Dom Knight, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
Apparently monocles are back in. Yes, really. Men, I’m assured, are deliberately leaving the house with a tiny circle of glass chained around their neck so they can squint through it, wilfully ignoring the decades of heady success that the optometry industry has had with stereoscopic glasses.
It’s highly likely that waistcoats and pince-nez are back too, and probably even spats and plus fours, as privileged young men the world over have begun to blow their (parents’) hard-earned income on fashion items that were once found in the voluminous wardrobe of Bertie Wooster, or perhaps even Little Lord Fauntleroy.
This is part of the ‘young urban male’ or ‘yummy’ phenomenon, something that definitely exists and is not just one of those awkward media labels written by lifestyle writers desperate to identify a new trend, although it is definitely is that as well.
As New York magazine (which is painfully hip itself) aptly put it, “According to HSBC, Yummies – dear God, it hurts to type – are reshaping the retail landscape for luxury goods, thanks to their vanity and penchant for trend-chasing.” We men are all toffs now, apparently. Or at least my fellow fellows with greater wardrobe budgets than I have.
I thought ‘yummy’ had been already been bagsed for a hideous social trend as part of ‘yummy mummy’, but HSBC would beg to differ. And it’s curious that this phenomenon was first observed not by fashion bloggers combing the neon-soaked streets of Tokyo or the microbreweries of Williamsburg, but by a bank. But then again, who better to identify a trend like this than an organisation with access to millions of credit card statements and noticing a sharp uptick in purchases of pocket watches?
This trend should come as a rather firm riposte to those Members of the Opposition (a group which, for this purpose at least, includes Malcolm Turnbull) who have poked fun at the return of knights and dames as some kind of retrograde step. Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen tried to argue that it was as passé as bringing back vinyl records. Um, hello, Chris, have you not been to a hipster pour-over coffee lounge lately, or a party in a warehouse-cum-pop-up jazz venue? Those places behave as though the compact disc had never been invented, let alone Spotify.
Perhaps we can blame Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby movie, which was such a remarkable showcase for the wardrobe genius of Catherine Martin. Or perhaps we should put it down to Downton Abbey? Personally, when I watch the Crawleys dining, I tend to think “thank goodness menswear has evolved beyond the dickey”, but clearly some youngsters out there are bent on imitation.
We’ve all heard about metrosexuals, men who pay attention to grooming and wear nice clothes, and let me tell you, that was definitely a real thing. Just go to any university campus and see how well-dressed and nice-looking the fellas are nowdays a far cry from the flannie-clad slobs that were there in my undergraduate days. Why, they even seem to moisturise!
But yummies are taking it far beyond mere metrosexuality. They’re buying seriously upscale brands, the kind of thing you might find duty-free in Dubai Airport, and dress as though they were heading to a croquet tournament.
Even so, it’s a fairly big call to say that “Rather than being in a minority, men who buy grooming products to boost self-esteem or feel more attractive are now in the majority,” as the report does. But the true yummy doesn’t just slap on a bit of face wash to get rid of the pimples on his forehead. He gets facials, and often.
Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon wrote a noble piece called ‘Stop trying to make monocles happen’, which like all good articles, references Mean Girls. Even though she was attempting to quash the phenomenon, she conceded the devastating proof that monocles aplenty can currently be found on Etsy. (But of course they can.)
The other reason I’m inclined to believe in the ‘yummy’ phenomenon is because I have a friend who is at its epicentre. Several years ago, Nicholas Atgemis set up a company to manufacture Italian silk bow ties and sell them online. It’s called Le Noeud Papillon, which is French for ‘butterfly knot’, and is not only stocked all over the world, but has opened a bricks and mortar outlet in Vaucluse. I interviewed Australia’s foremost bow impresario exclusively for Daily Life.
DK: Why did you decide to start selling bow ties?
NA: At the time I started making bow ties, the men of true sartorial style, or perhaps one could say ‘Old World’ style, were so few and far apart that they were almost covertly operating like a group of clandestine French Resistance operators under Nazi occupied France. We wanted to change that attitude and to celebrate men who dress well.
DK: Have you seen any evidence that ‘yummys’ are a real phenomenon?
NA: The word is just a new buzz word… what we are seeing is young men turning to websites such as StyleForum where they educate themselves on the finer points of menswear before they purchase. Then, empowered with greater knowledge from these forums plus numerous menswear blogs which are all very accessible, they are becoming some of the toughest shoppers in history. They know a lot more about fabrics, cut, sewing techniques and above all, they have learnt to dismantle pricing structures which makes them very dangerous. These guys don’t want to pay off-the-rack prices.
DK: Is there a better term out there?
NA: The ideal word for it is ‘renaissance’ men. Because essentially they are re-generating interest in age-old areas such as tailoring and personal grooming. These things existed for my grandparent’s generation but with my parent’s generation everything moved towards the corporation and ready-to-wear/off-the-rack. Now the buzzwords are ‘custom’, ‘bespoke’, ‘hand-made’ and ‘tailored’ – and corporations have cottoned on so now they are using the same language. But what I like about these ‘renaissance’ men is that they are re-birthing old information but also generating new information at the same time. Another word for this phenomenon is the ‘peacock’ and to appreciate this fully you need to watch the blogs which snap the photos of men who turn up to Pitti menswear in Florence twice a year.
Nicholas has also at times favoured the term ‘dandy’, and has directed his army of loyal blog readers to helpful coffee-table books such as I Am Dandy, which like all books nowadays, is based on a blog. It catalogues the phenomenon worldwide and features a gentleman somehow rocking off a light-blue suit on its cover. Nicholas himself, I am proud to report, was photographed by its author at the Waldorf Astoria.
Through his blog, I’ve discovered shops like Mr Porter, a hilariously high-end menswear boutique whose website has a section not just for boat shoes, but espadrilles. Indeed, Nicholas’ most recent blog post is about a custom-made beaver felt hat that he obtained from Toronto, Canada.
So, young men’s interest in fancy accessories is here to stay, it seems. But if you don’t believe that this is really, truly a thing, allow me to introduce further a piece of incontrovertible evidence. King Gee is introducing a range of skin-tight ‘compression workwear’ for ‘industrial athletes’. If even tradies are wearing fancy gear that takes optimal care of their bulging pecs, we blokes really must be becoming dandies.
So make some extra room around that fancy dining table of yours, Crawley family, because the yummies are here. And yes, Mr Carson, of course they are dressed appropriately for dinner at a pre-war stately home.