Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Beanie or bobbles: why mainstream fashion editors don't understand men's style


It started with beanie hats. Or rather, it started with a column in the fashion section of The Times about beanie hats late last year. A column that typified everything that’s wrong about style journalism in the UK.

The gist of the story was that the writer had noticed with the onslaught of the cold weather, men had started to wear beanie hats. This was backed up by pictures of young chaps in said hats mugging for the camera in a satisfyingly urban location in London. A nothing piece.

But the story infuriated me – not because I particularly dislike beanies – but because it completely ignored that the real winter hat of the moment was not the beanie, but the bobble, worn by ‘himalayan scallies’ and ‘heritage’ types the country over for the last two years. Anyone with an interest in men’s fashion would have noticed this.

It may only have been a small piece but it symbolised how uninformed mainstream fashion scribes are  – and always have been – about street style outside London. If this writer, the paper’s fashion editor no less, had even bothered to leave the chummy, mwah-mwah capsule of the capital then she’d have witnessed disparate men’s fashion scenes flourishing all over the country. And, probably, the odd bobble hat.

From End Clothing in Newcastle to Eleven in Sunderland, Oi Polloi in Manchester and Weavers Door in Liverpool – British menswear has undergone a revolution in the last few years with a look coalescing around workwear, preppy, mod, casual and extreme weatherwear. And it’s been ignored in favour of fawning pieces on designers whose clothes we’ll never wear and whose reference points mean nothing to us.

Great Britain is not a big country – a trip to Manchester or Liverpool takes two hours from London, while another hour will get you to Leeds or Newcastle. But if you’re writing about men’s fashion it might as well be the size of Brazil, such is the coverage these cities receive. It’s no coincidence that the London press completely missed the advent of what would become ‘casual’ in the late 1970s and Madchester ten years later. If it wasn’t in Soho, it wasn’t happening.

A couple of year’s back, The Sunday Times Style magazine devoted a whole issue to “the new style tribes”, a mish-mash of imagined whoppers and whopperettes living some privileged  Performance-like existence in Westbourne Grove where beautiful rastas share their weed with Jemima and her oh-so-bohemian pals.

And they got away with it. They got away with it when British menswear blogs like Oneupmanship were charting the rise of workwear and the frenetic trading in brands like Façonnable on ebay. They got away with it as young men in their late teens and early-20s tried to relive the casual era of their fathers by buying T-shirts that referenced the period in their tens of thousands. They got away with it, because those who knew what was really happening had no way of contradicting those who didn’t.

This isn’t a rant about or against London by the way. The magazine is based in the city, and we consider it to be one of the greatest places on earth. The anger comes the laziness of the capital’s lifestyle journalists and the fact that actually finding stories comes a poor second to getting free clothes and going to parties you’re not invited to.

As journalism becomes increasingly badly paid and jobs only open up to those who can afford to work for free for years on end, the gap between the style press and regular men who have a real interest in fashion will just get wider and wider.

They’re not pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes.

11 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:00 am

    For winter items the the Scandinavian languages are richer than English: a soft woolen "hat" (a hat is always a HARD item in Norwegian) is a "lue" (google "norsk lue" or for Swedish "svensk mössa").

    Call it a "lue" and chill.

    @ldnhal

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a lovely comment. Most informative, too.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous12:23 pm

    Absolutely spot on
    Richard, Sheffield

    ReplyDelete
  4. You didn't mention Peggs and Son in Brighton who were selling all the sort of brands your referring about 2 years before Oi Polloi. Or American Classics and Interstate who were big on the Japanese and American workwear trend as far back as the 80's.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Chris

      Indeed, didn't mention them as was only vaguely aware of them. Pleased to give them some recognition.

      Re American Classics/Interstate – even though they're both great shops, and AC has been around for years, they specialise in American workwear (AC), whereas the likes of OP take in those brands but also Italian casual wear, outdoor wear (very north western) and mod/preppy styles. That philosophy undoubtedly comes from the north-western football look of the late 70s onwards.

      Delete
  5. My Gran once knitted me a balaclava. I was about 10 and most def' had a promising future career with the Professionals. I was also a top range marksmen with my L1A1 cap gun.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous8:32 am

    I've been saying this for years. Not specifically about bobble hats, of course, but the huge gulf between what men's fashion mags are covering and what real men with an interest in clothing are actually wearing.

    I suspect that magazines have to be seen to cover the brands that advertise and there is always going to be a disparity between those and the ones that most men buy. Few men I know buy Prada, Dior or Gucci, but those brands support magazines financially.






    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely nailed it, there, Anonymous – loads of pressure to cover these brands by advertsising departments at magazines.

      Delete
  7. Anonymous8:37 am

    Other than Umbrella, of course, where else can I find out about decent men's clothing?

    As someone already pointed out. men's mags like GQ and so on just seem to cover the brands that advertise. Brands that no man I know wears.

    As someone who wears Fred Perry, Stone Island, occasional Paul Smith, Adidas, etc (just like many other guys I know) there just seems to be a dearth of places that cover men's clothing for regular guys.

    Perhaps we need our own website?

    Here's my tip: Mr B's for Aldo does really good work shoes for around 100 quid.

    But just like football clubs pricing out young fans (who could go on to be lifelong supporters) so it seems men's mags are pricing out - and turning off - readers who may have become regular subscribers if only they'd tried harder to please readers rather than advertisers. And so the circulation figures decline.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Anon – that's a really good comment. I think we have to look away from traditional publishing toward men's clothing blogs – they're certainly an influence on Umbrella.

    Have you tried Oneupmanship, Selectism or A Continuous Lean? They all feature great clobber.

    But you're right about the advertising. In the end the magazine has to be about readers, without them no one will advertise with you. Of course, ads are important, and (almost) every magazine will help out advertisers editorially. But they should never be the primary focus.

    Good luck, and thanks for the comment.

    ReplyDelete