It’s fair to say the beginning of the 2010s was not menswear’s golden age: Drop-crotch pants were a thing, and the big conversation in the business was tragic. Its chief subject was the financial downturn of 2008 and 2009, which not only sparked a general malaise across the luxury industry but also created a category-specific problem for menswear specialists. All those subprime layoffs had wiped out the spending power of a considerable constituency of consumers and sparked the first wave of this decade’s ongoing agonizing about the future of the suit.
On the runways, though, we were seeing other much more scintillating flashes of wearable rhetoric—some of which would prefigure this about-to-pass decade’s transformation of menswear. The menswear season of Spring 2010 (which went unreviewed by Style.com!) was another era; we still had Alexander McQueen, Stefano Pilati was at YSL, Gianfranco Ferré showed, Kris Van Assche was doing loose (huh?) monochromatic suiting at Dior Homme, John Galliano was at John Galliano in his full creative pomp, Kim Jones was showing suits at Dunhill, and Frida Giannini’s Gucci was as lavishly conventional as Michele’s is now lavishly the opposite. And while there were certain fixed points that still remain—Giorgio Armani, Veronique Nichanian at Hermes, Yohji Yamamoto, Dolce & Gabbana, Paul Smith, Versace—the house whose progress between the show season of S10 and S20 that most encapsulates the alterations menswear as a whole has gone through is Louis Vuitton.
Vuitton’s first collection of the decade, designed by Paul Helbers under Marc Jacobs, was themed around New York bicycle couriers and used that conceit to slip in sportswear references—fanny packs, shorts over leggings (which Tisci was also pushing at Givenchy), lanyards—all preposterously worn with formal (albeit fluoro-heeled) shoes. That footwear deficit was met by the audience, which starred the Black Eyed Peas members wearing Kanye West’s now holy grail designed for LV sneakers. Fast forward to this season just passed at LV, and the sportswear-led cultural transition from the formal to the casual in luxury menswear (notably driven by Kim Jones during his time at LV) that Helbers’s show prefigured now seems complete in the hands of Virgil Abloh.
That is the wider arc of the decade—its broadest brush stroke—but there have been plenty of finer details too. There was the steady runway-led assimilation of elements formerly exclusively feminine into menswear, like the jewelry at Lanvin’s Spring 2010 collection (“when women wear pants, men can wear jewelry” Lucas Ossendrijver observed post-show), or Westwood’s and Givenchy’s recurring skirts, or the male lingerie at Donatella Versace’s Fall 2013 collection—all of which anticipated the rise of an end-of-decade rush of fully gender agnostic houses such as Gypsy Sport, Palomo Spain, and Art School.
The flip side of that feminization, meanwhile, was the emergence of clothes at Rick Owens and Craig Green that seemed purposefully and playfully burdened by symbolic representations of the traditionally masculine. The suit is the most conventional expression of the masculine in dress, and after an early-decade last gasp flourish of dandyism—driven by Pitti Uomo’s peacocks and Mr Porter’s first few years of pocket-square garnished obsession with all things gentlemanly—the familiar two-piecer now appears as on-the-wane as the busted flush of patriarchy-enabling conventional masculinity. For several years in Milan you might see hundreds of suits a day at the shows—at Ermenegildo Zegna, Brioni, Canali, often Etro, and more—but all of these houses have since pivoted to offer clothes for a much broader spectrum of humankind.
That shift reflects the wider diversification of apex menswear during the 2010s, which in turn reflects the wider diversification of the notion of manliness between 2010 and 2020. In short (or shorts) the landscape of masculine paradigms has shifted for the better: bad bankers, #MeToo, and Donald Trump have all combined to suck any credibility—and certainly all authenticity—out of Wolf of Wall Street–flavored Alpha Male tropes. They also provided a negative backdrop against which a new, generally liberal, and much more inclusive flavor of masculinity has permeated the sphere of menswear.
The season just passed—the first of a new decade—was packed with collections whose designers aimed to subvert and flip male archetypes. From Dries Van Noten to Prada to Pigalle, they worked to signal the male wearer as an object of desire instead of telegraphing the desires he is subject to. Menswear has become a much freer space over the course of the 2010s—a non-judgmental (call-out culture aside) meeting point and melting pot of cultures, aesthetics, and sexual orientations.
Because of that, much of the most innovative and compellingly experimental work in all of fashion is happening in menswear, and the size of the menswear market is increasing much more rapidly than that of womenswear. Which leads to the question: Have the 2010s set up the 2020s to be that golden age of menswear? It feels like, just maybe, they have.