I can remember, when I was about 15 years old, walking around Eastview Mall with my mother, my aunt, and a cousin on my mother’s side. It was time to buy clothes for school, and I had my mind set on exactly what I wanted: wide-leg, bondage pants.
It didn’t matter that they lacked utility.
It didn’t matter that, in less than five years, I’d cringe myself to death at the thought of wearing them.
It didn’t matter that such a pant basically put me into the “weirdo” category as a young black American.
I simply didn’t care. That style was a defining characteristic of my mindset at the time: anti-conformity, anti-preppy, anti-establishment, metal metal metal, and more metal.
I wanted to wear my distaste for just about everything on my sleeve.
The major impediment was a loving mother who was also a strict pentecostal Christian. To her, anything within feet on Hot Topic was an automatic lifetime in hell.
I’d often find sly ways to lure her to the store, including random walks through the FYE that divided the mall; and placed us within 10 feet of the storefront. Luckily, on this shopping trip, my cousin said something to my mother that I’ll never forget. She pushed for my mother to let me go to Hot Topic and pick out something I wanted. And, more importantly, she didn’t frame it as “ a phase” (which can feel pretty insulting at that age). She simply said, “Let him express himself.”
With that, my first pair of wide-leg bondage pants were bought. There were many to come after that (especially as I started to work more). I felt like I was wearing a suit of armor when I donned them. In an incredibly self-conscious, insecure body, I felt a modicum of confidence and centeredness.
I felt like…me.
I think, as men, we tend not to really connect with the word “fashion.” For many, it brings up an image of someone incredibly “metrosexual” or just self-obsessed. I’m mentally cueing up the kind of person who listens to these new-age machismo podcast types, who encourage you to “crush the competition” or be “high value.”
However, there’s a good reason for men to care about their wardrobe; and I’d like to distill it into one singular reason, and it has very little to do with impressing others (or attempting to crush them): confidence.
Not the bad motivational speech confidence. Not the confidence to pick up any woman you desire (can we please stop with that?).
This confidence has everything to do with that “IT” factor. Like when I used to wear a pair of white jeans with a Superman shirt. It didn’t have to make sense. It made me feel strong, sexy, and true to myself. That’s the confidence many men are really looking for.
Besides, men tend to be utilitarian. The biggest issue with current marketing about why men should care about fashion is that it tends to lend false confidence, much like a beer commercial that surrounds some slub with a Hawaiian t-shirt on with women that are clearly fitness models. Deep down, most of us KNOW we aren’t going to land a top model of a woman or a Ferrari just by wearing whatever Idris Elba would wear to new york fashion week. Maybe we’ve tried as much in our late teens and early 20s and realized it was a pipe dream.
With that in mind, we want to know that the “tool” of fashion is going to work for us. So, when I say confidence, I don’t mean some amorphous thing or bad James Bond archetypal put-on. I mean, what will make you feel like you could get through a conversation without tripping all over your words? What’s something that you won’t find yourself yanking and tugging at because it fits awkwardly? What’s that thing you see on the clothing rack that you just have to have? It speaks to you.
That’s the wear I felt about those white jeans. I saw them on the regular rack at Calvin Klein. I knew I should be mindful of my money…but I couldn’t say no. I knew they were right for me. I think I even remember describing them as “slick.” I’d never used that adjective prior.
Not once did I consider if those jeans were going to get me laid or get me in a boardroom or convince anyone I was “high value.” I put them on and felt priceless.
That’s your style guide, men: If it lights you up on the inside, everything else will follow.