The Mag Mile Menswear Minute

Seven escalators up: MENSWEAR: End of the line. It seemed then as though a foggy breeze blew through the department store, but no, that could not be possible.

I was on a semiotic journey to the heart of modern Midwest menswear (as to the source of the Blue Nile, a river whose waters I could taste downstream in the thrift stores); I weaved through the gilded strip of clothiers on Michigan Avenue. I was disguised as a customer (hidden behind a mustache, severity of aspect, a polyester outfit) though I had no desire to buy or even wear the clothes I saw. Brooks Brothers, Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, Express, Banana Republic, The North Face, Bloomingdale, The Men’s Warehouse, H&M, Ralph Lauren, Macy’s. I drew their fabrics to my nose.20150916_145037

Many are the threads of text in the textile of 2015 haberdashery; let us first look into the image of the clothes, before clothing them in the wet shirt of their world.

What were these modern clothes?

Suits, ties, dress shirts, casual shirts, t-shirts, distressed jeans and colored chinos, leather jackets, faux fur hooded down-filled coats, hoodies, cable knit sweaters. Banded collar shirts (as seen in the 1990s office) are back at Abercrombie and H&M, but at least now they can be ironic or post-ironic. Haberdashers agree on cotton; I did not notice any acrylic or polyester. I did not look at shoes.

What colors and prints are stores trying to sell men these days?

After a long “Summer of Stripes” where America was wearing stripes, the fall brings a couple white t-shirts with black stripes, but few other stripes. I did spot some paisley, floral print and even a polka dot sweater at H&M (polka dots are a surprisingly very rare men’s print). For men it will almost have to be plaid.

Perhaps it is a lingering lighthearted plume of summer that floods these stores with so many gingham plaid shirts? And in a rainbow of hard, vibrant colors. Men: rest assured it is totally mainstream to wear your purple gingham plaid shirt to a dinner out.

White, black, and blue tartan plaid lumberjack shirts were also general, in an omnipresent signature 2015 phthalo blue. A contemporary man also wears bright visibility orange — if you trust the opinion of Ralph Lauren, America’s top name in baggy shirts. He’s got about a million $400 orange cable knit cashmere sweaters to sell you.

Speaking of old man Ralph Lauren, I noted his big oxford shirts (fabric flaps in the pits like bat wings) shifting into a new, brighter, almost neon color palette. No vintage Lauren shirts have these colors; in fact they evoke the vivid color plaids (like bright yellow) of Chaps and Club Room, two cheap knock-off brands. I guess the modern office is ablaze in psychedelic madras plaids from freshly civilized parts of the spectrum.

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Where were the clothes made?

Modern clothes are made where people will accept the smallest possible wage. Almost all the clothes I saw were made in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, or Indonesia. The free trade dreams of the ’90s New Economy walk the Earth.

How much did the clothes cost?

When I checked a price, I thankfully did not have a mouthful of coffee to spit-take over the rack of $350 coats. Button down shirts cost $70 – $125. Sweaters $200-$500. Given how seemingly cheap the production costs are (for example, made with cotton in China at $1 an hour, the physical part of the shirts should be almost a free, self-generating miracle), does the price of these clothes seem inflated?


I guess Brooks Brothers or Michael Kors takes the money they save via globalized production and shine their clothing with extra mythology (infused like a syringe of flavor juice into a turkey before deep frying), deepening the object with management and marketing, Gold Coast retail space, copy writing (exactly selected words for the little book with your sweater, the little spell book), ultra-contemporary signal encoding made by experts of modernity in Manhattan or L.A. (post-modern places where “the present” elsewhere is already the recent past).

The magic shopping atmosphere also massages emotions and attitudes into the clothing via clouds of Polo scent cologne, black and white photographs of Jack Nicholson and Robert Redford (this is you: wildly rich, accomplished, middle-aged, hot actress wife in one hand, cigarette in the other), woody environs. It takes one thing to make a shirt, and another to make that shirt mean something. These new clothes have a destiny (in principle, anyway) to graduate off into the world, and live on the bodies of the pedigreed class and culture of people that also wear (and thus can read / decode) such contemporary clothes.

Men are buying the text (the shirt), but are really paying for the context (how it fits in the modern world, which gives mouth to the shirt to speak its message). They’re paying for how their shirts will look next to last season’s shirt, they’re paying for a sense of confidence (as sturdy as a good brand) in knowing themselves in the newly minted context of the present. A bourgeois man pays $125 for a shirt to cover over and decorate his chest because he’s also buying a sense of premium identity (utterly acceptable, conventional clothes with a novel wisp of modernity).

The high price is also part of the point. Money gates off the world of new clothes. Not every man spends to live in 2015 clothing prints and labels. It is an elite world, but it is also democratic: the gate opens by money. Anyone can buy their way in. It is the straight world. You too can enjoy acceptance; it’s for sale on Michigan Avenue with all the safety and taste modern conformity can afford.


