Henrietta Easton explores why male fashions, and particularly the available colours, are so limiting. She argues the case for an expansion of colours and patterns in high street menswear and compares the current availability of womenswear.
A recent viewing of University Challenge (wild night I know) saw me faced with two teams made up entirely of men (really not ok) who were dressed almost exclusively in black, charcoal and baby blue. Now, maybe University Challenge isn’t the best example of men’s fashion, but I was going to write this piece anyway, and watching this has helped to prove my point. Why isn’t menswear more colourful?
I read an article in ‘The Guardian’ recently that questioned why women’s fashion got so much more coverage than men’s. It suggested that ‘womenswear can be fabulous, gorgeous, weird, ridiculous, breathtaking, game-changing, enviable, exciting, desirable, wonderful. Menswear, on the other hand, can only be two things: weird or boring. And there’s only so much mileage you get from those two qualities.’ (Why is so little space given to Menswear, 22nd September 2014)
It seems harsh to call any clothes ‘weird’ or ‘boring’ and these are definitely the wrong words to describe menswear at the moment. But I do think it would be fair to say that men’s fashion can be less exciting and more restricting than the ever-changing options for women. This is especially true in terms of colours. Compared to rainbow coloured (sometimes literally) and heavily patterned womenswear, men’s clothing is really quite safe. In fact the clothes are usually either black, varying shades of grey or navy or muted colours such as baby blue, camel, and soft pink.
That is not to say that these colours don’t look good because in general they look sleek, stylish and suit all, which is undoubtedly why they are so popular. Yet when comparing them to womenswear, it simply doesn’t seem fair that men have to wear these colours simply because the shops that they choose to go to restrict the colours that they sell. Why do they do this? When I asked my boyfriend about why he chooses the clothes he does he said ‘well I usually look at GQ and I don’t really put that much thought into it.’ I asked him if he didn’t wear garish patterns because he thought they might be deemed ‘unmanly’ and he said ‘no but I would look stupid’ and ‘if I walked into an office wearing a flowery brocade flared suit I’d be laughed out of there!’
Does this mentality come from a fear of looking feminine or “gay”? I do not mean to say that men don’t choose these clothes because they are afraid of this as that would be unfair. But it might be fair to say that menswear designers make and sell only simply patterned and coloured clothing because they are afraid of this stereotype.
Why is it then that you have to be Harry Styles to be able to wear a flowery, flared suit? Men’s high street clothes shops should be encouraging diversity and self-expression through colour because it is attractive, shows confidence and it encourages a sense of identity. It is perhaps most noticeable when dressing for formal occasions: the women arrive in an array of colours, shapes, materials and patterns and no one looks out of place. The options for men? Well, a suit. And the colour? Black, maybe navy or dark grey. We rarely see anything other than that. Women are spoilt for choice in terms of clothes, colours and styles and yet we still worry about someone wearing the same dress as us. Think about how men feel when they all turn up wearing exactly the same.
Any one of those occasions would be made so much more exciting by increased diversity in men’s clothing and clothes brands should adhere to this. Tartan and coloured suits can look super stylish, utterly unique and extremely elegant. Harry Styles does it with ease and he doesn’t need to be the only one. Diversity of clothes and colour experimentation in particular is what makes fashion fun and what keeps it on its toes. Menswear should not be excluded from this.