2015 will be remembered as the year the world sent men to Syria.
Never mind. In 2016, men will be going to the shops.
Last year saw the menswear market grow faster than the womenswear market. In a bulge not seen since the great Tudor codpiece movement, men are per-head beginning to outspend women on all things fashion. 2015 saw New York join Paris, London and Tokyo in hosting a separate, menswear-only fashion week whilst everyone from luxury brands to start-ups are now positioning themselves to catch the new wave of mental-for-this-look males. What's going on?
The data points in part to the emerging markets: places like China, South East Asia, Russia as well as the Middle East are all seeing a major uptick in men spending on fashion. Part of that comes from an emergent, youthful, newly-moneyed middle class who at this stage of their lives are more likely to spend on jeans and shades than save for a house.
There's also the fact that whilst men buy menswear, women also buy menswear. Both of these things have prompted - and subsequently been sped up by - a sweep of stores opening up in these regions - from Zegna , the most profitable menswear brand in the world with stores in 35 cities in China alone, to H&M who this year opened in the Philippines - overnight becoming the country's largest clothing store.
Meanwhile, in places like the UK, US and Western Europe it's been put down to a more general cultural shift. Men appear increasingly open to the concept of being 'into fashion'.
At any rate, the media's reaction to the growth of the menswear world has mostly been a series of think pieces about changing perceptions of masculinity. Which is all very well, but cultural changes are slow moving beasts. Shorter term, the increasing influence of menswear is going to have a tangible effect on both the wider fashion industry and perhaps media in general. To start with...
Men have a different attitude to choice
Research conducted by both experts and any man who has ever been dragged mid-blazing-hangover down Oxford Street by a significant other generally agrees that women's shopping strategy involves browsing. Men are less fond of, in fact often hindered by, choice (insert tired joke regarding infidelity here). As it's a traditionally female-orientated industry, online stores like ASOS, Boohoo and H&M's site are geared toward big-browsing: grid upon grid of options, style filters, colour selectors. Whilst sales of menswear on all these sites are strong, it's tempting to suggest they're strong through marketing, not through men's preference. Consider two enormous powerhouses of both commerce and male gadget-browsing: Ebay and Amazon. Both have launched men's fashion sections. Both have quietly stagnated, as men don't necessarily want to see 48 different types of boot cut, loose-waisted, stonewashed blue jean, they just want the right pair, for under £60, please.
This hasn't gone unnoticed: a suite of online style assistants and menswear specialists has grown up like Thread and The Chapar - all designed to help guide men through the process of thinking in terms of outfits, not individual garments. As mobile app technology, image recognition and location-service based advertising gets ever more accurate, a clutch of menswear focussed apps may well appear in the coming years. Why hasn't this happened in women's fashion already? Simple: women have had traditional fashion media for far longer than men. Which, as it emerges, could be another innovation:
The rise of men's fashion will alter the way fashion works in the media
Menfolk have often wondered exactly how women pick outfits, looks, work out "what's in style this season". It's relatively simple. They're told, by more or less every female-focussed lifestyle magazine going. Men have less luck. Aside from the occasional advertorial shunted into a lad's mag, the only ongoing style guides for men tend to be the domain of elite fashion blogs or ultra-high end men's magazines. That won't last. As more men become curious about how to improve 'their look' more new media will crop up to help accomodate that. There'll also be a rethink on marketing. Male focussed advertising has always be "Buy this, get laid" but with fashion's aforementioned crisis of choice and the continuing 'instruction gap' more content-driven marketing will surely pop up around male fashion. Out, will be yet more sites with yet more endless scrolling on new t-shirts. In, will be "Fashion Brand's guide to the post-weekend-match look". Videos coming to a news feed near you.
Men are a major opportunity for new fashion brands
Most men can't work out if Coco Chanel was a person, or a perfume, or a person that became a perfume, or if that transition wasn't painful for Coco. They don't have the same acute brand awareness that many women do. In the emerging markets, that's led to a rush of designer gear aimed specifically at men: Ralph Lauren T-shirts and Barbour jackets sporting oversize logos are in. However, in the likes of Western Europe and the Americas, it's an opportunity for new brands to quickly seize hold. This is already underway, Japanese brand TomorrowLand has gone on the offensive in the UK in an attempt to pin the men's market.
Men's fashion may open up new marketplaces
Women's magazines, and actresses in films have traditionally been two massive places for female fashion. Whilst male fashion has also appeared in film and sports-brand endorsement all but dominates sport, the influx of a group of consumers with slightly different attitudes to the consumption of fashion may prompt forward thinking brands to look at new approaches. Events have sold merchandise forever, but in 2014 Croatia's Outlook festival stepped away from the usual logo-print tees and sold a line of limited-edition baseball sweatshirts. Could festivals, and even sports matches, become new venues for pop-up men's fashion stalls?
2016 may well be the year that sees men's fashion go from an intriguing side-act to a front-page industry. The effects will be felt in a suite of new sub-industries: apps, magazines, sections of existing media. It'll go some way to re-energising or altering parts of women's fashion too. But there's more. Much has been written about what this represents, about how this shows changing attitudes to masculinity. It may go a lot deeper than that. Once men share the same style podium as women, they'll be subject to the same media scrutiny as women. Chances are, the growth of male fashion will not only modernise attitudes towards masculinity, it'll also have a softening effect on sexism in the wider media. I'll take my on-trend hat off to that.
This article first appeared on The Male Report