Ten years ago I became a New York Times quoted authority on men’s clothing. Well, sort of.
Internet years, like dog years, add up more quickly than a single rotation around the sun. A decade ago there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Tumblr or Instagram. There were no hashtags then, thus no #menswear, only menswear. A decade ago there were no real smartphones. A decade ago in Internet years is ripe for a Ken Burns documentary with moving discussions of Geocities.
What men’s clothing did have a decade ago were discussion forums. Two dominated the scene, Ask Andy About Clothes, and the then upstart Styleforum. I discovered Ask Andy in Fall 2003, and I joined Style Forum shortly after that. Both sites had a small group of regulars, many of them were the same regulars at both places. Some were knowledgable, some were like me.
A year later, in September 2004, everything changed when The New York Times noticed this new wave of online interest in traditional men’s clothing. NYT fashion writer Gina Bellafante was dispatched to write a feature exploring this strange world of obsessive discussions of Russian reindeer leather and buttonhole stitching. She spoke with Ask Andy’s Andy Gilchrist and Styleforum’s Jeremy Jackson, aka “j”. And Bellafante ended up talking to me, one of the regulars. I talked about a shirt that forum man of mystery “RJman” alerted me to.
“The circles I’m in are not particularly clothes-conscious circles,” said Alan Cornett, a 34-year old minister and father of two from Wilsonville, Ala., who recently purchased a Hilditch & Key dress shirt at a good price with the knowledge he acquired on AskAndy. “I’ve learned a good deal about thrift shopping there,” Mr. Cornett said. “And it’s helped me to recognize that I wore my shirt-sleeves too short. It cost me nothing to make the change.”
Headlined, “For the Splendidly Dressed Man, Websites to Match,” the article inspired new people to flock to the forums. It was a turning point. The small club-like feel was gone, for good and for ill.
The modern #menswear world of blogs, Tumblr, Twitter, and artisanal clothing makers had its roots in the forums. Both Ask Andy and Styleforum are still plugging along, and are the same and very different. The old regulars largely have drifted off. I see some of them on Twitter, I’m friends with a few on Facebook. Andy is usually on a cruise ship off the French Riviera. Popular blogs like A Suitable Wardrobe and Put This On had their beginnings in the forums.
[cue mournful violins] The New York Times found menswear in it halcyon days. Time has matured it, but also splintered it. Popularity on the Internet has the inevitable effect of pushing things toward their lowest common denominator. The Internet, and menswear, was different ten years ago. The New York Times article changed it all.