Chicago Winter Insider Style Trends

What are all those dandy Chicagoans wearing indoors this winter? I asked it to a local straight man who passes anonymously as a Fashion Expert. Sober commentary ensues.

What’s cool these days?

The 19-teens boxer haircut
and old time-y haircuts on men in general. I went to New York in 2012 and everybody’s hair was slicked back. Now its developed into this full-fledged: shaved on the sides, slicked back, and terminating in a little floppy thing in the back. You see a lot of that around. Its partially because of Mad Men, but now they’re going further into the past.

Mesh kind of blew up over the past couple of summers. The summer before last it got pretty popular but last summer it was huge. A lot of women were dying their hair platinum blonde and they’d wear black clothes and a lot of mesh or other translucent material, and they’d wear some kind of pearl or silver medallion. Pretty simple, sort of chic. People want a summer look but also to keep it a little bit serious. People have to be serious in the summer as well.

Sea punk hair dos have made their way firmly into the mainstream. Sea punk? It’s an internet dance phenomenon with kind of a loose look. It’s been around on the periphery. And then it started getting popular, with people dying their hair so light blue its almost gray or a seafoam green pastel color.

Now you see it, people will have this style of hair but on top of more normal, straight-forward clothes. So it looks out of place. They’re doing the hair sea punk but nothing else. Now even little kids do it.

I notice people are favoring a slimmer more work / woodsman-type boot this winter season– a hefty boot but one that looks old-fashioned, more sleek and with thinner material. They don’t want to have huge boots.

There’s certain type of leather jacket, Burman’s, that’s popular, with planes of leathers that wrap around to form sharp angled shoulders, and elastic around the waist so it’s form-fitting. They’re mostly for women, but men wear them too. People adorn them with all sorts of metallic things. Adornment is in. Lots of people are wearing jewelry, too, like gold chains.

People from different walks of life have started embracing a bun up on top.

Like Joakim Noah?

That’s pretty mainstream. And then you’ve got people on the periphery doing the same thing. You see all kinds of buns.

Buns are on the up and up moreso than ponytails?

Yeah, ponytails are reviled. They still have the connotation of like when people first started wearing mustaches, like “Really, you’re gonna wear a mustache? You think you’re Tom Selleck?” Or call it a porn stache. Now people are more used to it.

Ponytails still haven’t worked their way back in. In peoples’ minds they’re still for nerds or creepy guys. I think that people are wearing buns to avoid wearing ponytails. We’ll see if this bun stuff lasts into this summer.

What’s up with dub step fashion?

It’s pretty boring. The women all dress pretty sporty, like a more party version of jogging shorts and some kind of crop top or something, then big socks with stripes. They’re walking around in that in the cold.

The guys run the gamut. There are guys that look hippified, there are guys that dress in more of an urban hip hop style. There’s a certain type of EDM show where everyone wears white and they get this color juice splashed all over them.

What’s coming up next?

Well, there’s that whole norm-core movement, which I’m against. I think it might just be an invention of some clothes companies.

Norm core? It’s like the costuming on Seinfeld. It’s where people dress in super normal and baggy and drab clothing to take the emphasis off of their clothes, they say, and to put it back on their personality. I think it’s something that Gap came up with.

To sell more baggy clothes? “We’ve got to figure out a way to sell these baggy clothes …”

I saw an advertisement that said “Dress normal.” So that’s been a thing.

I have a prediction about a new style that’s going to emerge as a sort of radical reaction to that, where people will start dressing in a Yuppie way, but in a cartoonish way so that it can’t be misconstrued for the real thing. Like maybe pleated khaki shorts, golf type short sleeve polo shirt tucked in, braided leather belt, and maybe as far as fake bluetooth and wrap-around sunglasses.

I think it might actually happen. I’ve seen a few early examples of that. It might be emerging.

Next Season’s Fashionable Mammals

Its almost next season: when this season’s mammals just won’t do. People are going to be talking about cool mammals then as now. Which mammals will they be buzzing about?

Here are my predictions for new mammals making waves in 2015–

— Cute miniature animals are ever in vogue. In 2015, I like the Guatemalan Gray Fox and the Indian Miniature Spotted Deer.Indian Mouse Deer Also don’t be surprised to hear about dark horse large animals like the Malabar Giant Squirrel and the Giant River Otter.

— My pick for new cat in popular fashion is the jaguarundi

— I’m guessing there will be a minor video game or cartoon character in the form of either an aardwolf or fanged deer.

— My prediction for most popular new fur is the pelt of the raccoon dog

— AND FINALLY my pick for the most fashionable mammal of next season is the pacarana, a large rodent that hangs in packs of four in the Amazonian night. We’re going to love them!