It seems hard times have an interesting way of influencing the way we dress. In moments of strife we’ve been paradoxically more inclined to go for a smarter, often more costly look.
The severe recession that rocked the US in the early 1980s helped give rise to the iconic yuppie-era “power suit” and our present fiscal dip has brought about a renewed interest in luxury brands. When times are tough, pride dictates we show our best selves even if that means pinching at already tightened purse strings.
More interesting, however, is how the fashion-minded rebels among us express themselves in turbulent times. I’ve just returned from Florence, where I spent several days on the grounds of the historic Fortezza da Basso for the biannual spectacle of Pitti Uomo. The Italian trade fair is a serious business, where some 1100 menswear brands, from historic Neapolitan tailors to emerging Danish shoelace makers, present their wares to more than 20,000 retail buyers. It’s where deals are done but it’s also a place to see and be seen. And being seen means dressing the part.
Beyond the impressive range of typical garments shown and sold at Pitti, the fair has become something of a carnival for whimsically dressed men who frolic before an obsessive horde of photographers. From brightly coloured frock coats to woollen shawls, it seems more and more men are finding their stride with looks to make Oscar Wilde’s infamous fur stoles seem only second-tier eccentric. And yet, I find little wrong with this. It’s entertaining.
While there is a certain humour that comes from seeing our peers turned out in ways most find garish, it’s hard to deny the spirit of optimism that accompanies this bold sartorial turn that somehow defines the current moment in time. What’s also interesting is how these black-sheep looks often manage to enter the mainstream. The looks that one season seem outlandish, frequently find their ways into wardrobes the next.
So while many of today’s sartorial peacocks could easily be castigated for their quirky, attention-seeking choice of dress, I think we can all agree there’s little harm done by a man wearing a silk pajama shirt and a pair of blue jeans in public. If anything, it makes the rest of us seem a bit smarter, if not saner in these ever-challenging times.
Barrett Austin is associate editor for Monocle.