In recent weeks, several people whose judgement I generally trust have admitted to being hooked on ITV’s tropical dating ratings-buster, Love Island. Even The Guardian was moved to take a chin-stroking look at its social worth after everyone from Caitlin Moran to Liam Gallagher came out as fans.
I’m not sure – with the caveat that I’m clearly not the target audience for a show like this, I found it unwatchable. I obviously wasn’t expecting Our Friends In The North with better weather, but it largely seemed like an endless procession of people who’d struggle to get a job giving out leaflets, aimlessly mumbling through a series of mildly uncomfortable social encounters.
However, whatever its televisual shortcomings, Love Island indisputably succeeds as a snapshot of British fashion in 2017. A place where conformity reigns and #squad dressing is the norm. Every town, club and shop in Britain boasts at least one #squad of blokes who collectively look ‘a bit Love Island’ – an abnormally-hued, parrot-headed parade of V-shaped torsos, eye-watering trainers, shredded spray-on denim and deep v-neck muscle T-shirts.
Moving en masse, they’re a wash of beige skin tones and blurred tattoo ink, head to toe in one-size-down apparel, as though they looted Baby Gap during the 2011 riots and are still working through their ill-gotten booty.
The odd thing with this is that it seems to run counter to the modern reality of menswear – there’s never been more information available about clothes, more inspiration for new directions and more labels digitally available, yet these blokes are retreating into stag-do levels of conformism by dressing exactly like their mates. At least nobody’s putting their nicknames on the backs of their shirts.
Fashion has always been tribal, of course, but this is getting ridiculous. And once you notice it, you start seeing #squads everywhere: the physique crews that clog up Starbucks in head-to-toe Gymshark; the terrace blokes in identikit ‘massive coats and throwback trainers’; even menswear events like Pitti – where everyone really does know an enormous amount about clothes and embraces experimentation – produce a mob who all converge on the same silhouette and trimmings despite coming from all over the world.
I suspect that this conformity isn’t happening in spite of there being so much information available, but because of it. There is simply too much stuff to choose from, and with everything being put on social media for instant scrutiny, the risk of publicly screwing up is high, and real. For most people, fashion is terrifyingly vast, and unpleasantly hostile, so knowing that you can dress in a way which, at the very least, won’t get you laughed at by your immediate peer group is a primary concern.
And of course, when I stand back and look at my own wardrobe, I’m as guilty of this as anyone. You could draw up a checklist of likely fashion likes for ‘a bloke of my age who’s worked for some slightly trendy companies’ and I’d be amazed if you couldn’t nail my wardrobe. Top marks to anyone who picked out Stone Island and C.P. Company, some nice bits of army surplus and British workwear like Margaret Howell. I wear Red Wings in winter, Japanese denim, a bag from Patagonia and sweatshirts from YMC. I mean, it’s all great stuff but Jesus – what a tasteful, boring bastard.
Every single guy I know effectively dresses like this. Oh, you’ve got some of those nice limited edition New Balance? Yes, of course you have. You and every single person you know. (I’m also getting targeted Facebook adverts asking why I haven’t started putting money into a pension yet – these two things may be connected.)
This is OK though – almost all of us are hardwired to seek some validation from our peers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just remember that you’re not the free-thinking maverick you imagine – and go easy on the V-neck T-shirts which would be a good fit on a seven year old. There’s never an excuse for them.