Posts Tagged ‘menswear’

Power Dressing (part one, of hopefully two)

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Sorry for the break in posting, folks.  I am trying to organise the irons I have in the fire—but hey!  Here’s another 1,300+ word post on what I consider relevant fashion issues.  Don’t worry, some of the irons in the fire are ‘lighter’ reading options for ILS.

I briefly mentioned power dressing last week, in context of scarves as accessories.  Now, power dressing—a very formalised approach to business attire that reached a peak in the mid to late 1980s—had textbooks of sorts, one both men and one for women, written in 1975 and 1977, respectively—Dress For Success and The Woman’s Dress For Success Book, both written by John T. Molloy.  He also wrote updates for each, some 15-20 years later.  Molloy’s approach was stridently research-based, as a consultant for unnamed big name corporations he’d built up seventeen years’ worth of data on clothing (nine in women’s clothing) by the time he was writing The Woman’s Dress For Success Book.  What is amazing is that this one man and his research team were part of the small group whose work snowballed into creating the look of the yuppie and, in doing so, further embedding subconscious and conscious class divisions that affect us to this day.  Here’s the opening of Molloy’s book for ladies:

This is the most important book ever written about women’s clothes because it is based on scientific research, not on opinion.

The advice in this book will help women make substantial gains in business and in their social lives.  It should also revolutionize their clothes-buying habits.

Most American women dress for failure.  I have said that before about men, and research shows that it applies equally to women.  Women dress for failure because they make three mistakes.

  1. They let the fashion industry influence their choice of business clothes.
  2. They often still view themselves mainly as sex objects.
  3. They let their socioeconomic background influence their choice of clothing.

The only reasonable alternative is for women to let science help them choose their clothes.[i]

I’m not even going to get into the paternalistic aspects of this, because using his data and word as law is something that is present in his book for guys as well (and because they’re endless and depressing).  As Molloy says himself later on in the same chapter—

It is a stark reality that men dominate the power structure—in business, in government, in education.  I am not suggesting that women dress to impress men simply because they are men.  My advice to women is based on the same principle as my advice to men: Your clothes should move you up socially and in business, not hold you back.[ii]

So, we’re going to ignore gems like “In summer women have always worn light and brightly coloured dresses to the office.  Do this only if you wish to be or remain a secretary.”[iii] and focus instead on the sea change in professional fashion Molloy encouraged with these two sentences:

There is one firm and dramatic step women can take toward professional equality with men. They can adopt a business uniform.[iv]

Illustrations from Molloy’s The Woman’s Dress For Success Book’, 1977.

Expectations of “The Man”

Based on his own numbers, Molloy began gathering his data on influential business dress in 1960.  A generally turbulent cultural time, to say the least, there was a growing relaxed attitude among youth in regards to clothing.  “The values expressed by the business suit no longer matched those of the typical college student”[v].  Though those already firmly entrenched in the business world valued the suit and the status inherent in a good suit, the new blood was rocking bright jackets and fanciful ties in their leisure and formal wear[vi] and were most probably not making the best impressions with corporate.  In his research, showing pictures and photographs of folks in different ensembles to CEOs, Molloy was most probably finding that the older men, the decision makers, wanted suits and “authoritative” looks.

Running through guides like Molloy’s was the sharp awareness of clothing’s ability to portray the wearer as someone of and with power.  Here’s one more of his gems:

At one large corporation someone asked what I thought a woman should do if the boss sent her for coffee.  My response was, “If you have to tell your boss not to send you for coffee, you must have already told him nonverbally that you were ready to go.”

I went on to say that the problem was being approached from the wrong perspective.

Women who want to be taken seriously and who want to succeed must dress in a way that says, “I am important.  I am a business professional and don’t you dare send me for coffee!”

There were two extremely successful women in the room at the time.  Both agreed with me.  And they said the reason most young women wouldn’t succeed was because they didn’t look like they wanted to succeed.[vii]

Reinforcement through style guides

Molloy wasn’t the only one aware of this.  Armloads of guides on dressing were popping up in the mid to late 1970s as part of the reaction against the “anything goes” stylings of the 1960s and in response to the influx of professional women workers who were searching for some way to get a foot up the corporate ladder.  They ranged from articles in Newsweek and women’s mags[viii] to tomes like Elegance: A Guide to Quality Menswear by Bruce Boyer, referenced oh so nicely in the time capsule American Psycho.

You’re a clod.  It’s an excellent book.  His theory remains we shouldn’t feel restricted from wearing a sweater vest with a suit,” I say.  “Did you hear me call you a clod?”


“But doesn’t he point out that a vest shouldn’t overpower the suit?”  Van Patten offers tentatively.

