Unlike the time of our fathers and grandfathers, men today seem to care less when it comes to dressing well, writes Nadia Badarudin
ONCE upon a time, our men — our grandfathers and fathers — used to make the effort to dress up and look good no matter how formal or casual an event was. If you go through old photo albums, you will likely see them looking sharp and tidy with an impressive sense of style.
And if you listen to their stories, you would learn of the trouble they took to starch their trousers (or keep them overnight under a mattress for that “ironed” look) be it for election day or something less formal like the school sports day. These men were known and remembered for their sartorial elegance.
Fast-forward to present: Some men still care about how they look or what they wear, but more are becoming careless or indifferent when it comes to fashion or dressing up.
Some men used to be very original and fashionable when they were younger and would follow trends dictated by the movies or music icons they followed. But, it becomes a different story once they reach full adulthood.
They give in or bow to the look or style that society has come to accept — hence, the tracksuits or slacks matched with collared T-shirts, the uniforms of fatherhood.
Unfortunately, it has become common (and even acceptable) for men to wear sloppy outfits and flip-flops to settle official matters, wear rock band T-shirts or football jerseys to weddings, and the sarong pelikat to the supermarket. And with more companies allowing a relaxed, “everyday-is-Friday” dress code for employees, some men have lost the art of dressing up.
IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE
As one of the pioneers of menswear in Malaysia, Bon Zainal Harun says the fashion sense of men today is the result of a lack of knowledge.
“The lack of understanding and knowledge about clothes and what is suitable to be worn has created fashion victims. Some may think they are up-to-date yet what they wear is actually not suitable for the occasion or makes them look odd and out-of-place,” says Bon who has helmed Bon Zainal for almost 30 years.
He explains that it is not wrong to be trendy, but ideally men’s fashion should look masculine (kilts and any androgynous takes are out), and men must balance it out or tweak it to suit the event, and accessorise accordingly.
“For weddings, for example, wear a batik shirt or a simple shirt with crisp pants and loafers or dress shoes to show respect to the host and complement the full effort made by your spouse or partner,” he says.
They must make sure that their outfits suit their age and physique; they must also keep in mind that what they wear is a reflection of their personality and image.
“Remember, proper dressing enhances one’s credibility. People are likely to pay attention and listen to you more if you are well-dressed and look pleasant. Just make do with what you have and improvise. Sometimes you can look stylish even in a white T-shirt and jeans or in non-branded, affordable stuff,” he says.
NOT A CULTURE
Rashdan Rosly, founder and chief executive officer of Konsvltan, a fashion liaison company that curates local menswear brands, opines that the lack of sense of style in some men can be attributed to the fact that decorum is not properly inculcated in our society.
“In my opinion, dressing up is knowledge that we need to acquire, while taste or style is personal. Unfortunately, decorum or the basics on how to dress according to occasion is not being taught. Most of the time, dress codes are non-existent or a non-requirement, so people just don’t care,” says Rashdan who is the founder of menswear fashion brand, Sultan KL.
We also don’t have a culture in which fashion and being fashionable or presentable is a lifestyle, like in Italy or France.
“Our culture is also very critical when it comes to style. The notion that being stylish is like aspiring to be like celebrities or stars has somehow discouraged men from amping up their style.
“They rather go for what is ‘safe’ to avoid criticism… and the ‘safest’ bet for most married men, for instance, is to go with whatever their wives choose for them.”
Being complacent is also another point that affects a man’s sense of style, while those who are into fashion tend to be trend followers or imitators due to their lack of understanding of the culture that comes with fashion, says Rashdan.
“I think what matters most is to look presentable or dress decently to respect the occasion or the people one will be meeting. Going to deal with official matters in sleeveless tops and flip-flops is so disrespectful in my point of view, but it happens and it’s common,” he adds.
In terms of styling, do men adhere to shoe etiquette or just go with the flow? Have there been many changes in terms of trends and designs when it comes to men's shoes?
“Changes are more subtle in men’s shoes. Rather than styles, the changes are mainly on materials and technology such as leather treatment, advancement in synthetic materials or improvement on the insole or outsole technology,” says Poh Wei Tat, men’s collection manager at Bata Malaysia.
Poh says when it comes to buying preference, men are loyal to their favourite brands and seldom switch to other brands unless the latter offer interesting styles. “Men typically have their favourite brands and are loyal to them. Most men will buy shoes for an occasion, but the shoes must be versatile and speak about individual style or identity. Some may inevitably be influenced by what they see on social media. In keeping up with the current trends, if other brands offer the right style, men will go for it.
And is wearing shoes without socks acceptable now or still a fashion faux pas? “There’s a new level of acceptance now for going without socks to semi-formal or smart casual events. However, it is better to wear hidden socks that will be more practical in our hot and humid weather,” says Poh.
No matter what your views on fashion, when it comes to dressing up or dressing down, the bottom line is this: Being well-dressed and looking presentable is a form of politeness.
Dressing for the occasion does not mean you have to wear new outfits or branded items. Clean clothes, groomed hair and nice shoes are good enough for any occasion and will boost your confidence and make your date beam with pride (men dress up to impress women after all, don’t they?).
As Henry Ward Beecher, the famous 19th century American social reformer, preacher and author, said: “Clothes and manners do not make the man; but, when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.”
THE MAN’S WARDROBE
ON must-have shoes, Poh Wei Tat, men’s collection manager at Bata Malaysia, says:
- Keep Derby and Oxford shoes for that dressy look while a pair of brogues will be just right for that modern appeal.
- Save white tennis shoes, classic loafers, smart sandals and flipflops for casual occasions.
- Shoes need to rest, make sure you have a few pairs to alternate.
On outfit essentials, Rashdan Rosly, founder and chief executive officer of Konsvltan says:
- Men’s wardrobe staples should comprise jackets, quality black or white T-shirts, dark indigo, denim or dark blue jeans, leather belt and clean sneakers with minimal markings.
- Button-down chambray/ oxford /denim / linen shirts are also wardrobe must-haves.
On outfit ethics, Bon Zainal Harun, fashion designer and Bon Zainal menswear founder, says:
- Learn and understand the ethics of dressing.
- Have your own style or identity.
- Own your style and carry it with the right attitude.
- Remember this simple rule: It’s not what you wear, but it’s how you wear it.