by Zoë Pollock
Blame the French:
The reign in France of Louis XIV, with his gloriously powdered face and wig, silk stockings of cardinal red, heels, and fine plumage of velvet, ribbons, and lace, would mark the zenith of aristocratic fashion. By the time the republicans executed Louis XVI, the flush of colors, fabrics, and accoutrements had already begun giving way to a darker, more muted palette. The Industrial Revolution changed the way people dressed, as mass-produced three-piece suits became more accessible. The bourgeois class ushered in a new paradigm where men were to be defined by their commitment to industry and work, not the elaborateness of their dress. Their sobriety was a direct rebuke of the excesses of the French aristocracy.
Prominent British psychologist J.C. Flugel, in his book, The Psychology of Clothes, called this moment the “Great Masculine Renunciation,” when men “abandoned their claim to be considered beautiful” and “henceforth aimed at being only useful.”
How little has changed:
Suits are still “universal.” Pants are de rigueur. Much of the excitement surrounding menswear has come from the fact that self-professed heterosexuals like Mordechai Rubinstein are joining in on the fun. Rubinstein likes three-piece suits and dislikes“men who are getting too pretty.” It is a way of saying, I do enjoy the occasional purple pocket square. No homo. Men can reclaim fashion while still retaining their masculinity. While most are not as explicit as Rubinstein, they are essentially speaking the same language, the language of legitimacy, power, and respectability. As David Foster Wallace might have said, this is the Standard White English of fashion.
But male jewelry is on the rise:
According to the market researchers Euromonitor, in 2005 British men bought £136m-worth of luxury jewellery; by 2010, despite the recession, this had gone up to £168m. The greatest increase was not in safely conservative watches, either, but bracelets and—yes, Hugh—necklaces.