American men are considered No. 1 in many categories. They’re leaders in the business sector, boasting citizenship of eight of the ten richest people in the world. When it comes to sports and today’s trending music, they reign supreme. But when it comes to fashion, do American men have something to contribute, or is it time they take the backseat and learn from the more stylish regions from around world?
Joan Kelly, a fashion strategist and fashion instructor at the Art Institute of Seattle, is confident when she says that, “None of it is right, none of it is wrong,” when addressing fashion around the world, including the United States. Rather, she encourages average men to push the limit and watch street fashion for inspiration of upcoming trends no matter where they live.
… it’s really about the quality, construction, and composition of a garment or outfit.
And that makes sense, because over the last century, men’s fashion has been greatly impacted by the everyday man. Men’s fashion dates back as far as history reaches. There have always been trends, especially among the wealthy. For the past hundred years though, men’s fashion has been largely dictated by accessibility, made up of the items every guy can find and incorporate into their daily wear.
Josh Quinn, owner of Tigertree, shares, “I think the [Charles] Eames quote, ‘The details are not the details. The details make the design,’ does a pretty good job at encapsulating men’s fashion. We might alter the width of a lapel or number of buttons on a jacket or how our jeans fit but it’s really about the quality, construction, and composition of a garment or outfit.” Over and over again, we see that philosophy appear in men’s fashion, especially in the last century.
Influence is sew in.
Today, we see a flair for a well-styled, but casual look. Of course, men occasionally dress up—we all have fancy days, but day-to-day wear is largely influenced by activity and comfort.
Other influences include time, resources, and location. On this note, Kelly says, “Styles either trickle up or trickle down. No matter where you’re from.” This means that fashion can either start at the top of society, among the wealthy, or at the bottom, among the lower class. Right now, there is quite a mix happening.
“The trickle-down is coming from the fashion hubs of Paris and Milan,” according to Kelly. “The trickle-up starts with influences from sports teams and the street.”
“In America,” Kelly shares, “trends begin on the coast—Los Angeles or New York City—and move in. Once they reach, say Kansas, they’re dead.” So, watch those coastlines for the up and coming when it comes to fashion. On the flip side, around the world, Kelly finds that, “In an urban crowd, like Milan, camel sports coat layered with long puffers and kick-ass boots [are on trend].” Men want to their clothing to say, “I’m taking on the world, but I’m dressed well.”
The English are very traditional; Italians are fashion lovers … And Americans are the original cowboys.
Europe has always been a hub for fashion-forward thinking, and Kelly highlights the idea of country club meets athleisure meets preppy as a go to ensemble for men who are setting their sights on becoming more fashionably minded. Asian inspiration is also very popular, thanks their technological advancements. “We’re seeing coats and luggage that can charge your phone,” shares Kelly, “and color is really big, as is the destroyed look.”
Matteo Perin, an Italian designer, concurs: “Japan is very fashion-forward, and also very intrigued by the history and process behind a bespoke suit handmade in Italy, for example. I find that Chinese, Russians, and Arabs tend to follow name brands. The English are very traditional; Italians are fashion lovers, enjoying the history and style that just flows naturally through their blood. And Americans are the original cowboys.”
But do the overarching trends and the closets of the elite really embrace what foreign men have to offer their American friends when it comes to sharing fashion advice?
If The Suit Fits
“American men elevate comfort above everything else. Their men’s style is much more casual than their counterparts around the world, even in the workplace,” Josh Moore, co-founder of Res Ipsa, says. “Men outside the U.S. appreciate that T-shirts and sports jerseys are not appropriate for every occasion, and they know when to take it up a notch. Foreign guys also know how to take it up a notch. Namely, wearing clothes that fit is not feminine, and you can look good on any budget.”
And that’s the key—fit. “The best, and cheapest, style upgrade for American men is to buy their actual size. Although style varies, the thing well-dressed men around the world have in common with each other is that their clothes fit their bodies,” Moore says. “Their pants are hemmed with a slight break. Their suit jackets fit flush with their shoulders. Too many American men settle for oversized shirts, suits that look like they were worn in a Talking Heads video, and trousers hems piled on top of unpolished shoes.”
