From the style standpoint, we’re definitely seeing men taking more chances.
While researching our latest trend report, “The State of Men,” we interviewed Yang-Yi Goh, fashion editor of the Canadian men’s lifestyle magazine Sharp and Sharp: The Book for Men, a biannual publication. The author of two educational graphic novels, Ninja and Alien Inventor, Goh also co-founded the men’s lifestyle site Handlebar Magazine. He talked to us about men’s new openness to bold style choices, why some men are looking to the past for guidance, and whether men are adopting a different attitude toward shopping.
With gender roles becoming more fluid and ideas about masculinity evolving, how do you see that affecting men’s style and how men present themselves?
From the style standpoint, we’re definitely seeing men taking more chances and becoming more and more interested in how they present themselves and their appearance. It is great to see. There are style-savvy moves today that are acceptable that maybe your average guy wouldn’t have thought to try three or four years ago. In our April issue, we had a photo shoot that was devoted to floral patterns for spring—whether it is wearing a floral shirt with a suit and tie or trying out even floral shorts or something like that. I think guys are more willing to take risks today, which is great. They are less self-conscious about making some of those bolder style choices.
Aside from floral patterns, what are some other examples of things that men are coming to more readily accept?
Clothing-wise, guys are starting to take a little bit more pride in their appearance and are more willing to dress up on occasions that they might not have to. They are seeing the value in looking and feeling their best. There is this antiquated notion that it’s manlier to not care about the way you look. Now, more guys are starting to realize that when you look good, you feel good. That is an idea that is really starting to catch on.
For men’s fashion, how much do you think the media is responding to the broader culture, and how much are they leading the way?
There are more resources for guys out there than ever before. It really started on the Internet—there was this amazing outpouring of blogs that were suddenly about men’s grooming and men’s style, and all those things. Guys are more educated than ever before, which is great to see. You’re starting to see more publications like Sharp, like our biannual publication, a book for men that is devoted to [style]. We market ourselves as a comprehensive guide for men of taste and style. There really is now a growing market for publications and websites that are strictly devoted to men’s style, which is good to see.
Is there anything currently on the fringe that’s heading toward the mainstream in men’s fashion or grooming?
The idea of spa treatments for men is maybe something that is growing. A lot of guys have always thought of the spa as a women’s realm, as the place where your mom or your girlfriend disappears to on a Sunday when you’re watching football. And those guys who are starting to take more of an interest in the way they look, they’re starting to realize that, maybe it is OK for me to go spend a little more money on a haircut, maybe it is OK for me to go get a facial every once in a while just to freshen up a little, or spend a little money on a great straight-razor shave.
Men are getting bolder in terms of style, but what areas of fashion and grooming do you think the average guy will never explore, whether it’s maybe makeup for men or even man bags?
I don’t think men will be reaching to use makeup regularly at all in the future. We’ve seen some more avant-garde fashion designers trying to push thing like men’s tights for a long time. That, thankfully, has not reached most mainstream men’s radars. In women’s fashion, there is a lot of turnover, there are a lot of trends that pop up and disappear just as quickly, and men’s fashion, it is based in really classic ideals that never go away. So even when people are pushing boundaries, whether it’s the bold colors or bold patterns, it is still within a very classic frame of menswear, in terms of the tailoring or the styling, and that is something I don’t think will ever really change.
In terms of gender blurring and behavior, would you agree that what’s acceptable for men has changed quite a bit in the recent past?
I think men are loosening up a little bit and opening up. I certainly think a lot of things that maybe your guy friends would have scoffed at half a decade ago are now becoming more and more acceptable.
Do you think these changes are affecting men’s attitudes and behaviors when it comes to dating, that the rules are less defined?
I don’t know how much has really changed. I think guys still feel obligated to pay for dinner, they still feel obligated to be the one to make the first move to ask the girl out. Those early dating stereotypes are remaining there. I think any murkiness is coming later in the relationship when things are starting to get more serious, when you’re talking about marriage and talking about who is going to be supporting whom. For the most part, the early stages of dating are still very much the same.
Do you think men’s new concern about looking good is coming more from an internal drive or external pressures?
I think what’s happening is that guys are doing it themselves, I think it’s coming from within. A lot of guys are just starting to care about the way they look, and they realize that the right suit and the right look can help propel them forward, if anything. It’s coming more from the guys themselves.
Do you think that could be because they’ve been exposed to more in terms of style and are then responding to it?
