Men’s fashion in the City

In London, if you have even a passing interest in the sartorial you’ll find yourself with plenty to lust over. It’s not as good as my year spent in Milan in 2005–6 but much better than my uni years of Montreal winter wear and the abayas and kerkushas of my teenage years. I grew up in Paris in the 1980s and paid more attention to the museums than the fashion if I’m honest (who cares about street fashion when you’re 11) but I’m fixing all that by living in a city where men’s fashion makes sense as the ultimate exercise in class. Come on a journey with me through the world of men’s formal fashion in the pre-Brexit era.

Backpack authoritarianism

What’s very important to understand about men’s fashion in London is that it’s messy. That’s important. Wearing a suit is as pleasant to the average worker as wearing their school uniform so there’s always a form of rebellion involved. Yes the man has to wear a suit but he’s going to let you know he doesn’t like it. In 2019 this usually means two things: no tie and a backpack. There’s no reason at all for that backpack considering the thinness of modern laptops and that most bankers will have to lock their laptop at work as part of their clean desk policy. So what on earth is in that damn backpack? Doesn’t matter. Maybe last week’s FT, maybe cycle gear, maybe nothing. But it could contain something, that’s the point. It could be full of stuff for a weekend getaway in Europe. It’s the promise and potential for another life that lies in that backpack. The backpack is also NEVER worn properly. It’s worn on one shoulder, begrudgingly, to accompany the intent and aggression in one’s stride (try walking up the City from London Bridge in the morning). It’s reasonable yet unreasonable, just like the English (see Brexit). There is hierarchy in backpacks too. The ‘net plus ultra’ of backpacks for men in the City is a backpack from Victorinox or Wenger which can cost up to £90. That’s saying ‘I picked this up while climbing with my client in the Swiss Alps’. It’s sporty yet serious, the perfect combination for that formal/informal balance which communicates trustworthiness but not sterility.

The death of the tie

Back to the no tie issue. I worked with Bosch years ago and was informed that the tie was dead because the head of a large German car company had given a keynote address at the biggest car show in Geneva without one. And that was it. It gave permission to everyone else at the highest level of a company not to bother either. The tie doesn’t signal power, it signals a lack of power. So not wearing one can signal you might be important, whereas wearing one smells of desperation and in England there’s nothing worse.

Pink shirts

I’m writing this in India where a young man was made fun of for wearing a pink shirt by the MC of the conference I just spoke at. That would never happen in London. If you’re wearing a pink shirt, chances are you’re an equity fund manager. Because that’s power, the power to turn into any colour into the colour of money. The more powerful a man in an organisation, the more colourful he is. Because he doesn’t care and being care-free is for the all powerful in the City. The lower down the food chain, the whiter the shirt and the pointier the shoes (see T.M.Lewin’s collection and pricing). That’s just how it works.

Watches & Cufflinks

The only nod to tradition in the City are cufflinks and watches. Big fat expensive watches always worn above the shirt, the suit, the coat. Interesting cufflinks the shape of ridiculous things, but cufflinks nonetheless. Both are there to acknowledge that there is still tradition in the City regardless of all the sleeve tattoos and beards about.

The rest is a bit of a uniform. Dark suit, always black socks, black shoes, maybe a vaguely interesting striped scarf, and a dark or beige rain jacket but that’s it. There might be the odd Rab puffer jacket and interesting glasses but that’s rare too and mostly reserved for men in the beginning of a career. I’ll occasionally spot an actual briefcase but that’s so rare that I assume he must be visiting from Europe. Only Americans will wear chinos, white socks or basically any variation on the above. And men with great suits don’t work in the City.

Author of 'Smarter Homes: how technology has changed your home life' (Apress, 2018) Writing a book on corporate innovation culture out in 2020. Designer. UK.

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