Menswear Codes Prevails In a World of Gender-Neutral Marketing

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Image courtesy of Zegna

Australian-American business mogul and investor Rupert Murdoch, made headlines at his (fifth) wedding ceremony to Elena Zhukova when the nonagenarian was photographed pairing his suit with sneakers at his outdoor vineyard wedding.

A screenshot of Rishi Sunak’s Downing Street interview

In a non-dissimilar online debacle, embattled United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wore a pair of white Adidas Samba trainers with slim-fit navy slacks and a tailored white shirt during a Downing Street interview to discuss his tax policies. The online uproar caused the Prime Minister to issue a somewhat satirical “heartfelt apology” to the “Adidas Samba community”. Rishi Sunak and Rupert Murdoch’s choice of footwear were part of an online discourse regarding society’s perception of how a man of prestige and power should dress. Their sartorial choices in “contextual dressing” or rather, their aptitude to accurately dress for an occasion (albeit from below the ankle) called into question the rigidity of menswear’s rules.

Are Menswear-Only Brands Still Relevant?

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A female model dressed in a menswear ensemble from Berluti’s autumn/winter 2017 collection

Ermenegildo Zegna, Berluti, Brioni, Canali, and Kris Van Assche are a few examples of luxury fashion brands that cater to a male-centric clientele. However, even Berluti has begun offering pieces for a diverse range of buyers. In 2016 under the former creative direction of Haider Ackermann, female models wore menswear pieces for the brand’s autumn/winter 2017 collection. Haider Ackermann then told the South China Morning Post that he “wants women to feel at home in his menswear designs” without the notion of menswear or womenswear “dictating their choices”. More recently, LVMH’s Berluti was tapped to design the official uniforms for team France at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Opening Ceremonies will see both male and female French athletes and coaches clad in Berluti tuxedos and shoes, all custom-tailored to immortalise the occasion.

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Image courtesy of Berluti

Therefore as we see a precedent of luxury fashion houses like Gucci and Burberry merging their menswear and womenswear shows while maisons like Prada continue to balance the intersectionality of their men’s and women’s extensions while keeping it in their own separate factions, are the notion of menswear-only brands still relevant? Simply put, the answer is yes. While the fashion industry approaches gender-neutral marketing through gender ambiguous-collections, menswear still maintains a stronghold, and here’s why.

Read More: The Importance of The Olympic Team Uniforms and The Designers Who Make Them

The Ubiquitous Power Of The Suit

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A modern iteration of the suit from Zegna’s Summer 2024 Fashion Show (Look 14)

The codification of traditional menswear codes still exists, be it in the context of a corporate setting, a boardroom meeting, or a formal event. While the notion of “menswear” may be archaic to some, the institutions that codify menswear continue to exist and as a result, it maintains a presence in the fashion industry. To put it simply, the suit is a timeless ensemble that will never go out of style. While iterations of it may come and go, a suit is varied enough (from double-breasted to slim fit, black tie to shawl lapel, morning suit to business and wedding suit) that it defies season and occasion. Menswear houses have honed in on the three rules of menswear, particularly in suiting which are — quality fabrics, design craftsmanship, and bespoke tailoring.

Savile Row uses time-honored techniques in creating their made-to-measure menswear pieces.

The United Kingdom is arguably the largest purveyor of traditional menswear codes and London’s Savile Row is synonymous with this sartorial heritage. Savile Row has built a legacy by offering personalised suiting services from made-to-measure suits, monogrammed shirts, personalised ties and engravable cufflinks. They are regarded as a global institution of menswear and as such are known to train generations of skilled tailors to deliver the most meticulous design details of pockets, lining, and seams alongside types of suits from dinner suits, morning coats, and the three-piece suit.

Read More: The suit is alive and well: Javin They represents the future of bespoke tailoring in Singapore

Unparalleled Craftsmanship

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The Tessitura Ubertino weaving mill

While distinctive design aesthetics — Thom Browne’s avant-garde approach, Brioni’s timeless elegance, or Canali’s take on modern sophistication — are one thing, it is premium materials, exceptional craftsmanship and quality that set these brands apart. Case in point, Zegna, who owns shares in various Italian-made fabric manufacturing companies. Be it the Tessitura di Novara’s skills in specialised in high-quality silk weaving; the Pettinatura di Veronne, a producer of superfine wools and cashmere; Dondi, a leader in manufacturing high-quality jersey fabrics for men and women and the Tessitura Ubertino, a weaving mill that creates premium quality fabrics, such as tweed and jacquard. From raw material selection to finishing, the Zegna Group is now a leader in providing the world’s finest textiles and technical fabrics. So much so that Zegna sells its fabrics, knitwear and yarns to fellow craftsmanship-led brands including Loro Piana, Hugo Boss, Brunello Cucinelli and Chanel.

Diversity for Diversity Sake?

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Under the direction of former creative director Alessandro Michele, Gucci embarked on a new era of gender-less runway showcases merging its menswear and womenswear collections into one. Luxury fashion brands are right to be more inclusive and factor in the diversity of a new clientele who perhaps may not prescribe to traditional notions of gender and dress. While the rise of gender-neutral fashion and the breaking down of traditional gender norms have challenged the exclusivity of menswear-only brands, there should be a clear distinction between redefining sartorial identities to cater to a broader spectrum of customers and showcasing diversity for diversity’s sake. Furthermore, beyond their aforementioned symbol of authority, menswear-only brands ultimately don’t cater to men only. Women are also a target customer for menswear labels as there is a market for wives and girlfriends who want to dress their significant others. As notions of menswear and womenswear get blurred, there is a growth in interchangeable wardrobes for men and women resulting in female clients purchasing pieces for their partners that they may very well want to use themselves. Lastly, as the world acclimatises to the growing understanding of the spectrum of gender, it is up to menswear brands to adapt and deliver a diverse approach to their collections, to cater to a broader spectrum of customers beyond the traditional, heteronormative male demographic.

The Future of Menswear is Not Obsolete

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Rupert Murdoch and Elena Zhukova during their wedding ceremony at the mogul’s Bel Air vineyard estate in California.

While the discussion around the formality of menswear and whether or not 93-year-old billionaire Rupert Murdoch should feel compelled to swap his sneakers for black leather Oxford loafers on his wedding day will be an ongoing one, it can be said that menswear-focused brands understand what men need. From the technical fabric in the construction of suits to the practicality of small leather bags, the ensemble of the classic gentleman never goes out of style. While societal norms like boardroom meetings and wedding functions continue to exist, so do traditional codes of menswear. No matter how advanced the conversation of gender-neutral clothing can get, the suit and tie will never lose its relevance.

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