IS THERE NOW TOO MUCH CHOICE IN HOW TO DRESS?
SARTORIAL CONFUSION IS SOMETHING WE MUST ALL FACE TODAY
My trousers are too short. Or are they too long? Oh no, hang on. I think I‘ve got it wrong. My trousers are just right. Or are they too tight? Ah, that’s it, but… don’t I look a fright? If you’re anything like me, you’ll have been somewhat flummoxed in recent times by the varying cuts and lengths of men’s trousers. How long should they be? How narrow should they be? Nobody seems to know. You’d think the optimum size of a pair of trousers would be based on the length and girth of the legs that were wearing them. Sadly, it’s not this simple.
When I was growing up, as a teenager in the noughties, you really knew where you were. Trousers were all baggy and jeans were all boot-cut. It was cool if your trousers hung over your shoes. In fact, the really cool people – of whom I was not one – had their jeans hanging so low over their shoes that the hem got frayed from dragging along the ground. When it rained, the bottom of your trousers got wet and grubby. Those were the days.
Now, we’re faced with a full spectrum of styles and fits. Some of you will no doubt be sporting trousers of a fairly full cut, rolled up several turns and flashing much sock and maybe even some leg. Others will have squeezed yourselves into trousers that end just above the ankle and that are so skinny they’re probably cutting off your circulation. I know this might seem like a wondrous period of sartorial freedom – an open and pluralistic age in which you’re free to wear whatever the hell you want and no one will bat an eyelid. But for those of us of a more conservative bent, this degree of choice is actually rather a nuisance. Yes, believe it or not, there are people in this world who like rules, traditions and structure. We don’t all want to float about at music festivals as though we’re in a socialist utopia, nor turn every last building into an open-plan, co-working space. Have you ever tried studying in a library while there’s a mother-and-baby group singing “Old MacDonald” across the one, enormous undivided room? I have. It’s f**king chaos! Any thought of trying to concentrate on your work is a pipe dream. Bring back shushing librarians, I say. Well, likewise, the world of menswear is now such a limitless free-for-all that it can be quite hard to function.
I was in Uniqlo the other day on a simple mission to buy some jeans. In fact, it turned out to be anything but simple. After an hour or so of trying on numerous pairs, all with a different fit and producing a very different look, I felt too hot, too angry and simply too confused to carry on. Head swimming with denim, I made my way quietly out of the shop and returned home. Rallying myself when I got back, I tried to clear the fog by consulting the Levi’s website – you’d be hard pressed to find a more classic brand to offer you timeless guidance on how to wear trousers, right? Wrong! Browsing the site only made things worse. Levi’s today offers you pretty much every style and cut of jeans that has ever existed – from skater to cowboy to grunger. Practically the only things missing are denim Plus fours. Even limiting your search to straight cut jeans doesn’t help because you still have the question of length. There are dozens of straight pairs modelled on the site, but they’re all worn at different lengths. Some end just above the ankle, some are worn with enormous turn-ups, some hang dead straight with no break at all, and some are worn so long that they are stacked all the way up the leg. I mean… how on earth are they supposed to be worn?
Now, at this stage you might be thinking that I’m simply an idiot. Why don’t I just read one of those jeans guides that they have up in some of the shops? Or why not check out an online guide? Indeed, we published our own just a few months ago here if you’d care to read it. Or, better still, why not just make my own decision? Do I really need someone to tell me how to do everything? Can’t I ever think for myself? …Ah, but there’s the point. I do think for myself. I do indeed. And that’s the very essence of the problem. You see, this is the issue today with having too much choice. It’s great that you can curate any look you like from the past seventy years or so – from ’50s leather jackets to oversized ‘80s sweatshirts; from floral ‘70s shirts to ‘90s haircuts; and even those chunky, goth boots and hefty keychains from the turn of the millennium. But all this freedom forces you to think and think about clothes before you can make simple purchases. Who am I? And how do I want to show this identity to the world through costume? If you’re a fairly ordinary fella, which length of trousers should you choose to convey this basic fact to the world?
Of course, I know we’ve always been able to choose how to dress. But in the past it was different; there were sartorial norms that served as a guide and also put limits on us. And, yes, they shifted over time; but they shifted fairly slowly, particularly for men. I know it’s not fashionable to want more rules, but I do. Today, choosing clothes has become as difficult as choosing something to watch on Netflix. Life is too perplexing as it is, without making it impossible just to get dressed. Give me a dress code, damn it!