by Sean Thielen
Jonathon Redrico, a junior at Chaman University, remembers the first time he critically thought about his fashion choices.
“It was like a scene out of 'Mean Girls,'” Redrico said. "I was in high school, and this girl just walked up to me out of the blue. She looked at me and said, ‘Who even wears fleece anymore?’ and then walked away. After she said that, I drove to the mall and spent a few hours just walking around some of the nicer shops. It was like some kind of existential, eye-opening moment for me—the idea that this was something I should care about.”
Four years ago, Redrico's closet was filled with XL shirts and cargo shorts. Now, he wears button-ups and khaki pants to class, or sometimes even a tie and a blazer. He’s a member of the growing, but largely-underspoken, population of college males who place heightened value on how they dress.
Men’s fashion is a phrase seldom heard. Instead, it is referenced by circumvention – to call it men’s fashion is something that most males find unappealing or uncomfortable.
“I mean, I definitely care about how I dress,” said Chase Klitzner, an upperclassman at Chapman University. “I would never say I’m interested in men’s fashion, though."
And yet, he shops at J-Crew, trendy thrift stores, and has “a love of weird socks.”
Evidently, there is a stigma against being seen as a fashionable male. It’s not something that men are supposed to care about. And when they do find themselves caring about it, they are faced with having to reconcile that care against stronger, preconceived notions of masculinity.
“I just wear things because I like them, that’s all. I want to feel comfortable, and I guess on some level it is a reflection of who I am,” Klitzner said. “But again, I wouldn’t say I’m into fashion.”
But technically speaking, everything about his appearance says the opposite.
“I think a lot of people write off fashion as being strictly feminine and emasculating—I think the word might just carry those connotations and a lot of guys don’t really want to identify with that,” Redrico said.
But take a look at any college campus and you’ll see more than a few men who appear to be putting at least some amount of effort into how they dress.
Of course, being fashionable in the men’s world does not necessarily mean following runway shows or spending several hundred dollars on single pieces of clothing. Rather, men’s fashion seems to place its focus more on personal style and the fit of the clothes.
“I think part of the reason a lot of guys put effort into how they dress is because it makes them feel more confident, more comfortable with who they are,” Redrico said.
On the other hand, there are males who are completely content in rocking cheap cargo shorts and shirts. But in a typical class at Chapman University, you’ll see more button downs and khakis than sweatpants and gym shorts.
“I think a lot of guys don’t really want to try to dress well because they don’t even know where to start,” Klitzner said. “No one ever taught them how to shop for clothes, or what to look for in a store. And a lot of guys might not even have their own sense of style because they’ve never really seen a need to.”
But now, especially in trend-ridden Southern California, style is becoming a key component of men's lifestyles. Most men might be content to lounge around the house in shorts and a ratty old shirt. But in professional, academic and social contexts, there is now the pressure to dress up and have a sense of style.
“I wouldn’t even consider going into work in anything other than a button down and pants,” said Jonathan Miller, a junior at Chapman who works for a small real estate company in Orange. “It’s just not who I am; I wouldn’t feel comfortable."
As men’s fashion slowly moves from merely a trend to a social obligation, more and more men are finding themselves stuck between wanting to dress well—while at the same time not wanting to admit to themselves or their friends that they care about how they dress for fear of being seen as “un-masculine.”
But for some, like Redrico, it’s a lifestyle.