Why Don’t We Peacock-Shame Men?

This week's Pitti Uomo has brought a joyous crop of street style images—scores of Beau Brummels in panama hats, dapper three-piece suits, space boot sneakers and even Margiela-esque masks. The colors are garish, the tailoring is fussed over and the hairdos ridiculous, but this cacophony is beloved and celebrated. It might earn a person the mockery of Twitter or "Fashion Bros!", but it's a gentle sort of scorn, the kind that comes from your sibling. But what if women were wearing these things?

Over the past few years, peacocking has grown into a veritable epithet in womenswear. It's considered gauche and out of touch for a woman to dress up too much for fashion week, a sentiment Suzy Menkes cemented in her "Circus of Fashion" article a year and a half ago, and which has only boiled into a harder reality since. The new uniform is jeans or simple trousers, Stan Smiths and maybe a beautiful, but understated coat. Observing the past few fashion weeks from the office-chair-only section that is Twitter has meant less a series of blurry runway photos and more a string of zingers directed towards women holding balloons at Lincoln Center. So why are men above reproach?

The answer is a few puzzle pieces. To begin with, menswear typically runs a few years behind women's, so it's possible that a crew of heavy influencers will decide that dressing like Yankee Fucking Doodle is the destiny of an unsavory lot, and black T-shirts, jeans and a simple pair of sneakers will become de rigueur. But considering the marvelously daffy looks coming out of London and Florence, this seems unlikely in the near future.

Second, men's peacocking is less designer-driven. At the height of women's peacocking, one could practically tabulate a mathematical formula to get photographed: it bag + cool sneaker + boyfriend jean + Acne jacket draped over shoulders = street style photos galore. Men's street style, on the other hand, is more about the fit, the moment of flourish (a flower in the lapel, for example), the inventive detail as The Big Event. While one is about self-expression through style, the other is the type of hot consumerism that remains the knee-jerk critique of the fashion industry.

Men are getting a free pass to be clowns because they're suddenly trying, whereas women have been trying the whole time, and now that's uncool.

Third, men's fashion has long been a bastion of conservatism, in which changes happened incrementally when they happened at all. As writer Robin Mellery-Pratt astutely pointed out yesterday on Business of Fashion, the street style we see on display at Pitti is a "liberation" of menswear. (As a side note: A woman reading this story will really be tickled. It's almost like traveling back in time. OMG people are dressing to get their picture taken! It's better than advertising because the men look just like you! Some designers lend Pitti attendees clothing for street style!) So, whereas men are freeing themselves from a century of regimented dress that collapsed into a horrifying sea of cargo pants and "YOUR PLACE OR MINE?" T-shirts, women have long been able, even expected, to ornament themselves as much as they please. Why not let the men have a little fun, right?

Lastly is a possibility that I am loath to concede as a woman who is, and always will be, #teamgirl: Women are cattier than men. As Rihanna stated in her acceptance speech for the CFDA Fashion Icon Award earlier this month, she uses fashion as a weapon: "But as far as I could remember, fashion has always been my defense mechanism. Even as a child I remember thinking, 'She can beat me, but she cannot beat my outfit.' And to this day, I mean, that is how I think about it." And as New York Magazines's Amy Larocca noted earlier this week, "The men don't seem as stressed, and don't radiate the same sense of judgment or self-flagellation as their female counterparts." Tellingly, many of Tommy Ton’s images of women are of a single woman, whereas the best images from Pitti have been of groups of men. Is this because we outfit ourselves to best the competition, not hang with it?

And this brings us back to the trouble with the third point: While all this progress has been made in the name of men dressing up, women have been left in the dust, and are somehow still mocked for wearing zany stuff. Men are getting a free pass to be clowns because they're suddenly trying, whereas women have been trying the whole time, and now that's uncool.

Yes, I admit that at least from my own aesthetic point of view, it's far more stylish to reach for a pair of watermelon-colored socks to make a splash instead of a bundle of balloons. But looking through this batch of street style—the exuberance, the men posse'd up instead of going it alone–is enough to make me consider pulling out my asymmetrical mesh tutu again come September.

Rachel Seville is a writer living in New York who believes in miracles. Read her blog, Pizza Rulez, here and follow her on Twitter here.

  • Yes.

    Lovely read, and to be frank with you; as a man, I take a lot of inspiration from street style shots of women. I’ve got nothing against peacocking, tunics and an overabundance of pockets, but it simply isn’t me.

