“Fashion” used to mean to make, or shape; that is the manner and mode of things. Any etymological source can tell you such, indeed it wasn’t until the late 15th Century that the word took on connotations of a trend, or custom, and it was only in the early decades of the following century that the term came to acquire any notion of a style of dressing the body.
Complex term, complex history and now we take it for granted that Fashion, with it’s capital, refers to those complex trends and shifts in clothing patterns and forms especially at the high end of catwalk and couture. Yet men seem, frequently, to find themselves ignored and not really for any tangible reason that I can find. It’s not that they aren’t interested, I have male friends and believe me they are; it’s just that outside of magazines specifically targeting advice to men the popular concept of Fashion seems massively geared towards women. This is not to say there isn’t a massive industry that markets fashion to men, it just seems that the female equivalent enjoys a prominence her partner might only dream of.
This is especially ludicrous if one looks at the interest taken by, admittedly the upper echelons, of men throughout much of Fashion’s formative history. Courtly culture and circles often revolved around central male figures, whose dress frequently competed with that of their female counterparts. Colorful robes, laces and decorative sleeves frequently appear in visual sources from many periods and whilst certain reservations can be articulated regarding the ideals of presentation, alongside the biases of artists and patrons, there is no reason to believe that men didn’t seek to advertise their status, wealth and culture through ostentatious courtly fashions.
Legs were an especial focus for the male ideals of beauty it seems and tight, often decorated, leggings sought to display these assets to their best advantage. Many sources certainly didn’t ignore men; commenting on the attire and, often the legs, of those they described. (If you’re interested then get searching, there’s quite a lot of information online, which discusses specific fixations in more deatail.) Beautiful, courtly men did not stand as victims of ridicule; rather praise held them up as ideals of manly virtue to be emulated and admired. One must wonder whether priests and supporters of modesty were so full of praise for this ostentation however Fashion held a place in the court that seemingly refused to yield to rebuke or sumptuary legislation. Presentation was vital in such a society and men actively endeavoured to use this to their advantage; both seeing and being seen.
Why, then, the disparity now? Surely enough, things are changing. A boy in bright colors, who dyes and styles his hair and wears make up produces no quandary for me; whereas for my grandparents such sights always resulted in the question “is that how the young men are dressing nowadays?”
Quaint, but also not so. One psychologist, John Carl Flügel, identified a Great Male Renunciation in fashion in the 18th and 19th centuries centering, as the cause, the changes to masculinity that accompanied the political and economic upheavals of the period. In this rationale modesty, rationality and restraint worked to the detriment of colorful ostentatious pieces resulting in what may be dubbed the “uniform” of masculinity, which grew to resemble military attire.
It is suits; of black, grey and brown, which my grandparents are perhaps seeking, problematically, to resolve with the distinct young men who they witness on today’s streets. However men’s Fashion is subject to flux and fancy in equal measure to women’s. Concepts of masculinity have changed with time (if you need convincing then look no further than the 1960s) and will, I suspect, continue to do so hence Fashion remains one for the boys.