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Three lessons from the way women dress

Three lessons from the way women dress

The next time you’re on a train, or walking down the street, or waiting in line at the supermarket, notice what the men are wearing. Then look at what the women are wearing. Chances are, one group looks like they’re having far more fun with their clothes.

“Womenswear has been more interesting than menswear for a long time,” says Thread stylist Luke McDonald. “Men were the peacocks of the Regency period, with face paints and silks, but that really dandified man fell to the wayside by the late 18th century.”

That was when the modern suit was born, thanks to the most influential man to ever wear clothes: Beau Brummel. A friend of royalty, Brummel led the way for matching coats and trousers. According to Robert Leach, author of The Fashion Resource Book: Men: “By the time of the Industrial Revolution the men in the western world were almost always in black suits with white starched shirts and stiff collars.”

Menswear's been slightly uniform ever since. But now that we've finally thrown off the shackles of wearing a suit every day, perhaps it's time to embrace something a bit more, dare we say it, fun? “There was always something obsessive about suits,” says Luke. “Now, men can be a lot more expressive.”

Modern menswear is still built around a few classic pieces – the trench coat, the Oxford shirt, chinos – that would still be recognisable to our predecessors. Womenswear, on the other hand, has invented new garments and new ways of wearing them. “Menswear is only finding its way back now,” says Luke. “Ever since the suit stopped being an obligation and a requirement, menswear has been going back to being something fun and peacockish. ”

So while we're not saying you need to step out in a sarong (although more power to you if you do) there's something to be learned from the way many women approach their wardrobes not as something functional, but as a way to make their personality visible. Clothes feel best when they're worn with joy. Here's how to get that feeling, every day.

Try soft textures and colours

“Mens’ clothing is often shown or presented as hyper-masculine,” says Luke. “Hardcore suits, stiff leather jackets, and denim that needs breaking in." Womenswear has always embraced materials that aren't such a chore. "Tactile  fabrics and soft textures. Things that will fit around you and be really comfortable. So think mohair, alpaca, cashmere, but also softer colours and tones like pastels.”

This look isn't overtly feminine – it's built from menswear staples, after all – but there's a delicacy there, too. Elasticated trousers are a bit more relaxed, the mohair knit is in a washed-out shade of pink, and the jacket is cropped, which softens the sihouette and means each item seems to flow into the next. The suede details on the leather trainers also makes them inviting and touchable, as opposed to performance-focused trainers that look like they belong in a sci-fi film.

Mix up your references

The inspiration for how men dress has often relied on a handful of references: sportswear, military uniforms, or tailoring. Where womenswear is happy to mix up different genres, menswear is often obsessed with "authenticity". "Men tend to rely on rules and conventions when it comes to putting outfits together,” says Luke. In striving for authenticity, personality can disappear.

“I think it’s a very natural thing for men, wanting to get under the hood of things," says Luke. "It’s like someone learning about cars or technology. There’s something very reassuring about having definitive answers to things, rather than what getting dressed actually is, which is something quite artistic. It’s picking from a palette of colours and textures.”

Here, inspired by the way French women dress, Luke has styled an outfit that mixes elegance (the camel overcoat) with sportiness (the hoodie and trainers). Known as code-mixing, this way of dressing implies a certain assurance with the language of fashion and the self-confidence to cherry-pick the elements that appeal to you. By combining two classic looks, you create something built on a strong foundation, but which feels new.

Don't treat accessories as an afterthought

“This is a classically masculine look,” says Luke. “If you’re a guy who’s not going to go in for all the soft colours and fabrics, or mixing up your dress code, then the biggest takeaway you can have from this is just paying attention to your accessories. Women have a lot more experience and a lot more options for this.”

That means thinking beyond belts and watches. Bags, hats, scarves, and also men’s jewellery are all good ways to personalise an outfit. “Silver jewellery especially is really making a comeback,” says Luke. “Stick to chunkier heavy pieces and don’t go overboard. Keep it simple; don’t necessarily go in for a huge medallion. Silver rings in general are quite easy to pull off.”

The key is to not just go for what’s practical. A few small touches on top of what is a fine outfit will turn it into a really great outfit. Luke points to the womenswear cult of the handbag to demonstrate how women really understand the power of an accessory.

“Far from being an afterthought, accessories are what you should be spending a fair chunk of your budget on. If you’re wearing a backpack to work every day, it shouldn’t be some anonymous thoughtless choice. Every accessory is a chance to express yourself.”

Words: Theresa Harold
Photography: Jon Cardwell
Styling: Luke McDonald