The most fashionable people see style as the barometer of morality: Most anything is forgivable if you've got a certain je ne sais quoi. Drug barons with untold amounts of blood on their hands are absolved, if not admirable, so long as they've got a cedar closet of fur coats and a Lambo and the biggest bosomed blonde. Mug shots circulate Tumblr when the subject is smartly dressed, bathed in sepia, expression somewhere between pleasantly blasé and casually critical. But catch a street rat shoplifting in a deplorable alphet and we put him in the stocks.
There, then, we expose one of the many problems with caring too much about clothes: distorted judgment. We find it easier to accept dudes who don't care about clothes than we do guys who were inducted into the club, kept up with the shows and articles, but are still wearing Nylites and critter cords. As W.H. Auden put it, "In 1912, it was a real vision to discover that God loves a Pernod and a good fuck, but in 1942 every maiden aunt knows this and it's time to discover something else He loves." In other words, if you're not ahead of the curve you better be right on it—anything less is failure. Yes, in the #menswear set, clothes do make the man, but they just as frequently ruin him.
All this would be less scary if we didn't know way less about why we feel certain ways about clothing than we do about clothing itself. It's hard to say for sure whether this is even exceptionally bad, this tendency. Can the social order really fault someone who loves style at such a subcutaneous level that they don't think about it but are, instead, driven by emotion and—I'll say it—joie de vivre? Plenty of people, for example, get their jollies braiding fly fishing lures or restoring antique lawnmowers. But bestow #menswear's curse of popularity on either of those things and the diehards will surly cast stones at posers and neophytes.
The larger issue arises when popularity inflates perceived importance. Clothes are foremost functional, and secondarily an expression of who you are. They're there to help you make it through your day in a way that doesn't violate your soul. And that's all well and good, but care needs to be taken that clothes don't mutate from a subtle expression of who you are to just who you are. Or, before long, those who treat clothes as they were always meant to—chosen, donned and forgotten to focus on the day at hand, i.e. normal society—will look down on those of us who agonize over what to wear and keep thinking about it until it's time to change again.
Yes, "time to change again" seems like an apropos term. Because it's strange how trends and personal style are always changing, always fluid, never rigid, yet simultaneously impossible to shape on the whole. #Menswear is on such a fixed trajectory that steering back into normalcy ceased to be an option long ago. Those of us leading the charge need to look ahead at where style is going and take measures to ensure we don't end up totally out of sight of the larger herd. Or else #menswear as we know it will cease to exist and all that will be left are a few blogs cached in the Wayback Machine and a cautionary fairytale told to future generations called "The Emperor’s New Bomber Jacket."
Rick Morrison is a writer living in North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter here.