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.