American Style

I’ll risk it right at the start. What’s the foremost influence on men’s style over the seventy years? It’s us. You and me. In the universe of men’s style, Americans rule. This is not some jingoistic notion. It is word.

Since the end of WWII the most profound and pervasive influence on the design of men’s clothing worldwide has been the style of the average American man. Sociologists and historians may refer to the entirety of the 20thCentury as “American,” but since the end of the World War II and the rise of Hollywood – the greatest cultural influencer since the fall of the Roman Empire – it’s been the Jazz Age, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Flower Power, Ivy League, Wall Street, Marlboro Man, grunge. The American style came of age in Harry Truman’s era, was broadcast via the cinema to a world that was starving for entertainment and order. The trend continues today. Think of the influence of “Mad Men;” the recycling of American style redoubling its effect.

 We Americans are still “It,” stylistically speaking. Let me know when you hear of a commercially successful apparel trend born in Mumbai, Moscow, Beijing or Shanghai. That will definitely mark the beginning of the end of “The American Century.”

            No one talks about this much. Guys who write books about men’s clothes usually pay homage to the English and the Italians. We Americans seldom take credit for our style influence. Maybe we’re embarrassed by all the rest of the commercial, glitzy, unhealthy junk we’ve foisted on the world. We have exported so much consumerist and media junk that we’ve created a backlash – so extreme in the some parts it has engendered terrorism.

I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn that Parisian men do not generally dress like what we see shown in the runway shows that take place there. (Frankly, you have to wonder,who does?) Italian men never wore the oversized clothes we associated with Armani. That was a Hollywood phenomenon. The “European cut” is an imaginary silhouette; in fact it’s humorous. Soft, sloppy, oversized? That’s definitely European! Tight, shaped, rigid, stiff? European cut! Strictly low-level sales pitch material. Often the clothes with European designer labels are licensed products, made in Asia, designed exclusively for the US market and bearing little resemblance to the designer’s actual conception.

            The look of men’s clothes for at least the last seventy years has been an American phenomenon. The Japanese are a perfect example. Paul Stuart has something like 60 branches in Japan. The streets of Tokyo are packed with men and women in standard-issue navy blue Brooks Brothers suits, which they wear with Gitman Vintage white button-down collar shirts and J. Press ties. (J. Press is owned by Onward Kashiyama; it is said that they keep the unprofitable, struggling US branches open only to continue the illusion of being authentically American.)

                Not to mention the ubiquity of blue jeans.

            One day recently I was having coffee and reading myHeraldin the Piazza Cavour, Como’s central square, and looked up to see a kid of about seven or eight coming toward me across the piazza, dressed in jeans and a San Francisco 49ers’ logo t-shirt with a NY ball cap and Nike sneakers. Coming out of my reverie, I realized I was not sitting in Palmer Square. I was 3000 miles away, in a “foreign” country. This kid, it struck me, was not just globalization personified; he was the universal child. We are approaching a unitary world, and it looks just like Cincinnati.

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