A man wears a suit, or a pair of jeans, or a certain type of leather jacket because the cloth, the fabric, the cut and the draping says something about him that cannot be expressed in language. Fashion is a multi-billion dollar enterprise in substituting language with the essence and the form of a person so that others can understand him for what he is.
But Chicago-based fashion expert Constance Dunn, author of Practical Glamour, says that something is missing in the modern man’s lexicon, mostly because his personal style language has been crafted and manipulated by media and articulated in most cases by women, who feel more comfortable being the Oracle of Delphi when it comes to what fashion means for a man.
“Men don’t really sit there and think about it,” Dunn says. “Women do it much more, because they are socialized to do it. Men are very strategic, typically. They are very good with strategy, but this is not an area they have put forth putting forth an identity at all.”
Men’s mass fashion-identity crisis, she says, isn’t their fault. Instead, she blames faulty marketing.
“What you see a lot is there is a crisis of male identity. You see men with grey in their hair and they are still wearing Vans sneakers and long skateboarding shorts. They are keeping this identity,” Dunn says. “Couture ads are so far off the mark for most men, there is not a strong message. There is not a middle road of an attractive man wearing an ensemble that is very easy to put together and is accessible. That’s what is missing from the media messaging.”
Read on for the rest of our interview.
Douglas Crets: What is missing in a man’s self-analysis as he shops for luxury goods, lifestyle brands and things he might need to accentuate his life?
Constance Dunn: Men have not been trained or socialized to be self-analytic when it comes to choosing personal products that will best serve them. A man will rarely have a clear sense of which shades flatter his particular hair, skin and eye combination, for instance. Or know which silhouettes optimize or visually correct his physique. Few men have etched out a personal brand, or given much thought to the specific characteristics in his garments and grooming that help him present his most attractive and authentic self to the world.
There is a great deal of indecision that surrounds most men when they hit the mall or department store, and this makes shopping for such items anything but a fun or satisfying affair.
Contrast this with women, who are socialized from early on to love shopping for shoes, clothes and grooming products. Shopping is often a social event where women not only bond with each other, but offer a functional role to each other by providing feedback on what looks best. Likewise, magazines and television shows offer a steady stream of information to women on what to wear and how to wear it.
What do men have? An occasional blurb in a magazine on how to tie a Windsor knot or work a suit like George Clooney. Almost nothing that is directly relevant or useful to the everyday man.
What role do marketing staff play in making this easier for men? What makes it difficult right now? Is it a problem of not having the right information or not having enough choice?
There is plenty of choice out there in terms of clothing, shoes and personal care products for men–and a dearth of practical information on how to select and use them.
Since most male consumers have a deficit of knowledge in this arena, they tend to buy by default, reaching for those items they’ve “always worn” are “comfortable,” or “look kind of cool, I guess.” Hence, there are far too many smart and dignified males out there practically living in T-shirts, hoodies, sneakers and jeans. As a gal who loves a nicely dressed man, I happen to think it’s a darn shame.
Are men given mixed signals in the media messaging for men’s brands? Can they rely on outside perceptions in media to make strong choices about personal styling and branding?
No. The message of many men’s brands is clear: image. I understand the utility of such a message when it comes to a brand like Abercrombie & Fitch, which sells to teens and young adult males access to the fantasy of being a leanly muscular, square-jawed dude draped with bikini-topped lasses.
When it comes to adult males, however, there needs to be more substance-based media messaging coming from men’s brands. A bit of image, of sizzle, is nice, but I believe men would appreciate having the fog lifted, or at least thinned a bit, when it comes to choosing their garment and grooming products. The original Dockers messaging is a classic for a reason. The messaging clearly and quickly communicated that here are these pants that will look and feel good, are accessible in terms of price and worn by many other completely respectable men in your town.
Dove’s new line of men’s personal care products, Men+Care, smartly takes a substance-based approach. The tagline is “Be comfortable in your own skin” and the messaging features unfussy self-care information and men that are accessible and good-guy solid.
What are the aims and goals of men choosing in this market?
Men wish to purchase quality items that will optimize their overall look, and at a fair price. It’s that simple. There is far less fantasy involved in men’s grooming and style choices than there is in women’s. For most women, a purse is not just a purse; it’s the projection of a lifestyle.
There is also a growing want among men to differentiate themselves from other men, albeit safely. A desire to reveal something unique about who they are in an increasingly tech-crammed and walls-up world. Plus, these days there is a certain utility in using our presentation to cut to the chase about who we really are, especially since we need to cognitively process more data than ever.
What would you change in the marketing of men’s products to men?
Make the marketing more substance-based and informative. Men want it, they can handle it and they will benefit greatly from it. Call me a simpleton, but when you look your most attractive and authentic, you can’t help but feel better, and of course you perform better. The companies that help men get there in their everyday lives, and in a cost-effective way, will reap many rewards for doing so.
I read recently that the Old Spice campaign was really targeting women friends of men, or girlfriends. Why do you think they were were doing this, and what does it say about the branding strategies that agencies choose to get men to shop for things that men need?
Old Spice is sagely targeting women because they provide a great service to men choosing in this market–they reduce or eliminate indecision. Women do this by either aiding purchases or making the purchases directly. I had lunch today with a male friend, a bachelor who is a smart and successful professional also known for being pretty adrift on the style front. Droopy khakis, tent-sized shirts and scuffed sensible shoes are the norm. He will tell you himself that he has no idea what to buy when he goes to clothing stores. Not knowing what to do, by the way, is not a welcome feeling for most men, hence their widespread lack of enthusiasm for shopping. Today he looked quite dapper, and in a thoroughly fitted yet at-ease way. No surprise, it turns out the bachelor has a new lady in his life. Judging by the volume of clothing and accessories she has purchased for him, and the care she has taken in selecting them, it’s serious.
[Image: Flickr user Dmitry Valberg]