Multiple masculinities reflected in SA’s menswear

There was a time not so long ago when the menswear at fashion weeks was the sad, reluctant partner to the women’s shows. Dragged along for the ride, the collections were seldom much more adventurous than suits constructed with fabric accents, or in particularly sad cases, pocket squares made from some fabric of the womenswear.

In a new venue, with new sponsors, South African Menswear Week has proven itself to provide an even bigger and more inclusive platform and to free men’s clothing from its own boredom. With a room of its own, local menswear has grown and flourished so that there’s more attention to detail, more creativity and more confidence.

In turn, that confidence has allowed for a closer and more critical look at what masculinity in fashion means. On the runway at Merwe Mode were billowing hemlines and delicate lace. From Rich Mnisi, fluid silhouettes and bold colour, with coordinated accessories from Waif x Githan Coopoo.

The collections that showed most clearly that menswear has come a long way are those that put subtler twists on conventional menswear. Jahnkoy presented a winningly brash patchwork of recognisable streetwear elements, combined to be noticeably over the top even in the tradition of obvious displays of branding.

Good Good Good, a relative newcomer known for its strong basics, showed a collection of hoodies, shirts and jackets alongside a few illustrative tees and a boldly patterned pantsuit — the result of a collaboration with artist David Brits.

At Sol-Sol, the utilitarian look that the brand’s avid fans have come to know and love was once again touched by the pale pink that’s become something of a signature
for a brand which is quietly bold in its ability to break boundaries for menswear and create cult favourite pieces.

As has become somewhat of a tradition for the Cape’s streetwear staple, a collective known as the Butter Boyz walked Sol-Sol’s runway, reinforcing the friends-and-family feeling that the brand has fostered. Sol-Sol’s home base, Corner Store, also set the mood for the events by hosting before-parties for Friday and Saturday’s shows.

Comfort is key here. This is true for both the streetwear influences that made so many of the collections accessible and in the fostering of a space that allows for a style that isn’t necessarily “your thing” to be appreciated.

On numerous runways were nods to forms of traditional dress from kilts to kikois, gently reminding us that our current narrow perception of a masculine mode of dress is a fairly recent Western imagining.

From Nicholas Coutts came jewel tones, neutrals and soft pastels on richly woven pieces. Worn with simple, beautifully-constructed basics, it didn’t seem immediately unconventional, but the rebellion lies in the woven construction, because what craft hasn’t at one time or another been designated “for girls”?

Importantly, this isn’t fashion for “fashion people” — it’s fashion for men who love clothes, in all of their forms, and that’s what makes this new.

With a trust that comes from having a core audience of people who know the designers and are excited to see their friends cast as models in the shows, SAMW avoids the paid-to-be-here boredom that’s often in the air at more established events.

Instead, there are appreciators of international runway fashion, people who love the quality and humour of cult brands such as Palace and Supreme, people who’ve put thought and customisation into their looks — not just for the cameras, but for each other and themselves — and a unifying hunger for more from local designers who are doing the most each season to defy stereotypes about how a South African man dresses.

For a world waking up to the fact that a range of masculinities exist, a line-up of vastly different looks on the runway is a victory but the real win is an audience actually wearing the clothes. There’s space for any number of nuances and no room for oversimplification. 

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Cayleigh Bright
Cayleigh Bright
Journalist, author, copywriter. Full-time freelance.

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