I once read an article in grad school by the feminist historian Elsa Barkley Brown, and while the lessons it imparted are only tangentially relevant here—if at all—the article’s title is surely apropos of this open missive to a once great (or at least very good) institution. It was called “What has Happened Here?” with, of course, some stuff after a colon that bears no repeating here.
In any case, the sentiment embodied in the title’s question is one I’ve been tossing about in my mind as I try to make sense of what the #menswear board has become in the last half year or so. I think it’s been in a slow decline for quite some time, but the last several months have made this more painfully evident than ever—so much so that lazy me even feels compelled to draft a Sunday morning screed about it.
Is it the sheer predictability of the board’s daily content (i.e., any photos taken by/of [this even includes grainy instagram selfies] the you-know-whos-I’m-talking-about hitting the pavement of NYC, jet setting in Europe’s finest cities, and modeling for designers they’ve now befriended. This form of post is instantaneously recognizable by the insubstantial text which accompanies it [and its inevitable reblogs] that consists of some iteration of the subject/s full and/or nicknames and perhaps an utterly self-referential phrase meant to clarify exactly how not a part of this whole thing you [yes, you] are; Vox’s cult of personality has clearly carried over from StyleForum to tumblr, as anything he posts, no matter how mundane, seems to get tagged; anything from the folks at The Armoury—but I’m ok with this because those guys are holding it down; and a declining number of nattily turned-out old Italian dudes—I still like looking at these photos)?
Is it the nakedly transparent nepotism that is the board’s motive force? I’m under no illusion that the #menswear board hasn’t always been fairly heavily influenced by some of the best and most popular menswear bloggers that really helped build the whole #menswear phenomenon itself (and I am truly grateful to them for that), but what used to be tagged were cool pictures of items of clothing, shoes, and accessories that one could turn to and be inspired by to create a personal (if mimetic) style. Now the #menswear board seems to be constipated by ‘candid’ photos of these guys and the people in their circle of friends.
Is it the emergence of a sloppy editorial policy where the same picture is tagged multiple times—did this just happen the other day when the same photo of Rainer Andreesen by Justin Chung for Ovadia & Sons appeared on the board two times in a row?
Is it the slow creep of ‘fashion’ into the board (doesn’t ‘fashion’ have its own edited board already?)? Where did the new #menswear editors come from that immediately preceded the influx of the more fashion-oriented posts? Do they work at tumblr? (This phenomenon seems slightly disconnected from the bigger issue this post is mostly about.)
Is it the overwhelming sense that the board is no longer meant to serve as inspiration to people interested in tailored men’s clothing and, to a slightly lesser extent, workwear, but as a place where the guys who show up on the board day in and day out (who happen to be among the tag’s editors and their friends—I know this because of the many times these posts get reblogged by the people featured in them assuring readers that they are in fact “homies” and roll in the same “crews,” lest, for shame, anyone think otherwise) can reference one another in an endless feedback loop and build a ‘brand’ for themselves, or, in some cases, their literal brands?
I could go on listing these rhetorical questions, but I suspect my point has been made.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not decrying the evolution of #menswear per se—I’ll be the first to say that the die-hard rule-bound traditionalists just sound like unimaginative cranks when they harangue ‘trends’ (these types are to be found more often on StyleForum than on tumblr though). Hell, I’ve been tempted to drape my comforter over my sport coat on the colder days we’ve been having around here lately. I almost bought a floppy brimmed hat from the women’s department at Nordstrom Rack (and this quite a few weeks before Pitti) but my wife wouldn’t let me. I don’t wear vests anymore, they somehow became gilets. And I’m not really against using tumblr to shore up personal commercial ventures. My complaint is centered more around how what I thought was supposed to be a fairly democratized process (aren’t the #menswear editors even supposed to be rotated out every so often?) has instead become a place for a relatively small group of bloggers to post pictures of themselves and their friends, and this hardly seems to foster the type of innovation I assume tumblr imagines its platform seeks, at least in part, to deliver.
Lest this rant be mistaken for something else, I ought to clarify that I don’t have anything against these bloggers using tumblr to construct images of themselves as icons of style, taste, and whatever else they may imagine themselves to be the arbiters of (lord knows if I was an editor my posts would be on there every day—but for the clothes, not for me *edit: tag editors are not allowed to tag their own posts), but if tumblr is going to authorize this as the direction of the #menswear tag (and I believe this was not the original intent of the tag) then I’m one person who fails to see the utility of that tag anymore. But I don’t think I’m alone either, there’s been a clear decline in the notes posts on #menswear garner over the last several months. I can only hope that this reflects a growing sense among menswear enthusiasts on tumblr that #menswear isn’t the inspirational polestar anymore, and is, in fact, probably becoming one of the last places one ought to look for a sensibility that can guide their sartorial choices.
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