Highly strung homosexuals have got to be stopped! They are terrorizing the mainstream males of Manhattan. The Queer Eye phenomenon has given carte blanche to every boutique salesperson, hairdresser and style guru-call them the lay gay-to “transform” any dopey hetero who happens to wander into their field of vision. The more these wannabes inflict their style makeovers on all the Slob, Dick and Harrys, the more they flatten the landscape of masculine attire into a homogenous pancake. QE ‘s Carson Kressley et al. seem hell-bent on making everyone dress like … Carson Kressley-i.e., faded low-rise boot-cut jeans, vintage leather jacket, white shirt, wingtips sans socks à la Brad Pitt in Fight Club . Our tribal diversity-such an important part of bloke culture-is in jeopardy.
As my old mentor Fred Pressman, the former owner of Barneys, used to say: “At any given time there are not one, but about eight different ways for men to dress.” Dear Fred-who had an encyclopedic grasp of men’s wear from the buttoned-up C.E.O. to the Gaultier-skirt-wearing exhibitionist-passed away in 1996, and times have changed: There are now, thanks to a saturated retail market and the loony cult of personal expression, about eighty ways for men to dress. This plethora of guy styles does, however, fall under three umbrella headings: Freaks, Fops and Fascists.
Freaks, formerly the smallest group, now constitute the backbone of guy style. This has three important subcategories: the dirtbag (Rogan jeans, vintage T-shirts, redneck trucker hats, Y3 sneakers-very Ashton Kutcher); the “spiritual” dude (tribal tattoos, cargo pants, pierced tongue, shaved head-very Burning Man! Very Woody Harrelson!), and last but not least, the entire hip-hop universe.
Fops are the endangered species. From pinkie-ring-wearing, Brioni-clad Mafiosi to pocket-square-lovin’ window-dressers, fops adore adornment: think emperor of electronica Frankie Knuckles, Vogue ‘s Hamish Bowles and, of course, moi ! We are a throwback to the 18th century, when everyone was really nelly and no self-respecting dude went into battle without a perfumed mouchoir . We love flamboyant furnishings: a flowered shirt or a matching shirt and tie, monogrammed this or French-cuffed that. There is an overlap with the pimpy end of the hip-hop monde .
Fascists are the smallest group, though they are also the fastest-growing. Whether in Dockers, Dickies, Lacoste, Helmut Lang or Hedi Slimane, these uniform-lovin’ dudes are looking for order in a chaotic world. Think Tom Ford in his crisp white shirt and black jacket, or my husband Jonathan Adler in his vintage Lacoste, vintage Levi cords, webbing belt and preppie loafers-a uniform he has worn since his WASP-aspirant prep-school days. These guys crave the rigid conformity of the 1950′s, when guys wore gray suits, white shirts and narrow ties, and women (broads and dames) wore greasepaint and wired foundation garments.
This persnickety movement has a new ayatollah, a man whose rigorous aesthetic and missionary zeal are propelling him into the fashion stratosphere. Thom Browne dresses like a very chic early 1960′s undertaker, and he thinks you should, too. He loves the Brooks Brothers look of the early 60′s and deplores both the nelly fop and the smelly dirtbag. “There’s nothing worse than seeing a guy in fashion,” he told me recently at the new, minimalist meat-market atelier from which he operates his exquisitely anal-retentive enterprise (17 Little West 12th Street).
On the day of our interview, the paradoxically affable Mr. Browne, 38, was wearing a white button-down shirt (collar buttons undone), a narrow tie made of austere gray suit fabric (“Gray is a color!” he defended), narrow flat-front pants in lightweight gray wool with two-inch cuffs, no socks (very hairy legs), and a gray cashmere cardigan with three white varsity stripes knitted into the upper left arm. When I described his look as “Mr. Rogers meets Leni Riefenstahl,” he got very excited and exclaimed, “Exactly! Men should dress like bureaucrats or airline pilots.”
Allentown, Penn.–born Thom, a former model (you may remember his Motrin commercials) and J. Crew–Club Monaco operative, started his custom-tailoring business after being unable to find clothes that he felt were genuine. “Today, clothes are all about individuality, supposedly,” he said. “But it’s all fake, and everyone is starting to look the same.” Mr. Browne’s wacky theory is that, by putting all guys back into a tailored uniform, the playing field is leveled and a genuine individuality blossoms, as opposed to a store-bought pseudo-bohemian identity.
Though Thom bills himself as a bespoke tailor, he is not in business to satisfy the needs of the size-challenged: Tubby guys should waddle past. “My style is a young fit: narrow pants, shorter jackets, high waist,” he said. Poor people should also walk on by: His clothes are not expensive by bespoke standards, but a suit costs $2,800. (Call 212-633-1197.)
Re Tattoos (or permanent bell-bottoms, as a friend calls them): Let’s face it, they are a desperate, pathetic and transparent attempt by middle-class people to acquire some bad-ass grit. They look ridiculous! Stop it!