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November 21, 2017
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Source: Frank & Oak, The Exploration Issue.
Frank and Oak Men Fashion
Image courtesy of Frank & Oak.

For women, fashion may as well be a carefully practiced sport attributed to years of enthusiastic dedication; flipping through clothing racks, mixing and matching the old with the new, and coming up with "uniquely ours" combinations is second-nature. But for the majority of men, the chore of shopping has been a domain of perpetual anxiety and boredom.

Enter a new breed of male-focused businesses that hope to score a chunk of the US$41 billion fashion e-commerce market. From the pre-packaged fashions of Smithfield Case to the perfect-fitting pants at Bonobos, these businesses are exploiting an inefficiently tapped niche, and making a pretty penny in the process. But what appears to be a fix for the male aversion to shopping might actually be a symbol of bigger cultural shifts. 

Male fashion has gone through many phases over the last few decades: head-of-the-household business suits in the '50s, bell-bottoms and bizarre patterns in the '70s, and vintage pieces mixed with cyber punk in the '90s. Then, in the early 2000s came the well-groomed metrosexual, only to be updated with the almost androgynous hipster. Men's fashion is now taking a hard turn towards statement eyewear, primary-coloured fitted jeans, and often non-functional accessories in the form of scarves and hats.

In Madrid - where men have typically leaned towards collared classics and timeless loafers - the recent shift in fashion consciousness has been noticeable. Guido Pedrelli, a 31-year-old Internet entrepreneur has seen the change on Spanish streets: "Five years ago men here didn't care so much about being trendy, per se. But now it's not just the gay men that are dressing fashion forward - it's everyone" - himself included. 

So perhaps it's not that men are becoming more fashionable, it's that they just feel more comfortable expressing themselves.

The reasons for this change are varied. One of the biggest drivers is - in all likelihood - the globalisation of fashion through media. Ethan Song, CEO and co-founder at Montreal-based Frank & Oak - a company that designs, retails and manufactures their men's looks, refreshing their offerings every month - explains: "More recently, with the rise of e-commerce and mass media, men have been more exposed to different menswear styles and clothing options, which has allowed them to further embrace fashion."

It's not an effect that's been lost on Pedrelli either, who says that he pays more attention these days to style trends on the internet, TV, Facebook, and even uses "Pinterest to look at new fashion to keep track of new things in the market." Simply, he says: "I care more."

Caring is easier when you have more money, too. Shrugs Pedrelli, when thinking about his less fashionable past: "I didn't have money then, that's the thing. Right now I have money." With today's younger generation staying single for longer, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, men like Pedrelli not only have more income to spend on themselves but, as a consequence, seem to care more about their outward appearance too. This influx of cash and style consciousness may very well be one of the common threads propelling men's new keen interest in looking more kept and on-trend. 

Or, maybe it's indicative of even larger cultural undercurrents. Mark Simpson, the English journalist credited for coining the term "metrosexual," sees a shift in the way that men view themselves and the way they wish to be viewed. According to blogger Quiet Riot Girl, Simpson explains that "men in contemporary society are now able to admit to wanting to be beautiful and to be appreciated as 'objects of desire' in a way that was previously reserved for women." He adds that, "the rise of male behaviours, practices and tastes that have been characterised as metrosexual are made possible in large part by the decline of the stigma attached to male homosexuality." The lines, according to Simpson, seem to be blurring.

Song believes these tendencies were probably there all along. "I think this change in attitude has to do with men embracing their masculine sides - having a strong sense of self, and wanting to take care of their outer appearance in order to match their inner confidence." So perhaps it's not that men are becoming more fashionable, it's that they just feel more comfortable expressing themselves. Continues Song: "Men have always wanted to look good, but there hasn't always been an easy way for them to do that." 

Source: Frank & Oak, The Exploration Issue.

And that's just where the sweet spot seems to lie. It's not just about addressing men's disinterest in shopping, but enabling them to express their growing - and acceptable, if not encouraged - desire to look good. With over 120,000 members, a waiting list to join, and a projected $6 million or more in sales by the end of its first year, it's a trend that Frank & Oak sees continuing. Observes Song: "Going forward, I see men's attitudes shifting to care more and more about personal style. As they see that it's okay to embrace and experiment with style, I'm sure more men will follow suit."

Could it be that men might get so on board with shopping that they reach the level of enthusiasm of their female counterparts? Pedrelli doesn't think so. "These days, sure, I like dressing well, but it's not an obsession - it won't be an obsession - not like it might be for women," he explains, adding: "If someone who knows more about fashion than me can provide me advice based on my interests and personal taste, it's better. I'll take it."

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