Glenn O’Brien On #Menswear, Personal Style, Haters And More

In the world of menswear, what Glenn O’Brien says, goes. I mean, this is a guy who worked for Andy Warhol, was actual IRL friends with world-renowned artist and belabored Jay Z name drop recipient Jean Michel Basquiat, hosted iconic public-access television cable show TV Party and served as the Editor-in-Chief of Interview. It’s safe to say Glenn has earned his place as one of downtown New York City’s seminal figures ten times over. The fact that he now is perhaps most recognized for his work as GQ’s “The Style Guy” is actually somewhat surprising. After all, clothes and men’s style, whatever you think that even means, don’t seem nearly as important as the transcendent cultural impact of O’Brien and his inner circle.

In person, Glenn is as humble and matter-of-fact as you might expect. He is sure of his words. You can’t help but notice that he simply doesn’t give a fuck and, after all he’s done, I can’t say I would either. These days, Glenn seems content in his ways—a calm knowing that he has nothing left to prove. He still writes frequently and is currently penning a memoir, but his hard work and dedication to the world of words left us curious to know what he thinks about the world of menswear on the Internet. While I’m positive 99% of it doesn't deserve to be labeled as “journalism," it’s the line between what is and isn’t that’s become more confusing as it has evolved over the past few years. As someone who came up in a time where the DIY movement was just entering its humble, poorly-recorded beginnings, Glenn, arguably more than anyone, is the one guy who can identify the parallels between his own roots and to today’s world of #menswear blogging, assuming any exist at all.

How has the world of publishing changed since you first entered the industry?

Back then you had to find your way into the business. It wasn’t that easy, you know? There were limited spots and everything was under the control of editors who were executives. Before the Internet, there was no sort of public-access, so everything changed as soon as blogs and social media appeared.

Is there anything specific you can think of that’s changed?

Well, it’s not just journalism. It was also the music business, short films—it was just hard to get your stuff in front of the public, generally speaking. If you wanted to be a writer in fashion, you had to find some way to be an apprentice to someone who was doing that a big publication.

Is there anything you miss from that time? Was it cleaner or less cluttered?

No, not really. I think the only thing that anybody would miss was the fact that more people read back then.

Are there any blogs or publications that really stick out to you and what do you think it is that they do well?

Well, I read stuff on Four Pins because I follow you on Twitter. If I see something that sticks out to me then I’ll click on it.

So for you it’s more of a case-by-case basis. Something just sticks out when you’re online and maybe you’re drawn to it.

I’m busy enough that I don’t really have the leisure time for browsing. I try to read The New York Times every day but after that it’s just about what grabs me.

Do you think there’s anything that major publications are missing from their online presence or even print?

I think actually that online commentary or coverage is in a way more interesting than the professional or established outlets. They’re not compromised by advertising or professionalism. I think the amatuer voice in fashion is really healthy. I love the Man Repeller because you would never find anything like that in Harper’s Bazaar. I don’t follow The Sartorialist, but I think he changed a lot. I think street photography is way more interesting than traditional fashion shoots. People are styling themselves and I find that more interesting than a stylist dressing a movie star.

So, then what do you feel about the criticism of street style, that people are now over-styling themselves in an effort to bait photographers?

I like it, it makes the world more interesting.

Going back to blogging, do you think it’s easier or harder than it once was to reach a wider audience? Meaning, sure, everyone can have a blog, but with so many people talking at once it's more difficult to break through and actually be heard.

You have to have an original voice. If you have an original voice then I think you have a good chance of gaining some audience. And with Twitter and Instagram, it’s sort of contagious and you can build an audience and it can go viral, as they say.

Do you think there’s some sort of social Darwinism aspect to blogging? If you’re strong then you will survive on the Internet and if you are weak then no one will care about you, and this is a kind of natural process?

Yeah, yeah. But also, I think it’s great that we don’t have the public being sort of protected by “experts.”

How do you personally use Twitter and your website [GlennObrien.com] to share stuff you’re working on or share yourself?

Well, I’ve been really bad at the website. I have to get back to my website and do some posting. But I do use Twitter and pay attention to it.

If you could, how would you be using your website and Twitter to showcase your work and even your “brand”?

I quite often use it to reprint things that I’ve written for something that’s either not available a lot in the U.S. or is something that’s out of print, but has some sort of relevance to something that’s going on today.

Do you maybe want to talk about your old website for a bit, stylemens.typepad.com?

It was similar I think. That was before I was on Twitter so that’s probably why I paid more attention to it.

Now that you have Twitter, do you think that you can accomplish some things in 140 characters rather than write some longform piece on your website?

I actually write a lot of stuff for magazines, so it kind of puts a limit on what I can do. That takes up a lot of my writing time. And I’m working on a new book.

Do you wanna take a minute to tell people about your new book?

