The State of Men’s Fashion – An Interview With Andy Gilchrist
Let’s face it: men in America, by and large, do not take the pride in their appearance that they should.
Beyond the fact that this is telling of one’s personal image, it can also be very costly at the hiring line. In an economy still ravaged by the Great Recession, looking sharp becomes all the more important.
So, how might men make a change for the better? It can be a very complicated process, especially if one is not accustomed to actually looking at clothes before wearing them. Considering the apparel trends popular with post-Baby Boomer generations, I venture to say that this is a problem far more serious than most would imagine.
Thankfully, Andy Gilchrist is here to provide the advice that many of us so direly need.
Since founding AskAndyAboutClothes.com in 2001, he has become one of the internet’s leading style gurus. His ebook, The Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes, has educated appearance-conscious minds the world over. In a detailed interview with me, he discusses his life and career, as well as his opinions about the state of men’s fashion in our decidedly informal nation.
Joseph F. Cotto: Women, generally speaking, are portrayed as caring more about their apparel choices than men do. Is actually the case, judging from your experience?
Andy Gilchrist: It’s not the case, but men grow up in a culture that assigns them the role of not caring about their appearance. “It’s not manly”. Most men realize how their appearance can affect the way people perceive them and react to them but certainly can’t talk about clothes with other men!
I think that’s one of the reasons for the popularity of my website and Forum. Men can anonymously discuss brands, fit and appropriateness of men’s fashion with other gentlemen who are interested in looking their best.
Cotto: Over the last several years, America has become considerably more informal. Why do you suppose that this happened?
Gilchrist: Every one blames the dot.com boom when computer related companies and then other businesses did away with a business dress code as an inexpensive perk for employees. It started with “Casual Friday”.
Companies thought that letting employees dress in shorts, tee shirts and sneakers would appeal to them. The companies didn’t realize that they had diminished the image that the employees reflect on the company. There have been studies recently that people perform better when they are dressed appropriately and that putting on a lab coat can increase your IQ.
Cotto: In your opinion, have casual dress codes gone too far? Might they become counterproductive, especially insofar as business climates are concerned?
Gilchrist: Yes. Image – personal and representing a company to clients is incredibly important.
Cotto: The necktie has seen a drastic reduction in popularity as of late. Nonetheless, it is beginning to make a comeback of sorts. Do you think that the necktie will ever go out of style completely, or is it one of those things that will always stick around?
Gilchrist: The death of the necktie has been being predicted since the Peacock Revolution in the 1960’s. The reason the necktie will never disappear is that it’s one item of clothing in a business suit that the wearer can express his personality (with color and pattern).
It’s an instant symbol along with the jacket of authority. And, most importantly, it provides a vertical line right down the middle of our torso projecting an image of being taller and thinner.
Cotto: Three piece suits are very a contentious subject. Generally speaking, either one likes them or one does not. What is your opinion about their present and future in American fashion?
Gilchrist: Three piece suits have become in-fashion again the past couple of years. They are versatile since you can wear just the vest in a casual situation or wear the vest and jacket for a very British country look.
And the vest adds a extra element of dressy to the suit.
Cotto: Double breasted suits can be another topic of debate. Are they appropriate in business settings, or might they be best for more relaxed atmospheres?
Gilchrist: Double breasted suit are considered more dressy than single breasted, but they haven’t made it back into the mainstream even though designers have been pushing them for years now just to get us to buy a new suit.
Part of the problem with Double breasted suits is that you must keep them buttoned at all times. While a single breasted suit is buttoned when you’re standing and unbuttoned to sit. That double layer of cloth across you chest makes the DB warmer, which might have been an advantage before the advent of air conditioning and heating in offices and home.
Cotto: Collar contrast shirts were huge in the 1970s and ’80s, but fell out of favor throughout the ’90s and 2000s. What are your thoughts about them?
Gilchrist: It’s an area that shirt designers can change to try to get us to buy new styles. The white collars on a colored shirt was so popular when the first “Wall Street” movie was released that it may take a while to come back.
It’s still a “different” look in certain situations.
Cotto: In the past, you have said that when you go out, you dress as if you are going to a job interview. How has this ethic worked for you over the years? Would you recommend it to others?
Gilchrist: I, of course, think it’s an essential philosophy! Men are realizing how important our image is to how others react to us. I think if you’re dressed nice even a chance meeting in a grocery store can turn into a job interview or a date!
Cotto: If you could give men one reason to take pride in their clothing selections, what would it be?
Gilchrist: Realizing how important how you look influences other people. I don’t think anyone dressed in jeans or shorts and a tee shirt got bumped to first class!
Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering how you came to be such an authority on men’s attire. Tell us a bit about your life and career.
Gilchrist: I grew up in Kansas and graduated from Kansas State University with degrees in journalism and sociology. That’s where I met my wife. My father was an oil exploration driller (no dress code required) but he really liked fashion and was always interested in what was new. He dressed for dinner and church!
I’ve had several careers in life and started in advertising, first working for newspapers, then an advertising agency in Los Angeles and then as advertising manager for several companies in LA. Then I totally changed careers to work at City Hall of the town we were living in, Manhattan Beach. I was in the Community Development Dept. which handled building and planning.
They trained me to do fire protection inspections as a civilian for the Fire Department. I then went to work for a large defense company in Redondo Beach in Occupational Safety and Fire Protection Engineering. While I was at the defense company a Polo/Ralph Lauren store opened nearby and I applied for a part time job. That job was the most fun I’d ever had working. I’m not a good salesman but was enthusiastic about clothes (father’s influence?).
I was the oldest salesmen and only part time at Polo, but for the 6 years the store was open I was the top sales associate for the entire store for 5 years. The other year I was second! I also noted that men didn’t know much about how to dress. I started creating handouts for them – “How to tie a tie”, “What quality elements to look for in a dress shirt”, etc. Those handouts were the basis years later for my book, The Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes.
I retired from the defense company, wrote the book (took three years) and then a friend from IBM suggested it would be best to sell the book on a website. I ask him “what’s a website?”. And we started AskAndyAboutClothes.com
The site has mushroomed and is very popular, and is averaging daily:
Unique Visits: 29,156
Page views: 393,741
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