Women have always known that an artfully chosen accessory is the ideal way to accent an outfit. Although men are a little late to this sartorial game, they are quickly catching up in the style stakes and expanding their accessory repertoires at unprecedented rates. From a subtle leather bracelet to lapel pins and colourful socks, men are increasingly discovering ways to express their personal styles without compromising on the conservative dress codes that still exist in many workplaces.
Over the past few years, the demand for men’s accessories, from shoes to jewellery, has seen a tremendous jump. According to Euromonitor International’s luxury goods research data released last year, sales in various men’s accessories categories ranging from small leather goods to luxury timepieces have jumped between 24 and 52 per cent since 2009 in the US. This has led the agency to predict that luxury menswear and male accessories will even outperform womenswear and female accessories this year.
A similar growth in men’s accessories is expected globally. The report, noting that men’s annual disposable income is around 50 per cent higher than women’s globally, “coupled with a growing male desire to look good in major emerging markets such as China and India, will drive up investment in luxury menswear and accessories, triggering a significant shift in the portfolio mix for some leading brands”.
“You’ve got metrosexual men like David Beckham and many artists wearing jewellery, which made it okay for guys to do so.”
– Robert Tateossian
For instance, luxury marque Bottega Veneta recently launched its inaugural early-autumn collection for men comprising briefcases, document carriers, desert boots and slip-on sneakers. And last year, Montblanc added more colour to its largely black collection of leather goods with its patinated Sfumato range and Sartorial series (the palette includes attention-grabbing red).
Designer labels such as Hermes, Dior, Tom Ford and Saint Laurent have become go-to brands for men’s accessories, while independent labels have also amassed loyal followings for their goods. Think, for instance, Goyard for small leather goods and Giles & Brother for costume and silver jewellery.
In Singapore, bespoke menswear tailor Kevin Seah, who also stocks shoes, pocket squares and other accessories at his atelier, has seen a 30 per cent increase in the sales of shoes year-on-year since 2013. But it’s not just the ready-made items that are flying off the racks. Seah hosts frequent trunk shows by bespoke shoemakers – the most recent one, held in June, was by Parisian label John Lobb – and estimates that the number of his clients purchasing bespoke footwear has risen by between 30 and 50 per cent annually.
EVOLVING WORKPLACE NORMS
One of the key factors driving this surge in interest in accessorising is the shift away from traditional modes of workplace dressing, where men were once encouraged to dress almost uniformly. These days, it is becoming more commonplace for men to jazz up their suits with small but individualistic touches.
Zaim Kamal, creative director of Montblanc, observes: “One of the biggest shifts has been the re-emergence of what I call ‘sartorial elegance’. People nowadays dress like my father or grandfather did, but they give it their own twist. It’s not a uniform anymore, it’s an expression of individual aesthetics. So someone might wear a three-piece suit – and this is something familiar – but their trousers are a little higher or they wear their cuffs open, or they wear a watch with three bracelets, and they go to work like this.”
Paul Ong, who works in finance and banking, agrees. While he still has to stick to a fairly conservative dress code of white and blue shirts with dark trousers for the office, he gets a little more creative with his footwear.
“This allows for understated flexibility and bursts of colour, while keeping the flamboyance to a minimum, as the accessorising is concentrated in one area,” says Ong, who has an extensive office- appropriate shoe collection that runs the gamut from brogues and Oxfords, to Chelsea boats. (His stash of casual footwear, such as slip-ons and sneakers, is a whole other story.) He often pairs his shoes with patterned or colourful socks by specialist labels like Corgi and Pantherella.
HOW TO WEAR IT
Today, there are no lack of style icons to provide inspiration for the fashionably inclined. In the noughties, there was one lone warrior in the form of footballer David Beckham. Today, social-media platforms are awash with street-style favourites, such as fashion retail veteran Nick Wooster, who are heavily photographed in their latest threads at men’s fashion weeks.
Simon Spiteri, accessories buyer for Mr Porter, the male offshoot of Net-a-Porter, says: “The small details of men’s style have become increasingly more important (in order) to highlight their looks and stand out from the crowd. While ties, cufflinks and pocket squares continue to be the essential standing points to accessorise a classic outfit, bracelets, rings, silk scarves and glasses are showing their powerful strength in taking your everyday style a step forward.”
And it’s not just what men are wearing that has changed, but how they wear it. Robert Tateossian, founder of English luxury jewellery label Tateossian, started his company by selling just cuffinks. He notes that because men are dressing more casually these days, the market for French-cuff shirts has stagnated – but this has not led to a drop in cufflink sales, thanks to shifts in the way men are accessorising.
“Men now don’t only wear cufflinks when they wear suits, which was the traditional way. Now, people will wear French-cuff shirts with jeans and a blazer, and they will wear cufflinks,” he says.
That said, with the sales of cufflinks holding steady, what has helped his business grow over the years, he says, has been the rising demand for other accessories, such as bracelets.
IN HER FOOTSTEPS
The boom in men’s accessories has been accompanied by other interesting evolutions in male purchasing behaviour. According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, men are shopping more like women these days, with a penchant for impulse buys, online shopping and trend-based purchases.
For example, traffic at Mr Porter spikes on Tuesdays and Fridays, when new arrivals are uploaded on the website. No surprises that bestsellers on the site include accessories such as sneakers, jewellery, wallets and sunglasses – just the type of items that are easy to purchase on a whim.
Over time, men are getting more experimental with their choices, as they search out pieces that will make a statement. Spiteri shares that one popular jewellery item this season is Alexander McQueen’s Beaded Skull Bracelet, which as its name implies, features a skull design.
Just like their female counterparts, men find they have more leeway to express themselves on weekends and after-work hours – and are not afraid to let their personalities shine through. While he confines his fashionable flourishes to his feet during the workweek, Ong enjoys throwing on some bracelets on weekends for sentimental reasons.
He says: “Most of my wrist accessories are purchases from my travels and are associated with memories of those trips.”
Dapper tailor Seah has a different off-duty adornment of choice. He says: “On weekends, I’d opt for a linen shirt with rolled-up sleeves with a pair of shorts and loafers for a classic look, topped off with a Panama hat for added style.” An accessory that’s cool yet functional: Now, that’s what we call a head for fashion.
King of Cufflinks
A veteran in the field of men’s accessories, Tateossian founder Robert Tateossian shares his insights into this booming trend.
01: You’ve been in the fashion business for 25 years. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in men’s fashion?
The way people buy has changed. Men are buying online more than ever. Secondly, men have become a lot more open to wearing jewellery, which has been a very lucky thing. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here today (laughs).
02: What’s trending in men’s jewellery now?
You’ve got metrosexual men like David Beckham and many artists wearing jewellery, which made it okay for guys to do so. Whether it’s a banker or a graphic designer, they’re wearing bracelets and lapel pins. Pins are a big trend right now – it could be flowers as with Lanvin, or a Lardini with a little rose.
03: What other men’s accessories are set to become popular?
More men are carrying leather bags, whether it’s a tote bag or the backpack. We are launching a backpack in eight different styles: One will be ponyskin with a camouflage print, another is going to have square studs in black gunmetal, another will have gears in the front and there will be one with chains and a watch hanging from it.
04: Do you do bespoke designs?
We can change certain things, like use pink gold instead of white, or make a necklace longer or shorter. But otherwise, we do collaborations (such as a collection with the Elton John Aids Foundation), rather than bespoke. People seldom know exactly what they want, so you can produce something for them, and they might go, oh, it’s too thick, it’s too thin, it’s too shiny. If somebody is coming to buy something from me, they’re buying my design.