At the beginning of the 2004 coming-of-age classic Mean Girls, the earnest protagonist Cady Heron gets led through the school cafeteria by recently made acquaintances Damian and Janis. Through the scene, the pair points out the varying cliques of the high school ecosystem. You have the cool Asians, the burnouts, the plastics, the band geeks. It’s a scene trotted out in every high school film and indeed in a lot of ways, you could say the same for every fashion week too.
You have the streetwear crew making sure everyone sees them rolling up to the show, the stylish mid-century purveyors getting snapped by Garcon Jon outside, the Carhartt WIP dwelling workwear squad shuffling around at the back.
Essentially though the moral of Mean Girls is that the way to survive is through avoiding being shoehorned into any of these factions. Instead it’s much more profitable to just take what you need from each and spin it into your own style. And so from this, we take you through each of the men’s style tribes in the fashion cafeteria, as told by the one friend from each that you want to take and make your own.
The Bomber Jacket
Streetwear is a bit of a style mongrel. A sprawling, poorly defined movement that pinches from other styles, it’s taken pieces from skatewear and hip-hop down to mid-century style and the military.
The bomber jacket is perhaps the thing that unites it all. It started life as a flight jacket worn by World War I pilots and has undergone various remodels, although the MA-1 model created exclusively for the US military by Alpha Industries is often regarded the quintessential bomber. It swapped the earlier fur collar for an elastic one that allowed more room for a parachute harness and bags of lasting cool.
From then, the bomber jacket became more and more popular on civvy street, with two breaking points – its adoption by high fashion in the late eighties and early nineties thanks to Jean-Paul Gauthier and Raf Simons, and the ‘Kanye’ effect at the beginning of this decade when the rapper wore a customised MA-1 on his Yeezus tour.
This is when streetwear truly took the bomber to its breast helped along by Alpha Industries collabs with labels like Stüssy, Bape and Comme des Garcons. The MA-1 silhouette is still the one to be seen in, the wide-cut across the chest blowing out the upper body proportions for a piece that pops whichever street you might be on. Wear it one size up with a hoodie underneath and jeans or cargo trousers down below.
Skatewear is nothing if not comfortable. It’s kind of the whole point when everything is secondary to the skateboard and that sweet, sweet tarmac. The scene grew out of California in the mid-seventies alongside surf wear and there is much crossover between the two. Both sub-cultures adopted the hoodie, the hood being particularly useful at a time when skateparks were alien and getting to most of the best places to flip an ollie involved some sort of illegal trespassing.
Logos and repping of particular skate brands and magazines showed other skaters how clued in you were. These days, if you see someone shipping a Thrasher hoodie it’s far less likely they read the magazine’s pages – they probably just saw Justin Bieber sporting one. Worn with loose, cropped jeans and Vans, a baggy hoodie is a good off-duty look, whether you queue for Palace or not.
If you’re of the opinion that no grown man should be seen with comic flames on his clothes, then many high-street brands have co-opted the logo hoodie with their own faux-logos which are far more demure. If anyone asks, just tell them you only rep the underground brands.
If you haven’t heard of techwear, no sweat, you’re not alone. In the clearest terms it takes everyday utility garments and rethinks them with high-tech fabrics to make them more breathable, water-resistant, easier to move in and comfortable. What differentiates it from the other tribes that set their stall on functional style (of which there are a few) is that techwear pitches its tent firmly in the monochrome camp.
Confused? Just imagine a ninja wearing The North Face and you’d be on the right tracks. The shape and cut of the garment is slim and tailored – a stand-out puffer jacket is no use for an incognito urban assassin. This is where the shell jacket comes into play. Cut to the hip, the shell jacket will be crafted out of a tough-as-nails, lightweight and waterproof technical fabric. It’s the armour no techwear ninja, nor yourself, can be caught without.
The North Face at Asos
Cotton Button-Down Shirt
Having originated on the campus of America’s top Ivy League universities preppy fashion (so-called because of the prep schools that supplied these universities with students) became a dominant force in menswear from the 1950s onwards. It has become a by-word for smart-casual, which goes some way to explaining the aesthetic, taking pieces from the smart category like the suit jacket and giving them a casual spin – hence the blazer.
The same rule applies to the staple piece of the look, the cotton button-down. Taking the dress shirt as its blueprint, the Oxford cotton button-down, often referred to as the Oxford shirt, is softer and thicker in construction, which in turn makes it more casual. It’s as versatile as anything you own, slotting underneath a suit if needs must, but equally at home with chino shorts. However, it really shines when alongside other preppy staples such as a pair of chinos and a collegiate sweatshirt.
Camp Collar Shirt
A current fixture among the city-dwelling, fashion elite, mid-century differs from preppy style in the way it takes its turns from the fifties costume dramas that have littered our TV screens in recent years against pieces like the cotton button-down that have remained timeless.
One strong example of this is in the short-sleeved camp collar shirt which returned big-time in 2018, the strong V-shape of the collar and the wide cut of the sleeves around the mid-bicep really playing up today’s gym-honed physiques. Current incarnations have been specifically designed to have that throwback vibe evoking peak fifties Americana.
