Terwedo concludes young men are wearing the clothes they buy at Len Druskin in order to "get laid." Well, duh. But when did getting laid require a salmon shirt that coordinates with your personal color palette and a $175 pair of jeans?
I walk out of Len Druskin with many more questions--and a $175 pair of jeans that I know City Pages won't let me expense.
Hanging out with Terwedo, I begin to understand the dangers of an article on men's fashion: You can say whatever you want about fashion and sound authoritative. Terwedo kept telling me, "Oh, denim is going to be hot." No wonder he likes my style--according to him jeans-and-a-T-shirt is making a huge comeback this summer.
Well, with my new pair of jeans I didn't have any anxiety about losing my summer pass to the urban dandy club. Sure, my butt looked great, but I started to worry about other things: What is progress in men's fashion? Does being able to decode the back-pocket stitching on a pair of jeans mean we're becoming not just more fashionable but also more like women? (And will that help me with women?)
To address some of these questions I call up Joel Nelson, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota who teaches a course on consumer behavior. Professor Nelson surely would give me the hard numbers I was looking for.
"Overall," he says, "women tend to spend 75 percent more than men." Challenging my intuitive sense that men are dressing better, Nelson maintains that this number hasn't changed in 30 years.
"Men are wearing highly standardized goods," Nelson explains. "A man is more likely to buy a suit 10 years ago and wear it for the next 10 years. Men tend to see it as a long-term investment, whereas women are more interested in differentiation. They're dealing with more of a disposable fashion industry and paying top dollar for an outfit that they'll wear once to a special occasion."
So the casual and sportswear explosion of the early '90s forced men to buy different kinds of clothes, but according to the good professor, we still don't "differentiate" like women. Men have always gravitated to The Uniform: Whether it's a suit and tie at the office, or khakis and a button-down in our post-cazh Fridays world, or a jean jacket with tiny punk band pins at the Entry.
"It hasn't changed," Nelson concludes, "In spite of what is heralded in GQ and other places. The interesting indicator from my point of view," he continues, "is that if you walk through Rosedale, or Ridgedale, or even the Mall of America, on average, there are many more..."
Ridgedale? Okay, the professor obviously has a handle on what's going on out in uh...where's Ridgedale again? But the downtown pretty boys aren't part of the Dockers nation. So my next call was to Tom Julian, a trend analyst for Fallon Worldwide in New York. His job is to know what the hipsters are going to be wearing before the hipsters put on their Paul Frank boxer-briefs in the morning. Julian didn't really contradict Professor Nelson's numbers. The average male, he says, dishes out between $500 and $700 a year on clothes; women spend roughly twice that. More interesting is his theory on the flow of fashion information. Men have long--and often wisely--allowed the women in their lives to dress them. Now, Julian suggests, men are letting the people who influence their wives and girlfriends dress them, too.
"Media has played a role," he says. "Take the designer-jeans revitalization: A lot of these denim labels caught on very quickly in the young women's fashion world--think Sex and the City--and immediately spilled over into the menswear world." Designer denim companies like Seven and Earl launched new men's lines after their success with women, and then women pushed their boyfriends and their brothers into places like Len Druskin. So women may be responsible for the initial push, but, according to Julian, the differences between male and female consumers are narrowing.
The expansion of our closets has followed the expansion of media outlets instructing us on what to stock them with. There are more product-oriented men's magazines, and more fashion features in mainstream publications--even the New York Times has a biannual men's clothing supplement. And then there's the proliferation of television programs in which celebrities open their homes and closets for our greater consumer envy. Women have always wanted to cop the style of a celebrity like Drew Barrymore; now it seems men want to look like Fabrizio Moretti.
Though the experts possessed a certain amount of, um, expertise, neither of them spoke to the shame my father and his father before him would feel if they found out that I'm becoming the kind of guy who notices if a well-made shirt has gauntlet buttons--and, in fact, has personal feelings about the thickness and coloration of those buttons. Outfitted in my new jeans, I headed back to Nami, where this whole journey started.
First, I approached Devin, a tall, 28-year-old model-slash-waiter to ask how he formulates his style. He's wearing a fitted Donna Karan V-neck tee with a slim pair of trousers and square-toed Prada shoes. He says he spends around $4,500 a year on clothes, buying most of his stuff at Marshall Field's, with the occasional pair of jeans or a shirt from Len Druskin or Exile. Devin echoes trend analyst Julian when he says that men are watching movies, commercials, and videos more closely to see what looks good and what doesn't. But most of all, he thinks the code of manly conduct has changed.