I have returned from a guy-clothing shopping trip, and this is what I’ve learned.
- Do not be so sure when you see many plaids, rugby shirts, and a lot of denim that hardly anything has changed.
- Do not assume that a guy just wants to look like every other guy at school. Low-key is good; invisible not so much.
- Do not ask about neon sneakers. Some of them are still developing their opinions on them. (As for the neon jeans—it’s much easier to see this as a possibility for the gals. But who knows? Fashion means changes!)
- The blogs and publications are promising that men’s fashion is changing, and changing faster, and that men young and old are paying attention than they did back in the day. That does not necessarily translate into a revolution of a back-to-school shopping trip.
My son is 21, and he allowed me to tag along this year while he shopped for his fall wardrobe. Men’s fashion may be changing, and men may follow changes more closely than they once did before blogs and men’s magazines were plentiful. But I tend to think my son has just discovered that new clothes can be fun.
Maybe he would buy some shirts that actually fit him instead of looking a size too small. He wanted new jeans, a good sign. The pair of slightly baggy, torn jeans as a wardrobe staple appears to have passed into near oblivion, and they are not missed. He has learned that I own an ironing board.
Our first stop: a discount department store he’d heard might have good prices on jeans. I found candles and storage boxes at good prices, but we were on a back-to-school shopping trip. When we met up at the cash registers, he was in line to purchase one white shirt.
On to the mall! His ambition was almost alarming. The batting cage and food court brought on memories of standing outside the dressing, begging him to please just try on one more pair of jeans to wear to grade school. “No. I’m done. I don’t like them,” he’d insist from the dressing room. “Just one more pair?” I would plead. “Then we’re really truly done, I promise.”
The mall store of choice this year—the kind that carries a great many t-shirts emblazoned with the brand name—would likely have, he promised, a good deal on jeans.
He might have liked the prices, but I was overjoyed to view new denim. There, along with the standard vintage-looking and faded shirts and sweatshirts, were stacks and stacks of jeans, blue, black and not one faded pair among them.
If you are old enough that you are a tiny bit troubled when someone under 25 mocks something because it looks “so nineties,” you will want to know this. The word grunge might come to mind, and they won’t protest it. There are plaid shirts—though they aren’t large, flannel plaids—and the preppy rugby shirts are called simply striped sweaters. (They’re more matching-family-outfits-for Christmas photos than they are Seattle lumberjack toss-offs.) The jackets and cardigans have vintage, letter-jacket type touches. But, with few exceptions, the fit is snug and you definitely won’t find the moth holes and worn elbows of real, from-the-thrift-store grunge.
Buying sizes you could “grow into” is part of the past. Many of his peers seem to have gotten the memo, judging by the mall traffic and the lack of an alternative look in the stores. This fall they will be wearing brand-new clothes that just fit.
I held up some canvas tennis shoes. “These are cute,” I suggested. Jeans that ended just at the ankles required decent shoes.
He glanced at them. A salesperson stepped forward, listening. I warned her, “Now he probably won’t even consider them.”
But, she was a trooper, and took her cue. “They really are great,” she told him, hinting that while his mother thought the shoes were cute, they really were okay. Hey, they were cool. She pointed out quickly that they did have them in other colors, and I wandered away.
Reader, he tried clothes on. He bought jeans. He bought the shoes.
We pressed on. He actually said, “As long as we’re out”—and here I could fill in where it’s kind of hot and boring and I don’t like to try on clothes—“let’s go to one more store I know about.”
We drove to a west side second-hand store, Uptown Cheapskate. Other shops had been busy that day, but this one was positively buzzing. Young men and women were walking in with their bags of clothes to see what they were worth. Some stayed to see what others had traded in; others left as quickly as they’d entered.
Labels on the clothes revealed some good stuff, some stuff from low-end stores, and everything in between. Some items still had tags. Everything seemed in good shape, if occasionally a little worn. Some screamed short-and-over trend!
But quite a few items looked new enough and were current enough that one could picture that spoiled high school princess who tired easily of each new outfit, someone happy to toss one shirt off and buy a new for the next week. Others would obviously be glad to pay five or eight bucks for a nice blouse, at least to boost the wardrobe a bit.
Again my son tried on clothes. This time, the results were impressive, at least for a dedicated non-shopper. He purchased eight shirts; three still had new tags on them.
At home, he announced the numbers of his haul, hardly believing he’d done so well. His sense of satisfaction with the styles he had, and the price he’d paid for them, was reassuring. And it didn’t sound dorky at all. Of course, in some ways, dorky appears to be good—or at least for now, with all of those dorky clothes in style.