  • Oppiken

    I don’t agree fully in the sense that men do get made fun for dressing ridiculously or peacocking. Maybe it has to do with your location and social circle, but I find that people are tolerant of girls dressing stylish (because that is expected) and will make fun of a guy for attempting to dress different or better.
    Also, have you read the comments here on Four Pins, hypebeast or other major forums/sites? Just look at the comments for the NYC style page on this site. You’re guaranteed to find at least half a dozen negative comments on certain looks. On Hypebeast’s Street Snaps, the comments for the article will always be making fun of certain details or brands (if a guy wears Supreme in the photos, you know the positive and negative comments will be around 50/50).
    I find with menswear, the shaming doesn’t necessary come from peacocking because in a sense, to be interested in menswear and willing to drop $700 on a pair of sneakers to wear down the street, you have to be some sort of peacock already. It’s what we perceive to be bad trends (coked out outfits or the whole street goth look always seemed to get laughed at) or brands that people think have no taste (HBA is guaranteed some inflammatory comments).

    • Rachel S

      OK, but women get made fun of to the point that they have completely shifted the way they dress. And not just made fun of, but straight up criticized, as if their coat is carrying the entire downfall of the industry.

      • Oppiken

        Sorry, but what do you mean by “women get made fun of to the point that they have completely shifted the way they dress”? Do you mean within the fashion industry or are you talking about women in general? And where is the basis for this statement? I agree that women do get criticized about style or fashion because the industry is more female-oriented than male-oriented, but that statement was a bit extreme. You talk about women being shamed but I still see many female individuals, on the streets and in street style, who flaunt their own style (or lack thereof).

        I mean, what are we arguing here, whether men get peacock shamed or is this becoming more of a men vs. women fashion plight thing? I’m merely stating that men do get criticized for poor style choices too, but I never even broached the subject of women’s fashion, which I am unfamiliar with.

        So sure, tell me women get made fun of. I’m not arguing with you on that one. Just don’t try to push the point of “women is suffering more” because I never said they do or don’t, and the fact that we are all debating about which gender gets made fun of more for fashion makes this whole thing seem a bit first-world problemish, does it not?

  • Gabe

    I thought four-pins was street fashion’s locker room. Why shit it up with this sort discussion? Seriously why?

    • Emily Lever

      sorry a girl just stepped into the inner sanctum of your boys’ club and dared to point out differences between how men and women are talked about, bro.

      • Pity No Mo

        get over yourself…the truth is that men give zero fucks about any kind of women’s club, and to have women feeling like they need to knock on our door and tell us they just stopped by to tell us about what we’ve been doing for the last 5-10 years is a little ridiculous.
        Thank you we’re doing just fine. This is why menswear is outpacing womenswear.

        • Emily Lever

          Too bad you think women expressing their opinions is ridiculous. If you have the right to say that women should shut up and go back to the kitchen, then women have the right to criticize male-dominated institutions (aka every institution ever) #freespeech

          • Pity No Mo

            Woooow, way to take this on some gender stereotype bullshit. Nothing that was said was in relation to anything you outlined. Nor did I say women expressing their opinion is ridiculous but thanks for putting words in my mouth. I do however think that women passing unsolicited judgement on whats been happening with menswear recently is silly given that we all know what we’ve been up to and you’re just regurgitating old shit at this point.
            Also what we’ve been talking about is men’s recent influence in a non-male-dominated institution, since womenswear has long been the focus so do your fucking homework.
            Sorry to disappoint but it had nothing to do with you having a vagina. Way to take it the wrong direction with the quickness.

          • French

            shut the fuck up

    • Rachel S

      I don’t even really understand what you are saying or why or how or even when.

      • Gabriel Bacon

        Step into the inner sanctum of the boy’s club and all your questions will be answered.

      • realtrehunnaJR Bow

        you can’t be mad at all the backlash when you totally tried to son us in this article though. That comment about traveling back in time was disrespectful.

  • Guest

    As a female reader, I mostly agree with this piece, but I have some qualms. Street style has only recently been blowing up both the menswear and womenswear scenes, affecting them both in different ways. Street-styled women are getting “peacock-shamed” because they wear hot-pink feathers and five-foot wide pairs of shorts and other crazy shit they can’t sit down in, all for the purpose of a pretty photo. They’re dressing for the rest of the world, not themselves. I look at those photos and I think it’s a nice picture, but I’m not jealous of their swag, especially when it’s obvious that they ripped the entire ‘fit straight from the fucking runway. Pitti guys dress the way they do as a showcase for their personal style, and to bro out with other dudes who care about their fit. I could make the argument that women dress for fashion, while men dress for style, but I don’t know if that would be unfair.

    In the cases of both sexes, the posturing may be deliberate, overly planned, and targeted towards street-style photogs; but at the end of the day, it’s about what they wear when there’s no cameras around that separates them from the true peacocks.

    • NBozich

      I agree completely. Some mens style is purely for the photo op, but I feel for the most part mens styling is booming in the “personal style” category.

  • An

    Just because editors are getting peacock-shamed doesn’t mean that you can’t still wear what you want. Odds are you aren’t going to be photographed that day, no matter how ill your mesh tutu is. It’s the presence of the camera that influences clothing choices and fucks up personal style.