“Yes . . .” I’m mildly irritated that Van Patten has done his homework but asks for advice nonetheless.  I calmly continue.  “With discrete pinstripes you should wear a subdued blue or charcoal gray vest.  A plaid suit would call for a bolder vest.”

“And remember,” McDermott adds, “with a regular vest the last button should be left undone.”

I glance sharply at McDermott.  He smiles, sips his drink and then smacks his lips, satisfied.[ix]

What began as aspirational dressing and a search for a uniform was honed through the guides into as complex a set of rules as had been followed at the turn of the century.  Limitations on colours, cut, pattern, material were the heavy skeleton a person’s business wardrobe was built on.  The rules were the rules, even if they didn’t apply to you.  Research and the guides said that glasses created a stronger sense of authority[x], so one wore “non-prescription Oliver Peoples redwood-framed glasses,”[xi] or some equivalent.

Overwhelming assimilation of style

Conveniently, changes in suit fabric manufacture were making the designer suit more accessible to the common man.  In the 1970s Italian textile industries began switching from high virgin wool content to using waste wool, creating a cheaper suit fabric that “accommodated the fashion industry whereby new collections, new ideas, new colours and new patterns are presented each season.”[xii] Between 1975 and 1985 the profits of men’s ready-to-wear increased 12%, and in the 1980’s all major designer’s houses were carrying a men’s line.[xiii]

The awareness of fashion labels that began in the 1970s (with denim, funnily enough[xiv]), the availability—or seeming availability— of the clothing, “a swing back to the political right”[xv] and a money boom that had combined with credit to make everything seem possible all mixed together in a power shake that coloured the 1980s in suits and immobile hair and brand names.  You either Were or you Weren’t.  The soft steps towards blurring the class lines were halted.  Sure, one could “cross-shop”, but the objective was still to buy clothes that “come across as upper middle class.”[xvi]

Of course, when a mass of society and fashion push one way, there will be a faction pushing against, and oh dang the things that were created to be anti-suit!  Creativity and risk-taking styles are better as retaliation, and if you look, the highs of fashion and the arts are commonly seen when one side is reacting against another.  Each group spurs the other into higher and higher caricature as they refine themselves to a pure thesis.

So, I acknowledge that other things besides power dressing were going on in the 1980’s.  And it was exactly that, combined with some more worldly affairs, that left the power suit stranded on the pedestal of caricature.

[i] The Woman’s Dress For Success Book, John T. Molloy, 1977. p. 15-16

[ii] Molloy p. 32

[iii] Molloy p. 66

[iv] Molloy p. 34

[v] Fashion and Its Social Agendas, Diana Crane, 2000. p.175


[vii] Molloy p. 26-27

[viii] “One magazine ran a piece on “power dressing.”  Another reported on how women were being advised to “dress the trip to the top.”  And a third discussed how “clothes mean business,” . . . Fashion Power, Jeanette C. Lauer, Robert H. Lauer, 1981. p. 163 & 170

[ix] American Psycho, Brett Easton Ellis, 1991. p. 154-155

[x] Molloy p. 88

[xi] Ellis p. 109

[xii] Men’s Fashion in the Twentieth Century, Maria Costantino, 1997. p. 127

[xiii] Costantino p. 121-123

[xiv] Costantino p. 111

[xv] Costantino p. 127

[xvi] Molloy p. 171

Seen about town: Dudes

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

There is not much to say about dudes except that they are.

Then/Now: The relaxed cravat

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Left:  Portrait of Daniel la Motte of Baltimore, Tomas Sully 1812-1813. Via Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Right: Menswear, 2011.  Jean Paul Gaultier.

Then/Now: Cotton & Linen Blazers

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Left: Sonny Crocket (Don Johnson) in Miami Vice, 1984-1985.

Right: Kenneth Cole New York Blazer, Macys.

Left: Sonny Crocket (Don Johnson) in Miami Vice, 1984-1985.

Right:  Tallia ORANGE Sport Coat, Macys.

What can I say, I am obsessed.

Speaking of things styled for the wangus—

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

There is a bit of discussion over H&M offering skirts with their menswear for Spring 2010.  It is true that somebody is always trying to introduce skirts to menswear and it is going to make the blogs titter every time.  What is new is that it’s not some fancy-pants (skirt) designer who’s most outré pieces have no chance of trickling down to department ready-to-wear copies.  This is H&M, which—for cities that are not Portland—is as solid a source for clothing as Target is in the ‘burbs.

That there is no (apparent) feature of these skirts that differentiates them from styles sold regularly to women doesn’t really matter.  These are Skirts For Men, racked next to skinny jeans and blazers in the men’s section.  There will be no need to wander over to Juniors or Ladies and parse a different department’s sizing system, practising legit-sounding reasons for being there.  More folks who shop in the men’s department will try them on.

