Unconventional Gentleman: The Shift In Acceptable Mens Fashion

by C.J. SommervilleDec 20, 2019

The Shift in acceptable men's fashion

The Staple of Men's Jewelry

It doesn't take much to see that men's fashion has evolved substantially since the beginning of the new millennium.  In the 50s and 60s, men's fashion consisted of a suit, tie, and black dress shoes.  Today, with Millenials and Gen Z leading the way, we are seeing fashion trends beyond just a watch and earring.  From dyed hair to pinky-rings, the world of what's acceptable for men's fashion has shifted dramatically.

Much of this is evolutionary thanks to the fashion acceptance of trendsetters such as celebrities and influencers.  As these individuals push the boundaries of new and contemporary design compositions, their drive to be unique and nonconforming inadvertently shifts the paradigm of what is considered acceptable in fashion.  And when a number of these trendsetters share common design queues, we as observers subconsciously begin to accept these fashion statements as... normal.  Particularly when we start seeing their trends appear in our neighbor fashion retailer.  Such is the case with men's fashion.

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How Men's Jewelry Became Acceptable... Kinda

The discussion of men's jewelry is far from novel.  Since the days of Rome and Mesopotamia, men have been known to ornament themselves with everything from solid gold bangles to jewelry encrusted necklaces and crowns.  But this ornamenting was purposeful.  It signified stature or royalty.

Today, particularly in the western world, the concept of royalty exists in few societies.  What is accepted of male figures in power is more a demonstration that they can associate with the constituents they serve.  This means look like those whom you serve.  They aren't expected to dress like "Joe the Plumber", per se, but they are expected to be relatable.  With that paradigm shift went the presence of jewelry in male culture, save for the aforementioned celebrities and eccentric male figures.  With jewelry-wearing being behavior primarily seen in women, jewelry-wearing became considered more of a feminine fashion statement, with one exception.  The ring.

The ring has always been the one ornament that has generally been seen as acceptable in men's fashion.  Consistent with jewelry's purpose in Babylonian times, the ring also had purpose.  It signified status, and still does to this day.  Whether marriage, graduation, royalty, statesmanship or family heirloom, the ring has been the single thread that has kept "men's jewelry" from being a foreign fashion concept for men.  Yet, it alone was not sufficient to establish its cousins (necklace, earrings, etc.) as acceptable in menswear.

Additionally, with an established status quo that only (or mostly) women wear jewelry, the adoption of men wearing other forms of jewelry was regarded only in exception and reserved for the man in entertainment or the extravagant male looking to make a statement, fashion or otherwise.  That is until the watch was invented.  

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The Watch... The Gateway to Men's Bracelets

The watch has an interesting fashion history.  In its initial adoption, its attraction was practical.  It served to tell time.  Hence, the pocketwatch... tethered by a chain to an outer garment so that it would not be lost. Even how it's worn is practical.  As the intricacy of the movements became more complex, so did the design.  Both the watch and the chain transformed into displays of beautiful craftsmanship designed to not only provide horology but also to signify that its wearer was intelligent, educated and sophisticated.

Of course, over time, the pocket watch transformed into the wristwatch.  And parallel with that transition was the conservative dress code of the intelligent, educated and sophisticated man.  As monarchies were replaced by democracies, and societies shifted away from powerful figures dressing less like royalty and more like their constituents, crowns and robes gave way to three-piece, double-breasted suits, which further gave way to black or blue single breasted two buttons.  The watch, however, slowly and subtlely stayed the course.

Most watch designs are timeless (no pun intended).  Many of the pieces released in the last decade resemble designs from 60+ years ago.  Since fashion runs in cycles, and society is currently in a vintage cycle with a modern contemporary presence, the watch has become the centerpiece of men's fashion.  Wingtips and captoes with highly detailed broguing have returned.  Wool trenchcoats with ankle-length trousers are "in" again.  And the watch... its the pinnacle of the ensemble.  Watch sales have grown exponentially in the last 20 years, led by the intricate and sophisticated movement of the automatic, much like the pocketwatch in its day.  And it is here we come full circle.

Because the watch has been an acceptable form of jewelry for men for many years, it opened up the door of possibility for other wristwear.  In comes the bracelet.  Had the watch not existed, the bracelet would likely have stayed in ancient times.  It was the practicality of the watch that gave it purpose.  The fashion statement of the watch was simply a bonus.  This bonus gave life to the bracelet. 

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The Grown Man

It is not uncommon to see today's sophisticated male wearing a watch, bracelet, and cufflinks (another fashion item initially fit-for-purpose that transcended to fashion).  That said, men are men.  And any accessory remotely regarded as jewelry still needs a manly feel.  So, few are gemstones and bright colors in men's jewelry.  Grays, blacks, silvers, blues, and browns are still the dominate and conservative tones.  But the amount of jewelry worn at once has casually and subtlely increased.

A ring, watch, and bracelet is just that... a ring, watch, and bracelet.  There are no significantly favorable or unfavorable assumptions made in observing such accessories, barring their extravagance of course.  And today, this accessory collection is regarded less as eccentric and more as distinguished, if not completely normal.  Enhanced by the ruggedness of the jewelry, such as a beaded or leather bracelet, a beard, and well-aligned footwear, this presentation has established itself as ideal.  Coupled with the legacy of a cigar, and matureness of a fine bourbon (or Scotch if you're English), you create the perception of an intelligent, educated, and sophisticated male whose mature, well-experienced in life, and someone worthy of admiration.  Hence the concept of the "Grown Man".

Today, men's fashion is at an all-time high, and well beyond jewelry.  Men's grooming has become a multi-billion dollar industry in the last 10 years alone.  The trend for tapered haircuts, leather-soled shoes, and a lapel pin, all while having a full-length tattoo sleeve and full beard, has become the epitome of "ruggedly refined".  For the men reading this, don't take my word for it.  Men focus on fashion for one reason... because women do.  Next time you're planning to attend a social gathering, consider modifying your style accordingly and strike up a Dos Equis kind of conversation with a woman who catches your attention.  Let me know how it works out.

Stay away from the ascot though.  We're not there yet.

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