But it’s not just a physical fit that is important. Perin believes a personality fit is just as important. “I think that the key point in dressing is always that things work well together, and that the outfit complements the person wearing it.”
He continues, saying that American men will best embrace their personal style “by realizing what they can or cannot wear based on their body style, skin colors, and personality—and by finding things that highlight and enhance their persona.
Seriously going to miss the way European men dress. Americans, time to step up your game.
— ❄ Sarah (but festive) ❄ (@saraheliya) December 6, 2016
“You’d be surprised by the number of people who will compliment someone who is dressing correctly for themselves.”
Threads of Fashion Around the World
In addition to Moore and Perin’s insight, I had the opportunity to interview a number of men (and some of their wives) from around the world. Here is what they have to say.
Juan, a father of two from Peru. “Fashion is an expression of art in Peru. American fashion seems to be more ruled by a few people.” On the note of certain trends, he says, “You always dress up when you go out in Peru. It doesn’t matter where you’re going. No pajamas, ever. You shower and put on deodorant any time you leave the house … some American guys can learn those lessons!”
Cory, a Navy corpsman living in Sicily, has encountered quite a bit of Italian fashion during his two years abroad. “Everything they wear here is super tight, and they’re very trendy in terms of accessories like scarves.” But it’s not just clothing that Italian men pay attention to: “They seem to really care about their hair and facial hair.”
Denise, whose husband travels extensively between London, Singapore, Paris, and San Francisco, recently accompanied him on a trip to Paris. While in France, she observed that, “in general, [foreign men] are more put together than most men I see the in the U.S. Even the Uber drivers I had would wear loafers, fitted jeans, and layer structured jackets over button-down shirts. They were all very fashionable.”
Lasse, a 35-year-old living in Copenhagen, says, “Danes love to keep it relaxed and casual. I’ve been to parties and events that would normally be formal affairs where people wear jeans and sneakers. You see lots of sweaters and scarves, too.” Lasse has also taken notice of a recent trend among the white-collar class and teenagers: “Carhartt (the blue-collar work clothes you find at Whistle Workwear in the U.S.) are very popular here in Copenhagen.”
And, due to the biking culture in the city, “There’s a lot of emphasis on proper biking clothes for each season,” Lasse says. “Everything ranging from professional bike race gear (skintight) to daily commuter wear. Everyone has backpacks, too, for their commute in.”
Christine, who currently lives in the U.S. but was born in Sweden and still has lots of family there, states: “In Scandinavia, they don’t wear sportswear out in public. That’s the first sign of a tourist. In the cities, the guys dress like GQ models. Even the casual clothes are very put together. They care a lot about presentability and finesse.” She laughs, saying, “I’m not surprised by the fact that Vikings were known for their grooming and hair styles, looking good is in the genes!”
The Final Button
Quinn sums it up perfectly when he says, “I don’t think we’re as willing to take as many risks,” when reflecting on how American men differ from their foreign friends. “We’re making strides … fashion should highlight a figure, not hide it.”
Allow fashion to be a now thing.
And that seems to be the theme when it comes to discussing what foreign guys know about fashion that American men don’t. Foreign men take time to curate the perfect outfit. They care. They’re calculated and coifed.
Kelly adds that American men can do the following when assessing their personal style and aiming to up their game:
- If your partner isn’t fashionably minded, don’t hesitate to hire a professional to help clean out your closet and do some personal shopping on your behalf. It’s okay to say, “I need help.”
- If you have clothes in your closet that are more than 18 months old, it’s time to say goodbye. “Keep it fresh,” says Kelly, “Keep it moving. If your clothes are old, you’re going to feel old.
- When looking for fashion inspiration, “Watch the street and places with a lot of people, like sports arenas, restaurants, and music venues … both rock ‘n’ roll and the symphony,” Kelly says. There, you’ll find style icons. Take note, and choose pieces to emulate who you are and what you want to represent.
Regardless of your nationality, style is personal; you do you! “Everyone can shop the look of a picture, and put a specific outfit together,” Quinn says. “But if you don’t take the time to understand why you like something, I don’t believe you’ll ever really be comfortable in it.” He encourages men to, “allow fashion to be a now thing. We’ll all look ridiculous in 30 years no matter what we are wearing today. If you like something and feel comfortable in it, now don’t be afraid to try it.”