If the experiment fails, whatever, the seed has been planted. Once a style permeates the department stores it never really goes away.  Less classy/hep joints will begin picking it up. The process will rev the feedback cycle until, like cargo pants and babydoll tees, skirts in the men’s section are always represented to some degree—though every couple of years you may have trouble finding a style you like since the world’s gone obsessed with something else for the season.

It’ll make your dick fall off

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

During a season when everybody is wearing body-obscuring layers and thick coats, I’m thinking about summer. Not, as you might guess, in a wistful manner, contrasting the sweltering day star to the icy dusk. Instead, I’m noticing how cold can be the great gender equaliser.

I’ve seen and heard comments on dating during winter, who can guess at the shape beneath that puffy parka (and more importantly, does it have tits?).

In the same vein, it’s generally agreed that summer is when the secondary sex characteristics come out. Bare chests, short shorts, the curve of the neck unobstructed by scarves and high collars.

Last summer and acquaintance bemoaned his inability (work and lifestyle related) to wear light summer dresses in the clinging wet heat. As someone who can and does wear skirts, I extended my sympathies—in the heat skirts win, less fabric, breeze access and more length variations to favour a wider range of legs and style.

It is a horrible bummer that general society inhibits people from wearing what they like if it goes against the local community’s opinion of what one should wear when presenting as a particular gender. Ladies have it easier, pants, in most cases, are totally okay.

Women in items that are clearly “menswear” have, for some time, in the western world, been accepted and embraced. ‘Cause “how hot is it when she’s wearing your shirt?” Acceptance hinges, of course, on using menswear to enhance one’s delicate, blushing femininity by contrast.

However. For ladies the world of fashion more widely spreads its legs. Nonetheless, the common female approach to menswear is couched in jealousy, only the rare lightbulb flickering on to realise that men’s closets are wonderful sources of plunder, or that an item could be considered “unisex” (and therefore okay). Why confine your taste and comfort to the dark months of winter?

Work it

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

With Labor Day fully come and gone and the various Fashion Weeks looming like the ghost of decades past, there is one old saw everyone can parrot: Don’t wear white (alternately, white shoes) after Labor day.  It’s a lie, like any hard and fast fashion rule—but it has totally got to be even more of a lie right now.  Three reasons:

  1. With the advent of, like, washing technology, you don’t need dark colours in the winter to cover mud stains and city soot.
  2. Neons are (still) hot stuff and white pops ’em like crazy town.
  3. Miami Vice

So, you are all like, “Wait a damn minute on the third point there” and people who know me are shaking their heads.  However, I can back that shit up and the whole point of this anyway is to talk a little about Miami Vice under the cover of Labor day and whites.

I'm still looking for a decent blazer.

Despite the candles I’ve lit and wishes I’ve made, the influences of the 80’s and 90’s are still with us.  Yes, those familiar pastels (and may I note that Miami Vice wasn’t all pastel, there were just no earth tones), though but one facet of those wild and crazy times, are still a legit chunk of our social genetic memory.  Therefore: applicable.

There is, of course, a level of personal joy in thinking of those jewel tones and beach dress whites glowing a little bit of Florida sun through the inevitable grey and rain of fall.

Sniggering is inevitable when discussing Miami Vice, though the sea change in fashion it brought still resounds today—


Yes.  Even after the first Monday in September.

We are what we’re made of

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

I was one of several folks totally panting for the menswear in Alexander McQueen’s F2009 show.  And while the clothes are made of yes and form an interesting contrast to other things we’re seeing, it was the make-up that got my brain clicking.

photo: Marcio Madeira

The red ringing beneath the eyes, set off by that winter pallor?  Absolutely villainous and surprisingly a long standing part of my eye make-up rotation.  Also totally something that most people cover up and don’t do on purpose.

In Feburary’s W, there’s a short piece on Ellis Faas, with a quote that brought it all together for me.

“Why not take the purple in a bruise and use it as an eye colour?  It’s a very natural thing to do.”

Faas, a former special effects artist with lots of bruises and cuts under her belt, calls it “Human Colours“.  I think it’s, like, a beautiful circle (though it’s probably more of a hearkening to something quite different) that on the front page there’s an image with the same under-eye red seen on McQueen’s runway.


Make-up traditionally covers up and/or distracts from that what you don’t want shown, emphasises that which you do.  In the expanding culture of coolness—where you can buy things that make it look like you spent time and pain under the tattooist’s needle or dedication in stretching your piercings—make-up like Shiner (one of the many soc-cultural gems in Spike’s Templar, Arizona) doesn’t seem too out of line.  We’re wanting to emphasise something different.

I know my paltry collection of colour, in bruised purples and blues, sallow yellows and lip tone nudes already align with the idea of “Human Colour”, despite my originally buying them for their brightness and darkness.  Now I just need to play with it more.  Nothing however, will tear me away from my red.

I really do love it