As was the style of the era, these floaty shirts work best kept neat and trim, preferably tucked into a pair of wider-legged trousers with some dandy loafers on your feet. This is what menswear was when Hollywood glamour defined style, not the constant attention-grabbing of the catwalk and Instagram. A welcome return in our book.
Normcore was never meant to be taken seriously. A playful portmanteau of ‘normal’ and ‘hardcore’, it’s main message was to avoid standing out stylistically to such an extent that you kind of stand out as a consequence. The main characters of nineties sitcom Seinfeld were resurrected as the four apostles of the tribe, a near two decades after that show left our screens. The three tenets of normcore were made plain and clear – thou shalt tuck your shirt in, thou shalt wear chunky dad trainers and thou shalt tie it all together with a pair of faded, loose and oh-so-comfy light wash jeans.
It all sounded like hipster nonsense five years ago, but the healthy dose of nineties style makes normcore imperiously on-trend at the moment. Between the chunky trainers and the light wash jeans, it’s the denim that looks set to last longer. They provide a casual contrast against a darker tee up top while ably combining with lighter shades like beige and grey, too. And worn in the proper normcore manner they’re as relaxed and easy-going as Sunday morning brunch.
Camping chic, Mountain glam, hiking vogue – whatever way you put it, gorpcore firmly puts the great outdoors inside your wardrobe. With the fashion pack seduced by technical, eco-conscious brands like Patagonia, Columbia, and The North Face, key pieces include windbreakers or cargo trousers but the real jewel in the gorpcore crown is the hiking boot.
The influential street-style set has taken it under their wing as have high fashion brands like Gucci and Off-White. The best looking ones, however, remain under the ownership of those brands that have perfected the style over a number of years like Danner and Sorel (Moncler, too, if you have the cash), which offer the kind of rustic functionally you just can’t copy. Trouser wise you want to pair them with something hardwearing and slim. Airy, floaty wide-legged trousers are a firm no-no on this hike.
Rock and roll’s love affair with the leather jacket started in dribs and drabs through the fifties and sixties, briefly appearing on the shoulders of both The Beatles and Elvis Presley. It was in the seventies though when things started to get proper steamy. It was the era of punk, and four skinny lads from Queens, New York who popularised what has become the archetypal rock and roll outfit. Ripped jeans, faded band tee, and that tight leather jacket – no one did it better than the Ramones.
You can add a pair of Chelsea boots and a camp collar shirt to that ageless equation – look to Arctic Monkey’s frontman Alex Turner for a killer modern interpretation – but the formula remains to this day. The jacket should be lightweight and cut close to the body like it did on Joey. A high-quality, full grain leather jacket will be stiff at first so will need wearing in before it’s soft enough to jump around the stage in.
If you thought the fashion world was all about outrageous garms and highfalutin clobber, think again. Some of the most prominent style tribes at the moment are a direct antithesis to this preconception. Take workwear for example. The current style is inspired by the uniforms worn by manual labourers through the 20th century, and some of the key brands on the scene at the moment, like Dickies and Carhartt, started out in this way.
Warmth, ease of wear and durability are all key components of the workwear outfit. Beanie hats, heavy boots, donkey jackets and corduroy trousers all have a place in the workers’ hall of fame. But the true all-star is the overshirt. Bridging the gap between winter and summer, this is maybe the ultimate layering piece, slotting over a tee in warm weather or between your knit and winter coat in the cold.
The cut is a whole lot roomier than the cotton button-down which means it looks great in contrast with some slim jeans. Its unfussy demeanour also makes it safer to take a risk on a popping colour (mustard, primary checks) – just make sure your jumper or tee underneath offsets it with a neutral shade.
If one thing sets the men of this generation apart from the ones before then it’s got to be the gym. We’re now at the stage where meeting someone without some sort of gym membership is rarer than grabbing a free squat rack in your post-office workout. And with this shift has come the rise of athleisure, clothes to wear to the gym but also in between when you can’t be arsed to shift out of your sloppy sweats or turn off Netflix.
In colder climes, the jogger (or sweatpant) is a staple of the workout look. While clambering into work in the baggier versions of just a decade ago were a sure fire way of getting the sack, the modern athleisure jogger takes on a smarter approach, with a taper at the leg and a fine-gauge cotton construction that won’t sag at the knees. Make your pair navy or black and you might just avoid the beady eye of your boss.
Mod fashion has seen a fair few competing subcultures crash and burn during their half a century embedded in menswear, from the zoot-suited Teddy Boys to the frilly blouse-wearing New Romantics. This is rooted in what mod style is, an essentially relaxed but smart style kept timeless by the evergreen nature of the pieces in its uniform: long-sleeve polo with the buttons done up, bold Harrington jacket smartly tucked over the top, slim trousers and of course, the ever-smart, always reliable penny loafer.
It’s the latter which has really been able to transcend the subculture. The penny loafer wouldn’t look out of place in any of the other smarter menswear tribes on this list, from the Preps to the Rockers. They look best in contemporary looks with a pair of slim turned up jeans or shorts in the summer, minus the socks so you can just slip them on and off at will. Do bear in mind though that because of the cut of the shoe at the heel and the fact they’re made out of leather, the first few wears of a new pair are best with socks. Bleeding ankles are never a good look.