Street style has been a huge part of fashion ever since Instagram turned every square inch of tarmac on earth into a potential catwalk. Clothes today are designed to look good on the street, but also the snaps that ultimately end up all over our feeds.
A man who knows this all too well is Jonathan Daniel Pryce, who, as one of the world’s leading street style photographers, has been on the front row of this roadside fashion show for the past decade. Also known by the moniker Garçon Jon, he’s documented how menswear has changed, profiling the world’s most stylish men along the way.
His new book, Garçon Style, is a cross between a coffee table book and a menswear textbook. The beautifully-presented anthology, split across the four major fashion week cities, sees Pryce’s photography sit alongside first-person opinions from the most stylish men in the world (including one of Pryce’s hero, musician Paul Weller). There’s even a foreword from Sir Paul Smith.
Pryce started shooting at fashion weeks in 2007, while he was still taking photos of “genuine” street style around Glasgow. “At that time there was no Instagram,” he says. “So it wasn’t as self-conscious. People were dressing more to please themselves or their friends.”
By 2012, he had released his first book, 100 Beards, a project based on the bounty of facial hair that was becoming popular at the time. “Beards were really ‘in’ in 2012, they were everywhere, and Instagram was in a massive growth period.”
Pryce witnessed first-hand the flannel-shirted lumbersexual fade out of fashion to be replaced by wider, more comfortable athleisure that could be pulled off equally by both genders. “It was a cultural shift from the zeitgeist of hyper-masculine looks with the beards and the lumberjack shirts to the zeitgeist that we’re hitting at the moment, maybe we’re just coming to the end of it, of gender neutrality and fluidity.”
And then the impact of Instagram, not just on his career but also fashion as a whole. “Instagram has very drastically changed the environment. I remember around five years ago Kenzo visibly branding the front of their sweatshirts and it being very visible, while Burberry started to put its iconic plaid on the outside of the overcoat. A massive [factor in design] now is whether the item will be recognised when it’s photographed on the street outside the show.”
Pryce’s style, by contrast, is a lesson in simplicity and function. “I used to own loads of suits and I would wear them all the time, even while shooting. I wanted that to be a part of my style. But I realised that after a year of trying that it just wasn’t me. I needed more fabric to move. You’re on your knees while shooting and I’m not precious about my clothes. I want them to look worn and real. Workwear.”
He came up with a uniform to mimic the bright blue chore perennially worn by his hero, fashion photographer for The New York Times and the godfather of street style photography, Bill Cunningham.
“I just decided my life would be much simpler if I just stuck to one thing. So nearly everything I own is black or navy. And I always have wide-legged trousers. I’ve got about 15 Uniqlo trousers that I swap around. And I wear Doc Martens, a workwear jacket and then a cap or flat-cap. That’s the look.”
When it comes to the outfits of others – those he sizes up for a photo – it’s not necessarily the most flashy looks that attract him. “With clothing, it’s hard to pin down, but I would say it’s about showing a man who knows himself. I like people who understand their body type and what they want to project to the world.
“I hope people would get some sense of diversity from my work, and the book. I think you can be a guy in your fifties with a bit of a tummy and have a great personal style.”
It’s perhaps one major positive we can take from the influence of street photography on fashion. That it’s not all catwalk waifs. You can flick through work like Pryce’s and see the fresh-faced members of Youtube style show PAQ stood alongside silver-haired fashion influencer Nick Wooster, or Pryce’s hero, the 61-year-old Paul Weller. If street style is influencing the designers, it’s a good thing if the muses reflect society.
And there’s a lesson in there we can all take. Sure you can magpie from looks you see while scrolling down your Instagram feed. But at the end of the day, the clothes have to fit and work for you, tummy or no tummy.
The Four Fashion Cities of Garçon Style
“Milan is very much a city of fashion business. Suiting is their everyday wear, so you see a lot of it. This is also the country where a lot of the fabrics are made, a lot of the tailoring, and these men live that life. It’s not necessarily just fashion people. It trickles down. They have a culture where men teach their sons to consider and talk about clothing in a way that I never experienced being British.
“Also if you think about the culture of Italy, they’re a lot more extravagant than Brits as people, so you’ll see brighter colours and little pocket squares for that extra flamboyance. They pull it off perfectly and it hardly ever seems contrived.”
“In New York, you have two sides. On the one side, New York is all about forward momentum and getting things done, speed and efficiency. So you’ll see people in very practical clothes, that are both functional and look good. People who dress up will still usually wear trainers if they’re going to wear a suit at all.
The other side of it is this rebellious nature there. All of the people who felt like outsiders in the rest of America moved to New York to be themselves. They felt like middle America didn’t accept them, but New York did. So you have lots of freaks and cool people like that wearing weird and wonderful looks.
“There’s this effortlessness to the way Parisians dress, a Serge Gainsbourg style. They could just wear vintage Levi’s 501s and a loose shirt and still look amazing. And the hair is natural and wavy. Maybe it’s not been washed. It’s that sort of vibe that you get in Paris a lot more than in other cities.
They also appreciate dark colours. You see a lot of navy and black in Paris. There are so many vintage shops in Paris as well which I think has had an impact. You see vintage a lot more frequently.”
“It’s harder to pinpoint style in London, partially because I live there so I don’t see it from an outsider’s perspective, but also because there are so many different types of people. Statistically speaking, London is the most diverse city in Europe. You get so many tourists too so it’s hard to spot who’s a tourist and who actually lives here. There are just so many styles going on and in a way that kind of defines it.
If I was to define London separate to the other cities, then the fact that we have a high street that develops fast fashion in a way other cities don’t, means you see trends come and go a lot more. You could buy a fake leather jacket or dungarees cheaply and you’re only wasting 50 quid so it’s ok if you only wear them for a couple of months. That culture I don’t feel is a part of the world in Milan.”
Garçon Style by Jonathan Daniel Pryce is out now.