Boys will be men

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 September, 2011, 12:00am

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A change is happening in the world of men's fashion - and it's not a passing fad. No, this is a major force that will have lasting implications. The return of classic menswear can be seen everywhere, championed this autumn-winter by the big Italian fashion houses - Zegna, Ferragamo, Armani, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Bottega Veneta.

One needs only to pick up the latest issue of GQ or Esquire to see how the look has already penetrated every level of the men's world: three-piece suits and double-breasted coats, broad lapels and wide ties, brogues and boots.

Androgynous super-slim silhouettes, painted-on pants and blouse-like button-downs are making way for a masculine look of maturity, power, authority and self-assurance - as evidenced on the runways at New York Fashion Week this month.

Among those you can thank for this revival is Tom Ford. The fashion mogul's large frame, rugged looks and impeccable sense of style have made him a modern-day icon, while his fearless approach behind the curtain translates into generously tailored suits.

And while some insiders are sticking to a theory that it's all just a passing whim, many argue that classic menswear never went away; it just took an extended break.

'While I don't believe the desire of professional men to project a sense of power and authority through their wardrobe has ever gone out of style, it does seem that younger men are embracing it in a way they haven't in at least a generation,' says Alex Daye, co-owner of Hong Kong bespoke tailoring brand Moustache.

But the one thing many fashion veterans can't quite put their finger on is the timing. Why has this revival taken place in such an influential and ubiquitous fashion?

Some would say the trend is led by alpha male characters on influential retro-inspired television hits like Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and, more recently, the BBC's The Hour, bringing back dapper double-breasted suits, sleek long coats and cocktail attire. Others argue it's our current state of affairs: the economic downturn creating a throwback effect that's part frugality for a never-out-of-style look and part respect for the greed-filled '80s.

There's a huge factor, however, that old hands will never understand: the internet, as most know, is a power to be reckoned with, one that can turn political tides and even incite revolutions. It's only natural, then, that its influence on fashion is just as great.

'This revolution is happening online, and it's beautiful,' says Arnold Wong, creator of internet lifestyle brand Colonial Goods. 'High-fashion labels, along with all the glitz and glamour derived from [them], is precisely what scares away most men from dressing well. Blogs, and specifically Tumblr, have really been at the forefront in providing coverage for many previously unknown brands and tailors.'

This, coupled with the plethora of affordable fast-fashion brands such as Zara and Uniqlo, has inspired the young and the restless to ditch their tight pants and turn back the clock to the days of Cary Grant. 'Nowadays, it's not about being a status consumer so much for people who appreciate these styles,' says Wong. 'It's more about fit, fabric and functionality.'

Indeed, the shape and contours of the classic look are broad and generous, but as some have noted, this is a style that's missed a generation. What exactly characterises this revival and resurgence of the masculine look?

'You're starting to see a lot more structure in clothing,' says Daye. 'More padding on the shoulders and chest - an almost exaggerated building up of the upper body not seen since Gordon Gekko's heyday. It is not hard to see the appeal in the type of transformation this style can enable; it's like the male version of a Chanel handbag.'

It's a good analogy, as 'classical' is a style many are starting to appreciate and it is fairly easily achieved. A suit is essential, preferably in blue or grey - double-breasts are in, but a two-button is a safer bet. 'The important thing is to build up the chest, build up the shoulders,' Daye says. 'A nice, wide lapel is not going to look out of place, and if you haven't seen it in a while, American Psycho will be a big help.'

More important is the complement to your day-in/day-out jacket-and-pants, and you should ideally stock a healthy supply of shirts and shoes. 'One [can] never have too many white or blue button-down shirts in their wardrobe,' Wong says. 'A pair of quality brown or tan leather shoes will also go a long way, whether you're wearing them casually or for a more formal event.'

And while their existence is sometimes questioned in a world of smartphones, an impressive watch is the perfect accessory, preferably a timepiece that will never detract from and only complement your carefully chosen clothes.

'You don't want an intense clock on your wrist, and you also don't want to overdose on the jewellery,' Wong says.

But the classic masculine look isn't solely limited to your wardrobe and accessories. Fashion is meant to accentuate one's own God-given looks, and without the right grooming techniques, you might as well ditch the entire ensemble and match that scraggly hair with a '90s grunge vibe.

At the same time, a revival is taking place in the world of grooming, with men clamouring for traditional methods and those skilled in the trimming ways more than happy to oblige. Gentlemen's Tonic, a London-based barbershop and grooming service, recently opened its first store in Hong Kong.

'The symbiotic relationship between fashion and hair is centuries old, yet it's oftentimes reported as an afterthought,' says Olivier Bonnefoy, owner of Gentlemen's Tonic. 'With so many interesting hair trends for this autumn, many are looking to swap out that tired short-back-and-sides for something a little more sophisticated.'

In particular, Bonnefoy offers two retro-inspired styles to complement your new, classic look. The first is the slick back, a cut that is longer on the top, shorter at the sides, and styled with a big dollop of high-shine pomade. ('Think Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack,' he says.)

The second is the classic part - Mad Men's Jon Hamm is an obvious example - which is a variation of the former, with a parting achieved through a high-quality, fine toothcomb.

The complete classic package, as it were, is one that many in the industry feel is a timeless look: offering a masculine, manly manner that's both stylish and sensible, it's a tried-and-tested approach that will never let you down, no matter what the era.

'The great thing about this tailored menswear trend is that the average male will be better dressed than before in a sensible manner,' Wong says. 'Classic menswear is akin to evolution and natural selection. Throughout the years, designers have pretty much tried everything when it comes to innovation. The styles that didn't work are eventually filtered out, and what remains is what works.'

And while some might be wary of its fad-like factor, with fashionistas heavily invested in the super-slim style sticking to their soon-to-be outdated look, those in the know offer their expert advice.

'This sort of power dressing, for lack of a better word, rarely goes away,' Daye says. 'Perhaps fashion will turn its gaze elsewhere, but a certain type of man has always wanted and will always want to wear a suit of armour.'

Fashion/grooming

Tom Ford
IFC Mall, Central
tomford.com

The re-founding father of this menswear revival, Tom Ford has generous suits and bold accessories that make his store the go-to location for the classic look.

Moustache
31 Aberdeen Street, Sheung Wan
moustachehongkong.com

Dedicated service and a team of highly skilled tailors make this bespoke suitmaker a favourite.

The Armoury
307 Pedder Building
12 Pedder Street, Central
thearmoury.com

Suits, shirts, accessories, shoes, socks, belts, bags - they do it all at this recently opened haberdashery.

Gentlemen's Tonic
The Landmark
15 Queen's Road Central
gentlemenstonic.com

Newly opened in Hong Kong, Gentlemen's Tonic is a throwback to the days of the classic shave-and-haircut, and it also offers a range of men's spa treatments.

Mandarin Barber
Mandarin Oriental Hotel,
5 Connaught Road, Central,
mandarinoriental.com

The old grooming stalwart, for decades the Mandarin Barber has kept businessmen clean-cut with a range of time-honoured methods.

Talianna Barbershop
Shop 116-117, 1/F, Melbourne Plaza,
33 Queen's Road Central,
salontalianna.com

The last prestigious barber shop of a chain which at its peak had six locations, Talianna's barbers offer traditional cuts at affordable prices.