, the rise and fall of #menswear shows the value of cultivating one worth listening to.