The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
This year’s Met Gala theme was on the idea of “camp,” which feels appropriate for menswear’s current trajectory.
It’s difficult to imagine today, but not so long ago plenty of guys would balk at the idea of wearing bulbous sneakers. I’m thinking back to around four years ago, when the minimalist luxury sneaker movement was in full flight. If you didn’t own a pair of Common Projects, you no doubt had some variation by a brand such as Axel Arigato or GREATS, or a Stan Smith reissue at the very least. “Clean” was the word, but “clean,” as the late Gary Warnett once said, was basically a synonym for boring.
If I imagine an about town young professional from back then, I picture a dude in a slim-fit knit by a Scandinavian brand, the hem of his A.P.C. jeans turned up so they’re caressing the top line of his ice-white Common Projects Achilles, the sneakers’ signature gold number stamp glinting in the sun and catching the eye of his fellow menswear aficionados.
It’s hard to pinpoint when sneakers started to go rogue, but Raf Simons’ adidas Ozweego sticks out. In 2016, the dad shoe revival was already happening on some level thanks to New Balance’s 990v4, but the Ozweego felt like the first outré design to really grab mainstream attention, laying the groundwork for what was to come.
The Ozweego wasn’t an immediate hit when the Belgian designer put it out in 2013, sometimes ending up on sale racks, but by about 2017, the sneaker had started to generate hype thanks to fresh colorways such as “Night Marine.” For those taking a chance on the model, the fact the Ozweegos were comically gaudy was fine; there was an almost heretical thrill in wearing them after the Common Projects-led status quo.
If the Ozweego was the final boss in a video game, the Balenciaga Triple S was a hidden bonus character that made it seem tame by comparison. When we received our first Triple S sample shipment here at Highsnobiety HQ, we had someone actually phone the company to check the sneakers were supposed to be as wrecked as they were. By this point, all bets were off. The likes of YEEZY had started to roll out chunky sneakers and the household sportswear brands followed.
Clothing had also started to get louder, with brands like Nautica and GUESS making odd bedfellows with maximalist designers such as Demna Gvasalia (Vetements, Balenciaga) and Alessandro Michele (Gucci). The dam had burst and minimalism was drowned in a sea of irony and logomania.
That some saw it all as a big joke was part of the fun. Perceived bad taste became a badge of honor — at least in the simplistic retelling. At the same time, world-class young designers including hardware-centric multidisciplinarians Samuel Ross (A-COLD-WALL*) and Matthew Williams (1017 ALYX 9SM) were making a name for themselves. A guy by the name of Virgil Abloh was also making waves.
For the most part, things have continued in this vein. Of course, there’s still heat coming out of Scandinavia and you’ll always have smaller trends, but it feels like menswear is entering a new phase, one that takes the eccentricity of recent years and parlays it into something altogether more feminine.
Sies Marjan’s Sander Lak is an example of a designer who has made strides in the menswear market by embracing vivid colors and unorthodox silhouettes. In a recent interview with GQ, Lak said, “Men are also really reacting to all [my] extreme pieces — like the pink fur jackets or the super-bright purple pants, which sold out immediately. And these are straight guys who are kind of trying to figure out who they are as men. And because in the #MeToo movement, men are sort of confused — straight men are sort of confused about who they are, what they are, and how they stand — the solution, maybe, is wearing a pink fur jacket because that shows another side.”
Later in the interview, he continued, “There are so many of these guys that are so masculine — it’s so clear who they are as a man — and somehow this expression of putting clothes on themselves makes them appear to be more masculine, more attractive. Because they don’t give a fuck. I think there’s something really great about that. And that wasn’t the case five years ago.”
Lak’s words are reminiscent of when Virgil Abloh claimed he felt “somehow empowered” wearing one of his own Louis Vuitton harnesses — the leather harness being an item that has long been a staple of the gay leather scene. Perhaps that’s how Kanye West felt while wearing a kilt. Or Kid Cudi in a crop top.
And if you’re the one making the clothes, knowing you have an audience receptive to new ideas makes things more exciting. “When we’re exploring more feminine cuts, feminine fabrics for men, I think a lot of new things happen for us that are really interesting visually,” said Our Legacy’s Jockum Hallin of his brand’s latest Spring collection.
The chunky sneakers that once seemed so shocking now feel pretty humdrum. Emboldened by the trends of the last few years, guys want something more outrageous, and they’re not scared to mix things up.
That could mean Tabi boots or something else with a high heel. Or a shirt with flames or big dumb bananas on it. How about an iridescent airport bag or a purse? The more colorful, the better. That young professional we mentioned earlier? He’s probably wearing pastel tie-dye to the office. Even Kanye West has been trying out softer color schemes, blending red, pink, and baby blue into his usual YEEZY regalia.
That’s not to say fashion’s volte-face toward loudness should be an unequivocal cause for celebration (no one needs to see any more Amiri or Philipp Plein), but for a lot of guys, the “bad taste” movement has let them discover a more adventurous, even camp side to their personality. “Camp,” of course, means different things to different people, be it decadence, glamor, vulnerability, playfulness, flamboyance, androgyny, or sexuality. Harry Styles’ outfit last night ticked every box.
It’s positive to see straight guys embrace these myriad associations through style without regard for outmoded social conventions. That’s something we wouldn’t have seen 20, maybe even 10 years ago. There’s an open-mindedness, a playfulness that can be read as a disavowal of antiquated ideals of masculinity.
Perhaps Susan Sontag, whose famous 1964 essay “Notes on Camp” inspired this year’s Gala, put it best when she wrote: “‘Camp’ is a vision of the world in terms of style — but a particular style. It is the love of the exaggerated.” Fashion, and especially streetwear, have a long way to go still, but I’ll take “exaggerated” over “clean” every time. Let’s hope we keep moving towards it.