In the late 90s and early 2000s, the fashion industry was decadent, glamourous and sexual. It was during this period that modern day celebrity culture exploded. Metrosexuality became a significant trend. The whole rock fashion scene was diluted because of lame pop punk styles. Girls were imitating the dress of the "sexy" female pop stars. And the hip hop (or hip pop) culture emphasized a "baggy" clothing style. These looks were inauthentic. They were over-the-top, exaggerated and fake. In short, the fashion world completely lost touch with reality. Luckily, certain designers are helping to bring this disconnect from the real world to an end. The last few seasons have been dominated by looks that are both counter reactions to the previously described trends as well as reflections of the social, political and economic events that have taken place during the last ten years. The mixture of these factors allowed for the creation of raw, rugged and authentic fashion. Fashion that I deem part of the realness movement.
The first decade of the new millennium was a time of disruption and chaos. On a social level, the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United-States, the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the July 2005 London bombings, created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty throughout the world. They also brought attention to the social injustice and disparities that exist in the international sphere. On a political level, the world had to endure George W. Bush's eight year term as the leader of the most powerful country on the globe. The Iraq war, carried out mainly in response to the terrorist attacks in New York City, became highly controversial and demonstrated that the US army wasn't as morally superior as its citizens first thought. Incidents such as the one that took place in Abu Ghraib, severely tarnished the USA's reputation and lead to many citizens questioning the American identity. Lastly, on an economic level, the financial crisis that started in 2007, but hit hard in 2009, further enhanced the sentiment of uncertainty due to companies going out of business, an increase in unemployment rates and an overall decline in wealth.
Considering the state of the world during this period, people gravitated towards two styles to express their thoughts and feelings. They either sought comfort and decided to go for an "americana" look or they sought rebellion and decided to go for a "dark punk" look. During uncertain times, we naturally want to go back to what we know, to what we feel comfortable with and to what has stood the test of time. Americans were not happy with the American identity portrayed to the world during the first decade of the 2000s. The United-States' foreign policy brought Americans a lot of criticism and, in certain instances, hate. In response to this general sentiment, certain designers decided to rediscover America's roots. They wanted to look back at the glorious past American identity, one that had strong values and morals. These designers wanted to reintroduce the good, honourable and hard-working American image. As the designer of Gilded Age accurately told the New York Observer: People "...seek things that are known and recognizable, that are part of their past. [Currently] There's something in the air that tells us to look at our values and consider what is truly American." Consumers need a boost in confidence during difficult times. They feel the need to take control, as America's founding fathers (who built the country and created the American dream) did a century before them. Men wanted to feel masculine again. They wanted to grow up. To escape their protected and domesticated lives and rediscover the USA's past work ethic. Labels such as Our Legacy, Engineered Garments and Albam are all examples of brands that are allowing the modern man to express these views by re-interpreting americana/workwear inspired classics.
Recently, heritage and heritage inspired brands have experienced a strong resurgence in popularity. They have lead the shift in the men's fashion market towards a rugged yet sophisticated look. Gone are the days of clean metrosexual outfits, fake pop punk styles and oversized hip hop gear. Men now want clothes that are more rugged, authentic and fitted. Most men own at least one plaid or checkered shirt, reminiscent of lumberjacks. Chambray and denim shirts are also making a comeback and reflect the blue-collar or working-class lifestyle. In addition, fashion connoisseurs are wearing Red Wing boots that were "...born of the necessity brought forth during the industrial revolution." (Inventory magazine) They are even going as far back as the pre-industrial period and wearing mocassins by brands such as Quoddy. This type of footwear was worn by the first settlers, therefore it reconnects the wearer with the USA's past. The United-States needs to experience a rebuilding process because the country's image has been damaged by eight years of the Bush administration. Designers and fashion conscious consumers are communicating this feeling along with their ideals through their choice in clothing.
The other design trend created by certain fashion designers didn't look as far back in time for inspiration and was much less constructive. These designers were directly influenced by the punk and hardcore punk movements of the 70s and 80s as well as the goth subculture from the 80s. This trend is harsher, more aggressive and more rebellious. Fashion connoisseurs who adopt this darker look see it as a way to say "Fuck You!" to George Bush and the evil multi-national corporations that caused the current economic crisis. It's a way for them to rebel against the system. The punk movement of the mid-70s and the hardcore punk movement that followed in the 80s, were all about that. They fought for individual freedom and had anti-establishment views. True punks (we're not talking about the pop punk fans here) were largely anti-capitalists and non-conformists. They expressed this by wearing ripped clothing attached together with safety pins or by wearing t-shirts with slogans written in marker or paint. Punks were preoccupied with political conflicts, social injustice and economic disparity. Issues that are once again at the forefront in today's global environment. Goths may not be as rebellious on a political level, but they do attach a lot of importance to mood in their aesthetic. The dark colour palettes that are used by certain designers, can be seen as a reflection of the dark times we are living in. The last ten years have been a sombre époque and certain fashion brands are reflecting the overall mood of this period through their choices of colour. Whether or not brands such as Gareth Pugh, Julius or Odyn Vovk openly admit to these movements having influenced their work, they have created an edgier, darker and more authentic look in the fashion world. Studded leather jackets, gothic jewelry, doc martens and ripped black basics have all become more popular. This look makes a statement about the first decade of the 2000s. It's a visual sign of rebellion and critique.
Fashion has always been a tool for self-expression. Some people decide not to utilize it but others see it as an opportunity for social commentary. Before these two trends were pushed forward by creative directors searching for more realistic design in fashion, there were no labels truly reflecting the present times. Mainstream culture was promoting an overtly sexual look. Designers of the realness movement responded to this by going for a more rugged and/or edgy look. Whether consumers chose to adopt the "americana" look or the "dark punk" look, they were choosing not to have a sexy image. Although both of these fashion trends expressed different feelings they shared the same message, one of discontent with the past fashion trends as well as with the social, political and economic conditions of the first decade of the new millennium. Some say that these two trends are coming to an end, which has to happen for fashion to evolve, but let's just hope that no matter what the next trend is, that it remains authentic and real.