Two of the best men’s stores in NYC have closed recently - BBlessing and Nom de Guerre - while pedestrian stores selling run-of-the-mill items continue to flourish. What’s to blame? The so-called “retrosexual” phenomenon. The resurgence of derby hats, flannel shirts and corduroys from your grandpappy’s days seems to have snuffed out the little creativity left in men’s design. These clothes, once worn by miners, loggers and steel workers, have ushered in an era of faux-authentic homogeneity. How many versions of chinos must there be? How many iterations of boat shoes can one make?
Meanwhile, another sartorial corpse has stirred in its grave. The costumery of the well-heeled classes who once “summered” in Newport and “wintered” in Palm Beach has expanded far beyond the walls of Ralph Lauren boutiques. New York has seen a proliferation of men’s stores catering to those who dream of second homes in Nantucket and Easthampton; the wearing of seersucker blazers and khaki shorts (with shapes of little anchors and cute fishes stitched on the garment) south of 14th street is tantamount to light treason. The mere word “preppy,” one imagines, is enough to make visions of investment banking money dance in the heads of fake-blonde, twenty- (or even thirty-) something mean girls. The second coming of Tommy Hilfiger’s outpost on Bleecker Street, where it was once shuttered due to a more enlightened public’s lack of interest in pastels, foreshadows things to come.
But men’s fashion is not just about creativity and design; it also mirrors our social trajectory. The current trend of “sameness” thus betrays a more sinister sentiment brewing at the core: an attraction to a pure, unsullied, and homogeneous past, where cultures clash instead of blend, where color divides instead of enriches, where aversion to the foreign is the norm and the unfamiliar is frowned upon.
The past described is, increasing, present. We all know that the Tea Party movement is not about being political or fighting for individual rights. It’s a white thing. And the organizations whose primary goal is to preserve the “sanctity of marriage”? It’s a straight thing. The anti-immigration cause? A color thing. (One of the purposes of resettling is to unite families. If current law fails in this regard, does it not make more sense to overhaul it, instead of ripping families apart?)
Deeply rooted in history, culture and color have played a major role in the unfolding of human events. They have cost many lives and wiped out entire civilizations. Spain’s particular “brand” of colonization in the 15th and 16th centuries, in particular, entailed the supplanting of native culture with that of Western Europe, effectively obliterating native ways of life. In short, homogeneity is a scary thing.
Back to New York City, 2011: at my desk, in a fancy office building that rises high above the ground where a highlight of my day is dressing up. The choices are getting fewer; the variations merging by the day.
Or maybe it just happened to be a bad spring/summer season for menswear, and all of this is lunatic ranting. Regardless, I don’t want to see another J. Crew store pop up.