Think you’re obsessed with clothing? Then you don’t know Marc Grayson.
Grayson (his username on various men’s fashion forums) has an entire room devoted to his 50 custom-made suits, 50 sportcoats, 40 high-end shoes and 100 neckties, which he estimates total some $300,000 in sartorial expenditure.
And where does he go to find camaraderie with other clotheshorses? To online forums like filmnoirbuff.com: “I couldn’t dare talk about clothes with the outside world,” says Grayson, “because I would be looked upon as being way too self-conscious and self-absorbed.”
He’s right: While on assignment for a metro daily that ultimately killed the story, Dandyism.net webmaster Christian M. Chensvold delved into the strange world of online men’s fashion forums. The experience filled him with such contempt for clothes-obsessed poppinjays that he renounced clothing, fled to Tahiti, and became a nudist for a short but satisfying spell.
And so in what is now by happenstance a Dandyism.net exclusive, Chensvold shares his findings in profiles of the men behind the sites Ask Andy About Clothes, Style Forum and Film Noir Buff. Dandyism.net forum member JLibourel leads the story.
Which begs the question, what was Chensvold — the webmaster of this site, which also features a forum — doing pretending to objectively scribe on the topic of other fora?
Simple: Here we don’t discuss clothing.
By Christian M. Chensvold
Jan Libourel’s wife doesn’t like his clothes. She doesn’t like his two-tone Allen Edmonds shoes, she rolls her eyes over his silk pocket squares, and if he wears an ascot she’s afraid to be seen with him.
But there’s one thing she really hates: The fact that Libourel — a former professor of ancient history and noted gun authority — spends up to 2 1/2 hours a day discussing men’s clothing on the Internet. “She regards it as highly eccentric and time-wasting,” says the 64-year-old Long Beach resident. “I say, ‘It’s not as if I’m on some porn site,’ and she says, ‘That would be normal.”
While some men go online to discuss cars, sports and electronics, a small but growing number are logging on to debate shirt collar styles, the virtues of a Neapolitan shoulder, and whether or not it’s gauche to leave the last button on a custom suit sleeve undone.
This is the often sophisticated and occasionally pathetic world of men’s clothing forums, where guys who are clothes obsessed find sanctuary from a society they say regards them as effeminate poppinjays. Combined, the four best-known men’s clothing forums boast over 10,000 members, plus countless more regular visitors eager to debate whether Brioni suits are superior to Kiton, and whether socks should match shoes or pants.
The forums serve as their information resource, support group and jury of peers. “A lot of people feel they belong here,” says Jeremy Jackson, a 27-year-old Seattle resident who manages his family’s construction business and founded Style Forum in 2002. “If clothes are your major interest, it’s very unlikely you’re going to find a place in the real world to hang out and talk about clothing with other men.”
Style Forum (styleforum.net) caters to fashion-conscious guys in their twenties and thirties. Ask Andy About Clothes (askandyaboutclothes.com/forum), which has the largest number of members, is focused mostly on business attire. The London Lounge (thelondonlounge.net) centers around custom tailoring, and newly launched Film Noir Buff (filmnoirbuff.com/forum) — sometimes called “devil’s island” — has become a refuge for members who’ve been banned from the other sites.
Libourel, who used to post on dog and gun sites before discovering the fashion forums, is a member of all of four. “There’s fairly high level of general knowledge, erudition and certainly civility compared to other Internet fora,” he says.
Film Noir Buff, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear his career would suffer if people knew of his clothing obsession, says discovering fashion forums was therapeutic. “I can’t sit down to lunch with bankers and lawyers and talk about buttons on my sleeve,” says the New York financier, who launched his forum last March. “They’d think I was crazy.”
Forum members are typically educated and successful — they’re also desk jockeys able to shirk work by surfing the Web. “There seems to be a disproportionate number of lawyers and investment bankers and people who are shut in their office and are dreading whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing,” says Jackson. “I’m sure there are a remarkable number of billable hours that are actually on Style Forum,” adds Fok-Yan Leung, one of the site’s moderators.
For the clothes-obsessed man, no sartorial matter is too obscure — or inane — to bring up. Mutant_Hairs, a Style Forum member who lists his location as Southern California, posts the question, “What’s appropriate jury duty attire? I really don’t want to be selected, but I don’t want to look inappropriate either.” One member says a t-shirt and track pants, while another suggests a seersucker suit and bow tie.
