Skirts and shell suits: A brave new world for men’s fashion?

Shellsuits, robes and the ubiquitous skirt-for-men fought for attention in London’s showcase of masculine couture. But while innovation is predictably irritating, this is how the future will look

Alexander Fury
Wednesday 08 January 2014 20:59 GMT
Elevate your sole: A model presents a creation by J.W. Anderson during the Autumn/Winter 2014 London Collections
Elevate your sole: A model presents a creation by J.W. Anderson during the Autumn/Winter 2014 London Collections (Getty Images)

It’s easy to rattle cages when it comes to designing menswear. Sometimes, too easy. The conventions are set in stone: suiting, sportswear, a kilt if you’re Scottish. Anything outside of those narrow parameters is bound to raise the eyebrows, the hackles, and in turn the heckles, of Middle England.

A challenge to the sartorial status quo is irritating and mildly terrifying. Especially because, you know, fashion isn’t “that” important. It annoys the chattering classes when someone makes them care so much about something that is ultimately so inconsequential. After all, who notices what you wear? Besides the rest of the world?

It’s also assumed that irritating garb is what masculine high fashion is purely composed of, suiting and booting eschewed for wrap skirts and three-armed jackets.

That is, of course, an incorrect presumption. There have been plenty of middling, middle-of-the-road and even downright dull outfits on the catwalks of London Collections: Men for winter 2014.

However, it’s the outré ensembles – which had many scratching their heads and scowling – that indicate fashion’s next steps. You won’t necessarily be sporting this clobber as it is seen on the catwalk, but the trickle-down effect – from fellow, less fertile-minded fashion labels to a slough of high-street copyists – mean their influence is inescapable.

Here are the looks that made up London’s brave new (fashion) world.

Elevate your sole

Adjust your eyes. Despite stacks of bangles, dinky-wrist-purses and puff-sleeved blouses, for many, JW Anderson’s lug-soled, towering platform shoes were the sole take-away from his Tuesday morning show. But it takes a sure hand, or rather foot, to confidently make such a wrong step.

Anderson’s accessories were something of a distraction, a feminising element that ties in to a play on gender roles that has become his much-imitated signature. And while few men will teeter in his four-inch heeled “blogs” (bloke-clogs to you and I), nevertheless Anderson’s amplified soles are indicative of a general move towards heftier footwear.

It’s the exaggeration, however, that makes an impact, and will no doubt inspire much sole searching for fashion forward fellows.

Be long

For a large proportion if the world, what Craig Green proposed for his autumn/winter 2014 menswear collection was nothing out of the ordinary. At least, not next to the pile-ups of splintered wood sported as masks by models at his last two catwalk shows.

This time, Green offered skirts. Floor-length skirts, sometimes topped with a robe-like coat, often marked with elaborate pattern redolent of Middle Eastern tiling, or stained-glass windows. It’s the kind of garb only donned by the clergy here, although further east it’s an everyday look for Everyman.

I’m not suggesting that Green, talented though he is, will force the male populous into printed dirndls. But his offering certainly had the conviction to make us readdress our ideas of proportion for male attire. Ankle skimming coats are hardly fancy dress.

Skirting the issue

Skirts for men – whether ankle-length, like Green’s, or layered over trousers, such as the pleated, punkish, zip-edged kilts proffered by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen – are a provocative proposition designers return to again and again. Gaultier was the first, but the idea still outrages, and stays on the peripheries of masculine dress. At least, so we’re led to think.

Burton’s kilts layered over trousers have a counterpart in the longer-line tunics of the past few seasons. They’re a retail success, just like low-slung jeans. Is a skirt for men, albeit atop skinny trews, really so far a leap?

Shelling out

Are shell suits honestly due a revival? James Long asserts so. This look is less a challenge to sartorial convention and more to the conventions of good taste. Shell suits were never fashionable.

However, Long’s line in questionable apparel is part of a long tradition of catwalks challenging our notions of acceptable attire. The leather jacket, trouser-suit for women and even the blue jean were all viewed as transgressions of taste, once upon a time. Given fashion’s current obsession with sportswear, the shell suit is a natural nadir.

A feathered friend

Sibling’s sweater, frothed with ostrich fronds, seems a hybrid of Barbara Cartland and Countryfile. However, this knitwear label has almost single-handedly reignited interest in craft knitting, so much so that Topman recently tapped them for a collaborative high-street range.

Feathery fluff may be a step too far, but a natty knit with a chunkier, woolier yarn is suddenly looking right. Ditto the beastly texture, seen in a more sedate form at Burberry Prorsum and bound to carry through the winter season. Preemptive polar vortex dressing, maybe?

Burberry Menswear AW14
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Alexander McQueen Menswear AW14

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