Colin Marshall On Men’s Style Books: Kevin Burrows And Lawrence Schlossman, Fuck Yeah Menswear

November 25, 2013

imageWhether published this century or the last, most men’s style books I pick up don’t present themselves as products of the internet age. This even holds for volumes that owe their very existence to the popularity of their authors’ blog, web series, Tumblr, what have you. So the process seems to have gone with Kevin Burrows and Lawrence Schlossman’s Fuck Yeah Menswear: Bespoke Knowledge for the Crispy Gentleman, the fruit of their labor on their now-still Tumblr blog of the same name, though with one remarkable difference: this book embraces, even as it ridicules, the internet age and what it has done to menswear culture. Here we have a book that startles by simply existing on paper, so thoroughly has it embedded itself in and so instinctively does it reference its grand coterie of style bloggers, style forum posters, and style eBay buyer-sellers. Its authors might also identify a great many others in the crowd around them: bluehands, dashmunchers, herbs, OGs, photogs, plebes, and Uggs (not, needless to say, to indicate the questionable boots, but the questionable ladies wearing them).

All those terms come straight out of the glossary near the end of Fuck Yeah Menswear (which comes just before an elaborate pastiche of the kind of Japanese magazines for which I admittedly pay $18 a pop). Unlike similar addenda in most men’s style manuals, it functions less as a utility than as a piece of entertainment in itself, and I count it as only one of a host of unusual, comedy-driven choices the book makes. These begin with the very premise that made Burrows and Schlossman’s presence on style-saturated Tumblr so notable in the first place: to derive line after line of satirical lyrics from the photographs of highly dressed men out and about in such now-endless digital supply. A thin young fellow on an East Village street corner, for instance, all peaked-lapel navy blazer and rolled-up denim, his aviators and heritage-design bicycle gleaming, looking to get snapped by a bigtime blogger: “This is the spot. I’m sure of it. I’m up next. Finally. Finna style. Finna get shot. Call me Fitty. Send a text to Mom.”

They even name-check other books that built audiences through internet menswear culture: “In photo class at my liberal arts college. Name-dropped T. Hayashidy,” beside a picture of Teruyoshi Hayashida’s Take Ivy and a pair of sockless, penny-loafer’d feet. “Prof had no fucking clue. So not Ivy.” If this sort of language, especially when brought to the subject of menswear, strikes you as alien, know that its usage goes far beyond the Fuck Yeah Menswear boys. Most men of my acquaintance who write this way fit a simple description: white, thirty-ish, raised on or near America’s west coast, and educated somewhere on its east — usually, as it happens, in one of the schools of the Ivy League. The goal of this style of verse or prose, it seems to me, involves not only maximizing the clash between tone and subject matter, but also somehow expressing both constant strain and bottomless ease (or, if you like, “steez,” here defined as “style plus ease”). In this particular book, it serves the equally contradictory mission of simultaneously rebuking and celebrating the early 21st-century internet-based menswear enthusiast.

Whatever its excess, this manner gets points across unequivocally. Fuck Yeah Menswear, the authors announce in the introduction, “is about dope product, dope collections, and the steezy world we call menswear.” That line alone may send you to the aforementioned glossary, but more emphatic text rushes on, heralding, among other triumphs, “an illustrated Iliad for the menswear set.” To back up this bold claim — surely the sort of thing that won the back-cover file-under label of “humor” as well as “fashion,” which the book calls the “f-word” — separates its photos-and-lyrics pages with primers on topics like brands, denim, essentials, shops, and accessories. What these sections lack in comprehensiveness — and I sense the authors know that existing men’s style books already have comprehensiveness covered — they make up for in acerbic, almost aggressive joie de vivre. What a thrill my cappuccino-seeking self felt upon seeing the book’s inclusion of the non-wearable “coffee spot” as an essential accessory: “Your order becomes a simple nod of the head leaving you to focus on tweeting something irreverently clever followed by a quick industry insight as multiple women munching on croissants daydream longingly in your direction.”

The book also carries over from the internet the quality of timeliness, which, in style, only sounds like a virtue. But the authors, possessing more than enough menswear savvy to value timelessness in dress above most else, give wearing and buying advice applicable to many moments while satirizing the inflated attitudes and passing trends of only one. And that moment seems, in large part, to have passed, which makes Fuck Yeah Menswear especially interesting to examine now, a year after its publication. The sartorial information contained within (the derivation of some of which the authors leave to you) remains of, course, sound, though I suspect that many of the inside jokes geared toward readers with one foot in the menswear blogosphere and the other in hip-hop fandom have gone slightly stale. Still, I laughed often, and can tell that, behind the carefully constructed comedic persona and its posturing over trade shows, sample sales, and dead stock, Burrows and Schlossman understand full well that menswear involves more than just menswear. The internet’s capacity to connect every man to every brand to every era to every city has let a thousand stylistic flowers bloom, but it tends also to encourage tunnel vision: purism, programmatic imitation (the glossary includes an entry for “dressed by the internet,” calling it “the ultimate insult”), and fixation on near-meaningless levels of historical and aesthetic minutia.

Hence, I think, the book’s periodic references to older and more Continental masters of men’s style, whom they categorize under a type called “Sprezz,” the embodiment of that elusively offhand quality called sprezzatura: “Odds are his family has done this kind of thing long before the internet was invented, and he probably has no idea the internet even exists.” Still, as the attitude of Fuck Yeah Menswear underscores, those of us modern menswear enthusiasts with no choice but to acknowledge the existence of social media can, by way of sheer self-parodying bravado, seize the day nevertheless. The next page over from a photo of two jovial, sprezz’d-out middle-aged men (caption: “‘What the fuck’s a blog?’ ‘HAHAHAHA.’”), we read the following: “You’re surrounded by all your homies, and your full-time squeeze is at your side. Some dude across the street falls into a puddle and ruins his cheap-ass off-the-rack suit. The table erupts in condescending laughter. You are fucking gods and the rest of the world is your playground. We out here living.”

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aestheticsHe’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles PrimerFollow him on Twitter @colinmarshall or on his new Facebook page. To buy Fuck Yeah menswear, you can find the best prices at DealOz.

More men’s style books: Sex and Suits by Anne Hollander |Preppy by Jeffrey Banks and Doria de la Chapelle | The Nordstrom Guide to Men’s Style by Tom Julian | 100 Years of Menswear by Cally Blackman | The Suit by Nicholas Antongiavanni | ABC of Men’s Fashion by Hardy Amies | Off the Cuff by Carson Kressley | Take Ivy by Teruyoshi Hayashida et al. | Icons of Men’s Style by Josh Sims | The Details Men’s Style Manual by Daniel Peres | The Men’s Fashion Reader by Peter McNeil and Vicki Karaminas | Dressing the Man by Alan Flusser