Manhattan Beach resident Andy Gilchrist, author of “The Encyclopedia of Men’s Clothes,” launched his wardrobe advice website Ask Andy About Clothes in 2001. A year later he added a forum that today boasts over 7,000 members, countless more regular readers, “and the occasional psychotic.”
“I was trying to create a friendly ground where we could discuss men’s clothing and not feel strange about it,” says Gilchrist, the proud owner of 300 neckties. “It goes back to if you’re a woman in our society you’re expected to look nice and be interested in clothes, but if you’re a guy you’re supposed to be just rugged, and if you’re interested in clothing at all you might be a girly-man.”
Whereas in previous generations fathers would teach their sons how to dress for the business world, Gilchrist says this tradition has all but disappeared, replaced by the surrogate fatherly advice of the clothing forums.
Clothing forums have not only made today’s consumer more educated than ever before, thanks to the wealth of opinions available, they have also created a new breed of arbiter elegantiarium whose opinions are solicited by novices and contested by other self-styled savants.
Perhaps the best known forum expert is Michael Anton (“manton” on the various forums), author of the recently released book “The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style” (written under the pseudonym Nicholas Antongiavanni).
Anton says forums are replacing traditional media — namely men’s fashion magazines — since erudite clothing aficionados can now easily share their knowledge with their peers and build a reputation as an authority. Moreover, men’s magazines like GQ are focused on fleeting looks of the season and are not aimed at a discriminating consumer, says Anton. “When you compare clothing to other products that guys have a connoisseur relationship to — cars, cigars, stereo equipment — there are sources of information that are pretty good. But for high-end clothes you can’t count on GQ and Esquire.”
And while no one person knows everything about clothing history, construction and quality, the totality of information available on the forums is virtually comprehensive. “Everybody has gaps in their knowledge,” says Anton, “but for the forums as a whole there are very few gaps.”
But where there’s information there is opinion, and where there’s opinion there’s contention. Because forums often appear like a microcosm of male behavior, aggression frequently rears its head, however well coifed. The anonymity of the Internet allows people to say things they would never say at a cocktail party. So while you might think that a fellow guest’s pink seersucker jacket is of questionable taste, you would presumably bite your tongue. But on men’s fashion forums, many cannot resist the temptation to type “idiot.” Ill-mannered members and troublemaking “trolls” are banned by forum moderators.
And despite the success, education and maturity of most members, clothing forums also produce their own style tribes that bear a striking similarity to the goths, skaters, punks and preppies we all remember from adolescence. Though membership crossover is common, so is antipathy to competing forums. “It’s very rare you come across a subject where people have no opinion about the people on another forum,” says Jackson.
ANATOMY OF AN ADDICT
When Marc Grayson brought his new girlfriend to his apartment, all she could say was “Oh, my”: Inside Grayson’s two-bedroom New York City pad were two walk-in closets overflowing with clothes, and the extra bedroom was full of commercial garment racks loaded with suits, sportcoats and slacks.
Grayson (his online username, not his real name) is an admittedly extreme example of the kind of clothes-obsessed coxcomb who frequents the men’s fashion forums. A 35-year-old businessman whose father also had a taste for finery, Grayson estimates that over the past 15 years he’s spent over $300,000 on 50 custom-made suits (some running $4,000 each), 50 more custom sportcoats, 40 pairs of high-end shoes, 100 neckties and 15 leather jackets he “bought on sale.”
And he’s not even rich: Some small investments provide him with the discretionary income necessary to indulge his love of bespoke apparel, Grayson says.
Grayson is a regular contributor at Film Noir Buff, having been banned from Style Forum and Ask Andy for what he says was criticizing the work of some well-known New York tailors. “I couldn’t dare talk about clothes with the outside world because I would be looked upon as being way too self-conscious and self-absorbed,” says Grayson, who often stops by his tailor just to touch the fabric swatches and imagine the possibilities.
But indulging his vice is increasingly giving Grayson pause for reflection. “It does bother me,” he says of the expense. “And I’ve been thinking about it with greater intensity, if it’s money that could have been better spent. It is almost an addiction.”
And that is the final function of online men’s clothing forums. For if they are information resources, support groups, surrogate fathers and debating clubs, they are also enablers of addiction. “If you stay on the forums, you stay focused on indulging in clothing,” says Grayson. “It’s like being a gambler and going into chat rooms talking about how you love to gamble. There’s very little discussion about the unattractiveness of being so self-centered.”
Somewhat wistfully, Grayson admits that the conventional view of fastidiously dressed men as vain and superficial may be entirely justified: “It is a completely self-absorbed state of mind we’re in on these forums.”