I think a few years ago Mad Men had a really big impact on the way guys dressed, and suddenly everybody wanted to look and be like Don Draper. And that was a really big kickoff point, a nice starting point for a lot of guys to get their feet in the water. From there, they really learned about what’s happening in men’s fashion and what’s current. And they’ve kept up with it.
Ten years ago, the metrosexual and the bro were big buzzwords and archetypes. How do you think these notions have evolved?
A lot of those aspects, all the things we’ve been talking about—about looking good, about taking care of yourself, caring about things like interior design—all those things have just become normalized. Obviously, I think bros still exists. There are plenty of bars in New York you go to and there are lots of fratty, bro guys there. But what you’re noticing is those guys are dressing better too and taking more of an interest in their appearance, as well.
Do you think any specific guys today personify male archetypes for this decade, embody where men are today?
There are a few guys that guys can really connect with or aspire to be, and it’s almost like they’re drawn in separate directions. Nick Offerman from Parks and Rec is a good example. He’s a real manly man, but he’s also well-spoken, he’s an intelligent dude, he’s cultured. I think guys can really connect with that carpentry side of him. At the same time, I mentioned that Don Draper really appeals to guys. That’s another manly archetype—he’s a cigarette-smoking, whiskey-drinking, hard-living guy who still looks great in a suit.
And then in terms of that really modern, stylish guy we were talking about, Ryan Gosling sort of nails that. He’s the kind of guy that with the way he dresses, he looks great all the time. He obviously takes care of himself, and that’s the kind of guy that, 10 years ago, maybe people would have poked fun at his metrosexuality or whatever it may be. Nowadays, he dresses that way, but people are also aware that he’s a badass. He’s in Drive, he’s kicking people’s asses.
You mentioned Nick Offerman with his carpentry and Don Draper. Men seem to be reaching back to these bygone eras for style cues as well as skill sets.
In some sense, guys are looking for a more stable era where masculinity was more defined. I don’t necessarily think that means they’re adopting all of it. They’re smart and objective enough to look at Mad Men and not think, “I should be cheating on my wife.” But they’re looking at that and taking the cooler aspects of it. Maybe in terms of the way Draper grooms himself or the old-fashioneds he drinks, and incorporating them and using them as a way to bolster their own masculine identity, in some sense.
How do you think men’s aspirations are changing? It seems like there has been a shift toward a desire to be more well-rounded and balanced, instead of being solely career-focused.
I think guys are challenging themselves outside the workplace. There is a huge interest in things like CrossFit and other workouts and people taking on triathlons and doing things like Tough Mudder. That all comes back to being more well-rounded and pursuing other interests outside the office.
From a broader consumer standpoint, does it seem like men are becoming different types of consumers?
I think so. For a long time, if they were living on their own, guys would maybe just go for the cheapest possible choice and whatever is the most convenient. But now you’re seeing, whether it’s in grocery shopping or picking up household supplies, they are a little bit more interested in what they’re purchasing. And they’re willing to make a little bit more of an investment if it’s something they feel is worthwhile. Guys’ tastes are just getting more and more refined as the years go on.
I remember seeing something about an Ikea store having a sort of men’s playground—they could go and watch sports and play video games while the women shopped. It struck me as, Why shouldn’t I be involved in household purchases?
Right, I’m going to have to look at that couch every single day, why shouldn’t I be allowed to choose it?
You’ve done some traveling and you’ve lived in Canada, the U.S. What kind of differences do you see in how masculinity is displayed?
Europeans for a long time have been much bolder and more open. European men have always prided themselves on those kinds of tastes we have been talking about, on being able to dress themselves, on knowing what looks good. I think there has been more openness in Europe about what we would call metrosexual things. In places like the U.S. and Canada and Australia, they’re really just starting to come around to it and see that. It is definitely something that is happening fast.
In cities like New York and Toronto, there are lots of guys willing to take those bolder style risks. What’s interesting is that yes, it’s probably moving slower in places like the Midwest or in more rural areas throughout North America, but because of the Internet and those online resources that I was talking about before, there is more access for people in the middle of Ohio to pick up on the same style trends that are happening in New York. Slowly but surely, more and more guys are becoming comfortable with those kinds of things.
I remember gaining an interest in fashion 5 or 10 years ago when I lived in Michigan but not being able to find the more stylish, slim-fitting clothes in stores. But that’s changed with websites like Bonobos.com and Mr. Porter.
What’s great is that things that are stylish maybe used to be out of reach for the normal guy, but there are a lot more affordable options now. There are a lot of smaller companies that are coming up with affordable goods that are really stylish and on trend that are popping up and making themselves available online.