Once again, H&M strikes genius. The company has declared itself the boss of men, telling them what to wear, and selling it to them. This may not seem like anything new—all marketing tells us what we need to buy—but the grammatically irreverent “H&M Man Modern Classic” campaign has taken the tricks and seduction out of the sales pitch. The website has a section simply called “How to Dress.” If you tried to tell a woman how to dress, instead of saying “a teal sweater would really bring out your eyes,” she would curse you out, at the very least.
The difference is that men, generally, want help, and recognize that they need it. Even men who like to get dressed up tend to seek approval before leaving the house. There was a nightly ritual in my family, which involved my father (a natty dresser indeed) picking out a suit, shirt, and tie for the next day, and hanging them up for inspection, after contemplating the ensemble for a while. My mother would take a look, and sometimes ask him questions such as, “What color do you think this is?” When I got older, I would occasionally join in, “What were you thinking, really?” I would scoff. But while I may have the advantage of not being completely colorblind, I have to say, the suit is a complicated thing.
When a woman needs to dress for something formal—work, a funeral, or tea with the Queen—she can generally fake it with thrift store clothes and knock-offs, if she has a decent eye. Can men do the same? Where do they go to learn how many centimeters wide their lapels should be, or how shiny the tie? And what about those funny little socks they wear—should they match your handbag?
Suit sellers have tried to ease the anxiety of the outfit-building process before. Men’s Wearhouse has an online shopping feature that allows men to take it one step at a time. First, the poor guy can choose an occasion from a list of options, which does not include tea with the Queen—just dreaded obligations like “job interview” and “wedding.” For the former, there are a few different approaches, based on what field you’re in. For example, if you’re trying to get a job in accounting, you might want to stick with the nerdface approach, or as they call it, “traditional.” But if you’re up for a position in a design firm, you could show a little flair, a little pizzazz. This is the “creative” section. The difference seems to be that nerdface is only allowed to wear white shirts and three-piece suits in gray wool, while hipster design guy gets to express his inner badass with a scandalous taupe suit and blue shirt. Oh man, I am so sorry.
H&M’s new line has updated this approach by simultaneously dumbing it down (“here are the three kinds of collars you can chose from”) and allowing guys to feel like they have their own fashion sense. In short, H&M is every young guy’s wife—she knows he needs a suit for a special occasion or for work, but she wants her man to be hip, no matter what the occasion. H&M directs him to a trendily sleek silhouette—narrow jackets button up high on the chest and are paired with skinny pants, a wide tie, and a stretchy shirt. This may sound outlandish, and it can be, but for the most part, they have stuck with crisp, classic pinstripes or solids. Men may want to go elsewhere for the shirts and ties if they fear they are showing a bit too much flair. Suits cost about $249, while at Men’s Wearhouse they range from about $199 to $599. We have to assume that Men’s Wearhouse is a wiser option—better quality, longer lasting, and less likely to be blatantly out of style in five minutes. But, on the other hand, what are you, some kind of nerdface?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 11, 2005