It’s a memoir. It actually starts before I came to New York and I’m not sure how long it will go on for, but I’m pretty far along with it.

Do you think the world of #menswear or the men’s style discussion on the Internet has hindered personal style or enhanced it?

I think it’s made it more popular. I mean, the first things I saw were things like “Ask Andy About Clothes," where people get very passionate or even angry over issues. There’s several places that are like a general forum where people with style obsessions get together and I think that’s built up something of a community.

Some of the criticism in this world is that if you’re consuming so much of other people’s style then maybe you don’t know how to build your own style. Do you think there’s some truth to this or do you think, like, the more information, the more people are able to choose for themselves?

Yeah, I think the more information the better. I think that everyone starts out as a copyist and then they graduate to bringing their own thing to it.

Growing up, was there anyone you copied?

No, not really. There were people I think I was influenced by, but I don’t think I ever copied anyone. Fred Hughes, who worked for Andy Warhol, was a great dresser and I think I picked up a couple things from him.

Moving on to your work with GQ, how long have you been doing "The Style Guy" column?

Oh man, I don’t know.

Didn’t it start out as “Ask A Gay Guy” or something like that?

It was “Your Gay Friend” yeah, yeah. That was the germ of the idea that turned into The Style Guy.

Do you think the types of questions that men ask you have changed, especially with the advent of the Internet?

I used to get really basic questions like, “If I’m wearing a blue suit what color socks should I wear?” But now they seem more specific or informed.

Is that better? To have more savvy readers?

Otherwise I would end up repeating myself. So it’s good to know that people still have problems I hadn’t imagined.

Do you think the DIY movement of today compares to the DIY movement that was around during your early days in New York City?

I think there’s a certain similarity. In the '80s, there was no money. For instance, there was no such thing as designer clothes. Everyone was sort of a forager who went to thrift stores and just looked around for interesting clothes. But now that there’s sort of people making things like cottage industry, and there were people back in the old days that were trying to do that, but couldn’t.

Was there an authenticity back then that people are now trying to recreate in a phony way? Or is there something truly authentic about the DIY scene today?

I think there’s plenty of authenticity. Way more now than there was 10 or 20 years ago. I don’t think people are as afraid today because now there’s a climate where people can express themselves without being singled out or made fun of.

Do you think that when you were coming up, if you wore something that wasn’t in line with societal expectations people would have no problem saying to your face, “Hey! You look like a fucking idiot!” or something to that effect?

I think things were more polarized. You were either part of the bohemian group, part of the art world or you were in business where things were pretty uniform. But I think we’re living more in a freelance culture than in a corporate culture.

And that’s a good thing? You don’t feel it’s missing some sort of structure and you would rather have things be more democratic?

Yeah, but I also think that we’ve learned that ultimately the corporation is going to fuck you so you might as well get out early rather then wait 'til you’re old and they fire you to hire someone younger and cheaper.

Do you find it interesting or even strange that young men on the Internet, myself included, hold you up as, like, this kind of gold standard for personal style?

No. I mean. I like it. A lot of young guys say hi to me on the street so that’s nice. The only thing that would be better is if an equal number of girls said hi.

Is there any secret to achieving true personal style?

I think I’m just honest and I say what I think. I think that’s the secret.

And that’s easier to achieve today because, like you were saying before, people are relying less on corporations and more on the Internet so they can say and do whatever they want?

Well, I never wrote something because I thought it would make an editor like me. I think I just held out to create my own point of view.

Do some people take it too far? For instance in a YouTube comments section, or in the comments section of even, like, Four Pins sometimes, where people are just spewing hate and ignorance at each other 24/7.

I never read the comments. But it’s always been like that. People always put down people who achieve some sort of recognition or visibility. I’ve seen it in the music world. I’ve seen it in the art world. It’s just people trying to be noticed. This woman recently wrote a blog post that was like, “The 17 Worst Things Glenn O’Brien Ever Said" or something. I found it funny, but that's typical of people trying to start something or get some attention. I don’t pay attention to that stuff usually, especially if it’s viscous or vulgar. The comments you see on public forums are usually pretty stupid. And a lot of it just has to do with anonymity.

If a young man reading this wanted to be a men’s style writer today, what advice would you give to him?

Don’t quit your day job. I don’t think it’s a very lucrative field, so you better have a backup plan.

Image courtesy of Purple

  • Kyle

    Cool interview. Lucky to chat w Glenn.

  • WAVY

    GOB be is quite the OG indeed. Lmao @ ”I think that EVERYONE starts out as a copyist. But me? No. Not really. In fact not ever.”

  • OBITO UCHIHA

    HATE AND IGNORANCE WOOOO FUCK YEAH

  • Dave Hahn

    Good article – I enjoy his column in GQ. Don’t agree with everything he said but some nice insight.