How to define a gentleman’s wardrobe in 2022
Written on November 2021
Suits or jogging pants? It’s time to be more adventurous.
London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is planning a menswear exhibition with a difference in 2022. Its ground-breaking show will celebrate the power, artistry and diversity of masculine attire and appearance. Titled Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear, it will explore historical patterns in men’s fashion and shed lights on its contribution to gender and identity in the modern context.
I reflected on my own wardrobe as I read through the brief for the exhibition and thought about the halter top I have from Palomo Spain, a Madrid-based nonbinary label designed by Alejandro Gómez Palomo. It’s an exuberant piece covered in disco-style green sequins shaped in straight cutting and lined in bluish purple viscose. It cinches at the back of the neck with three silk-coated buttons. Not necessarily comfortable but since when was fashion about utility?
Except that’s exactly what men’s fashion has been about for far too long.
For many decades, menswear has been a set of canons, of disciplines and of a predictable grammar dovetailed with knowledge of technical details. After the French Revolution, the relationship between men and their outfits became a matter of perception. Men’s fashion was designed in alliance with power, education, origins and wealth. Consequently, the notion of the gentleman has been constructed by society – the accepted role of men has defined the gentlemen of their era. Menswear was all about giving roles.
The most enduring style that constitutes a gentleman is the suit and tie. Luke Derrick, a menswear designer who studied at Central Saint Martins, cultivated this formality with gradually reduced seriousness through Covid. “I was identified as ‘the suit guy’ at school but since lockdown I found myself in pyjamas every morning,” says the designer. He then introduced a pyjamas suit into his MA collection.
Loose-fit silhouettes and tailored cuts find a harmony in Derrick’s hands. Coming in two colours – black and white – his new suit reflects the soft codes of athleisure in the comfort of silky fabrics. Framed with straps on the sides, the outfit delivers a hyper-abstracted simplicity, elevated by standing collars designed to stay open.
Somewhere between casual and formal, Derrick’s post-Covid gentlemen are relaxed but proper. “It’s about finding different roles,” he says. Blending functionality into formality, Derrick provides a solution for both Zoom meetings and dinner dates. A modern gentleman is versatile – problem solved!
Jeanswear is a classic functional component of the male wardrobe. Another Central Saint Martins’ designer, Charlie Constantinou, has teamed up with Levi’s to give dead stock garments a second life. Assembling shredded denim strips with double-ended zippers, Constantinou has enhanced the performance of jeans with the ability to adjust size and shape, transforming the silhouette into flares or straight-legged – the choice is in the wearer’s hands.
Constantinou has done the same with a denim jacket by adding zippers to the shoulders, allowing it to open – the ultimate temperature-smart fashion piece.
“I hope the owner won’t get tired of it and then buy another style,” he says. The designer endorses the versatility of his garments as a small contribution to reduced consumption of fashion. Why choose two when you can have all in one? Constantinou’s gentleman is sustainable and resourceful.
What if a gentleman also wants attention? Check out Ludovic de Saint Sernin’s halter tops dazzling in Swarovski crystals – turning the space into a disco room wherever you go. The French designer debuted his eponymous brand in 2017 and established signature pieces such as eyelet briefs, silk loungewear and the cult-iconic bath towel skirts, which encouraged a remake trend on Instagram. He has propelled to the forefront a new wave of masculinity built around his ‘E-boy’ collections.
His Spring Summer 2021 collection, the second season of his ‘E-boy’ theme, was rooted in youth culture on social media. “It’s based on how, today, boys and girls create these personas and aesthetic worlds on TikTok and Instagram.” A bandeau made in belt-like leather laced up with eyelets, a tank top that wraps the body skintight and a rainbow resembled loose-fit halter top drenched in Swarovski crystals: the styles he makes emphasise a very literal sense of gentleman – a gentle man, acknowledging the tenderness of masculinity.
Ludovic’s gentlemen are perhaps more boys than men – energetic, liberated and sex-positive. They’re true to who they are, mirroring the qualities of gentlemen. However, these boys may look too much the same. They’re all young, thin and fit, which moves away from the typical toxic masculinity but does exclude many body types at the same time.
On the bright side, men’s fashions are no longer a rule to conduct nor a role to perform. It’s becoming more audacious, or as Luke Derrick puts it, more authentic. Since we are no longer divided by simply ‘he’ or ‘she’, gender rules are obsolete, resulting in an enriched spectrum of menswear.
Such diversity and progress are also part of the celebrations at V&A’s upcoming exhibition of menswear, opening in March. Menswear becomes democratised and liberated through this kind of authenticity, stepping away from the clichés of the past. The new menswear enables men to enjoy fashion in a way that was only the preserve of women for very many decades.
However, V&A doesn’t try to compare menswear to womenswear. Instead, the exhibition presents around 100 looks alongside 100 artworks, displayed thematically across three galleries – Undressed, Overdressed, and Redressed.
The historical pieces are joined by contemporary works by designers, such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Raf Simons and Alessandro Michele, plus emerging not-to-be-missed names like Harris Reed and Grace Wales Bonner. The curation includes rich examples of men’s style and showcases the prolific achievements of recent men’s fashion, opening up new possibilities for masculinity.
Through this forward-thinking perspective, I look at my uncomfortable but much-treasured halter top again and think – it’s a great time to enjoy menswear. Discomfort? Maybe it’s time for men to suffer for fashion a little bit too.