Editor’s letter: men’s power dressing from Ali to Zuckerberg

Jo Ellison on a new era of men’s style that projects authority with insouciant cool

Mick Jagger at the Oval in 1972
Mick Jagger at the Oval in 1972 | Image: Getty Images

What does the modern man wear to convey authority? Broad-shouldered jackets? Neon trainers? A tie? A tech-bro gilet? Since joining the Financial Times in 2014, I have observed a huge shift in menswear on the catwalk, where platform sneakers, hoodies and ultra-luxe items such as cashmere corduroy and vicuña blazers have become key staples in the menswear portfolio. But I’ve yet to see much radicalism within the world of work. For all the hoo-ha about “casualisation” and Zuckerberg-style, most men wear suits. Even fashion executives steering radical, future-facing brand labels still like to don a tie. 

Oliver Reed in double-breasted wide pinstripes in 1969
Oliver Reed in double-breasted wide pinstripes in 1969 | Image: Getty Images

I was struck by how stubbornly homogenous the power uniform remains when I was speaking at a banking conference in Geneva two years ago. Every attendee (of whom the vast majority were men) wore a dark suit, white shirt and black or navy tie. There they sat, a wash of midnight blue, out of which glinted only the tiniest signifiers of personality: a fancy timepiece on the wrist, some jazzy eyewear, the odd pinkie ring. It was a sharp reminder that, despite the creative leaps in menswear I might witness at the shows, changes are marked only in tiny incremental inches when it comes to dressing in the real world.

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Male readers often write to tell me how little they care for clothes or fashion. But I don’t always believe them. They certainly care enough to wear them – thank goodness. My instinct is that, rather than not caring for fashion, they care not to stand out. Which is why, for this men’s style issue, I wanted to present ideas that felt authentic. I wanted the looks to be wearable and realistic but to project authority as well. 

Bowler hats and rolled umbrellas in the ’70s
Bowler hats and rolled umbrellas in the ’70s | Image: Alamy

When our new contributing editor and menswear stylist Julian Ganio said he wanted to do a fashion story about classic British style, featuring a cast of characters and shot at Lord’s Cricket Ground, I fell on the idea. Living close by the grounds in London, I’m often overwhelmed by the cavalcade of men en route to watch the match. With their pink trousers, Panama hats and sporting jackets, they make for a marvellous spectacle as they all stride down the road; a mass of ages, shapes and cultures, they are bound together by mutual bonhomie. And style – as evidenced by Muhammad Ali, pictured at Lord’s in 1966 by Gordon Parks (“Opening Shot”). It’s a style that transcends fashion – an amalgam of prep-school propriety, clubhouse colours, Savile Row suiting, pastels, Mick Jagger insouciance, the remnants of a wardrobe once adopted for a colonial climate that now only lingers in its sartorial tics and the forever-comfort of a sensible shoe. The cricketing fraternity has a singular look – confident, colourful, a little bit peacocky – and I think Julian and the photographer, Bruno Staub, have captured that same spirit perfectly here.

David Hockney’s 1988 colour-blocking
David Hockney’s 1988 colour-blocking | Image: David Montgomery/Getty Images

As to other trends this season, how do we feel about a bit of a lift? Tom Stubbs, long-time How To Spend It contributor – and a man with no shortage of swagger – has explored the rise of the heel. OK, you may not yet be ready for the stilettos worn on the Margiela catwalks for spring/summer 2020, all part of the fashion for gender-fluid styles, but you might be tempted to add a few extra centimetres to your height courtesy of brands such as Saint Laurent, Husbands and Tom Ford, who this season all offer dapper new heeled boots: think French nouvelle vague meets Prince. Other readers may prefer to head straight to a more traditional signifier of masculine might – the wristwatch. Nick Foulkes has rounded up a selection of platinum timepieces that are as titanic as they are titillating.

Ian wears a Tom Ford rollneck in our fashion shoot
Ian wears a Tom Ford rollneck in our fashion shoot | Image: Bruno Staub

And, naturally, I’m delighted to introduce you to Véronique Nichanian, who, as artistic director of Hermès’ “men’s universe”, is now the longest-serving designer at a brand not in their name. Véronique’s immaculate, relaxed tailoring and elegant aesthetic have been seducing male consumers for more than 30 years. A quiet, modest influence who never shouts about her work, nor occludes her designs with gimmick, she creates collections that are the ultimate ode to soft power. Perhaps that’s the key to defining the new power dressing. Just ask a woman.

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@jellison22

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