Menswear has always been fashion's overlooked little brother, tugging haplessly on his sister's Balenciaga skirt only to be swatted into the background. Now the stronger sex is bounding forward, at least in two impressive recently released tomes: American Fashion Menswear (Assouline) and Maison Martin Margiela (Rizzoli).
The latter is a testament to the enigma that is Martin Margiela. In an industry that prides itself on celebrity, buzz, notoriety, paparazzi-fueled parties, and drug-rehab stints, the Belgian designer has willfully remained out of the spotlight. Hell, he's in the dark. There are almost no photos of him out there. The company doesn't advertise, but his cool aesthetic, clinical use of white (his staff must wear white lab coats, and the book is covered in white cotton), and cult following have elevated Margiela to the highest echelons of fashion.
If you're less interested in reclusive global designers than you are in looking like you earned an Ivy League degree, read American Fashion Menswear. Sponsored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, edited by fashion journalist and historian Robert E. Bryan, and with a foreword by the grand poobah of Americana style himself, Ralph Lauren, the Assouline title is a colorful, eye-opening romp through 100 years of men's dressing.
Sure, the book deftly illustrates that style born and bred in the USA is more than just worker boots and dusty jean jackets. It's rep-striped ties and blue blazers with brass buttons. It's zoot suits and Thom Browne; Palm Beach pastels and Maine knits. It's pragmatic, accessible, and always manly. "Wear American, Be a Guy" could be its motto.
What the book also does, and probably unintentionally, is beg the reader to ask where, outside its glossy folios, are these men? Flipping through the 250-plus pages, one can't help but wonder where did all the cowboys go? When did men abandon the alluring beauty of rugged masculinity for effeminate tight jeans and petite little sneakers? When did they exchange crisp khakis for chinos that look like tarps? The book, in stores on Tuesday, is an enticing advertisement to be a man again. Or, at the very least, dress like one.