It is not often that I express satisfaction with the world of affordable everyday menswear. Usually, I growl with contempt for the lackluster products available on the high street. However, recently, there is cause for cheer; it seems someone is finally considering style in relation to affordable male attire.
I remember when growing up, style in menswear was confined to the designer boutiques and concessions in expensive department stores. The age when Next was the dominant power on Oxford Street in London and when TopMan was a laughable location-of-last-resort in which one would shop, offered frustratingly little for the young man with style ambitions. Before the advent of the modern metrosexual, attempting any effete decorative or inventive outfits was considered proof of homosexuality. Straight men with individual clothing style, according to the stereotype, did not exist. Annoyingly, women were almost over catered for on the high street. Value shopping was there to cater for feminine whims. Men, it seemed were more rational individuals who worked not on trends, but on practicality.
And then, as if mounted on horseback, crushing the tired English budget brands beneath their hooves, the foreigners came hurtling into London; the Swedish giant H&M and the Inditex ‘armada’ of Zara, Massimo Dutti and Bershka. H&M and Zara are responsible for so much of the change that has occurred in street menswear in the capital and around other parts of the UK, and in other cities around the world. Wandering into the shiny store of Zara for the first time was like being given a glimpse of the quality of life someone else had in another universe. The clothes, the design, the layout, the concept; everything was hugely impressive.
Of course, some women were pleased, but to a lot of them, it was just another store. Women are almost spoiled in terms of clothing choice. For men it was paradise. Suits with Savile Row and Prada inspirations sat on chrome racks above polished stone floors, shoes with Gucci styling were in abundance. Accessories were not just hideous sandals and bum-bags for ‘package-tour Pete’ but had an element of Mediterranean style and luxe.
The breathtaking success of the Inditex group is no surprise to me. They could teach many retailers, even designers, a thing or two about design, presentation and price. The only shame is, some of the clothing available in the London stores has become a little mundane and practical because of the popularity in the city of such items as printed t-shirts and baggy denim. However, skinny fit clothing and clothing with fabulous silhouettes are still available, though the small sizes and the avant-garde designs go quickly, with no guarantee they will be replaced.
H&M is a success story in a different way. Catering for a younger crowd, they produce very cheap clothing for men, in simple and popular styles with a nod towards the latest street trend. They were quick with providing waistcoats when the world went crazy for the trend, and they provided them cheaply. Although I find their stores a little less exciting than Zara, H&M do produce the odd item of outrageous value which prompts me to sing their praises.
London is also fortunate to have one of the COS stores, part of the H&M group. It is a more upmarket and mature high street store aiming at attracting the Zara regulars. Clothing is about the same price and the suits fit wonderfully well. The materials are high quality and the manufacture a cut above its sister store, H&M.
Finally, a man who shops on the high street in the mighty city of London is given the luxurious agony of choice.