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Form and function: the evolving Casualization of Men's Suitable Attire

Anyone who has wondered about how men’s fashion has become increasingly casual would have been in good company this past Tuesday night at Kenneth Cole Productions at 603 West 50th Street in New York City. That evening, Cole hosted a panel discussion on the Casualization of Men’s Suitable Attire in his studio that featured current trends in men’s fashion as well as the direction in which it is headed.

Cindy Ann Peterson with Kenneth Cole.
Cindy Ann Peterson with Kenneth Cole.
photo: by e.bruce borner
Vice Pres. & Publisher of GQ Magazine and moderator Chris Mitchell, Will Welch; GQ’s Senior Editor of Style, designer Todd Snyder, Eric Jennings; Saks Fifth Avenue Vice Pres. & Fashion Dir. of Menswear, and Chairman & Chief Creative Officer Kenneth Cole.
photo by e.bruce borner

Sponsored by GQ magazine and PARLUX LTD., and with support from Fashion Group International (FGI), the panel featured Vice President & Publisher of GQ Magazine and moderator Chris Mitchell, Will Welch; GQ’s Senior Editor of Style, designer Todd Snyder, Eric Jennings; Saks Fifth Avenue Vice President & Fashion Director of Menswear, and Kenneth Cole; Chairman and Chief Creative Director of Kenneth Cole Productions.

Cole opened the panel discussion first by expressing his appreciation to FGI President Margaret Hayes as well as others for supporting the fashion industry as well as events like this.

This is an exciting time not only for the menswear industry, but also for the industry as a whole, said Cole. Thanks to social media accelerating the rate of change in the industry, he feels that his role as a designer has changed in that today, everyone is becoming their own brand. As such, he hopes that as a designer, he will encourage people to define themselves by their own brand instead of defining themselves by his.

Cole rightly suggests that people, by nature, insist on flexibility and adaptability in all facets of their lifestyles, and their wardrobe is no exception. Consumers want form as well as function. Cole asserts that only 9 percent of Americans wear formal business attire to work and that, with the casualization of modern suiting, suggests that half of businesses or more have likely incorporated that style into the workplace.

Chris Mitchell then opened the panel discussion by asking the panel members for their opinion regarding the fact men today appear to be mixing things that never would have made sense in the past.

Will Welch’s opinion was that men’s style seems so simple, and the basic ingredients appear to be pretty straightforward. Yet, once you get into it, there are an infinite number of combinations. Men today have much less of a uniform today, and they don’t have to wear the same thing everyday.

Echoing Welch’s point, Eric Jennings suggested that it’s about men having more variety to create their own style. There are people that are still required to wear suits everyday, and there are those that wear jeans, and so one needs to address many lifestyles. The main point is not that casualness is growing. Rather, it’s that the menswear pie is getting larger, and it has continued to grow over the last five years. Both tailored and casual attire are a part of this. What he is looking for is tailored clothing that has a youthful component to it.

Mitchell then asked Cole how he planned his collections, given Cole’s earlier assertion that the suit business has grown. Were his designs about giving guys more reasons to wear a suit?

Cole responded that in the design of men’s attire, there has to be consideration given to all the electronic devices that men carry with them. Therefore, while today’s suiting is more tailored, there still must be function that accompanies form.

Snyder later opined that guys are now realizing that those who are better dressed tend be better set up for success not only in the work setting, but also in dating. Snyder suggests that while women like men that have a rugged sensibility, they also love men that look good and present themselves well.

Another significant point made was the critical role timing played in pacing trends and introducing new products. As Jennings explained, introducing a trend too early is as bad as introducing a trend too late; either way, you will alienate your customer.

The common thread that ran throughout the panel discussion was not that casual was taking over the sartorial landscape. As the discussion indicated, in days past the choices were largely limited to either a suit or polo shirts and khakis, with not much in between. Today, men have many more choices today than they used to, with an entire spectrum of combinations from which they can choose.

At one point someone asked, almost sardonically, about the sustainability of Cole’s products. While an interesting question, it could certainly have been obviated had he simply taken a cursory look at the swag bag sitting on his chair, which clearly showed a number 5 resin code on his polypropylene bag indicating that the it was “Made from a recyclable non-woven polypropylene.”; a clear indication that it was a consideration in the Kenneth Cole brand.

The panel discussion was not only interesting, it proved to be an affirmation of just how fast men’s fashion trends were changing and the myriad possibilities being created for today’s men, due in no small part to the various social media outlets. Exactly what changes can be expected and how much it continues to change, only time will tell.

To learn more about fashion, couture, civility in style and your signature style subscribe by clicking on the +subscribe at the top of the article. Be your best everyday and wishing you much success in every venture!

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