Borrowed from the Boys

If you buy a garment you really need and want, and it’s well-made and versatile – then you don’t need to buy another one.

by Kate Abnett
It is a truth universally acknowledged that women own more pairs of shoes than their male counterparts. And yet, in Britain men are now spending more on shoes than women. Menswear has a history of timeless, quality investment pieces. It is not bought to be worn only once — there is no stigma attached to being seen in the same suit twice. The boys are buying less, but spending more, and it's time that female shopping habits got a masculine makeover.

At the risk of inciting a mauling at the hands of enraged Sex and the City fans, I will speak out: Men are better at shopping than women.

Menswear equals style. Not ‘trends’, but classic, timeless style. The well-cut suit; the leather brogue; the tasteful watch; the dinner jacket. Most men will own a few, if not all of these items. And they won't have many of each – a man might have only one watch, but he will wear it every day. At its best, menswear is about longevity, and iconic male fashion traditionally focuses on quality investment pieces. This common sense is the absolute key to good buying habits in fashion.

So, what makes men better shoppers than women? Market intelligence provider Key Note finds that 81% of 16 to 19 year-old girls consider shopping an enjoyable day out, compared with 43% of boys this age. The idea of shopping as a social activity goes some way to explain the genders’ different buying habits. While women shop in groups, men take more of a ‘lone wolf’ approach to shopping, and are therefore less susceptible to buying on a whim because their friends tell them how flattering an item is. According to a recent survey by Shopzilla, men also pay less attention to sales than women do, buying what they want and need, regardless of cost, instead of buying a garment that is cheap for the sake of it.

Women, on the other hand, have some pretty illogical shopping habits. We buy whole new outfits for one specific occasion. We buy too-small clothes to slim into. Shopzilla found that women make more purchases as a result of advertising – buying things they didn’t know they wanted until someone told them they did. Women are also more daring in their buying choices – more keen to try something new and outlandish. I’m all in for playing with new looks, finding your own personal style and pushing aesthetic boundaries. But too many of these ‘daring’ purchases never make it out of the closet.

Take footwear. According to Market Research provider Mintel, men now spend more than women on footwear. Women are certainly capable of buying shoes, so how have the guys caught us up? Have we neglected our shopping duties now we’ve made it to the boardroom? Are we simply too good at bargain hunting?

I’ve got a cracking pair of black ankle boots that I live in. But I also own some rancid patent platforms, some pointed pumps that bring tears to my eyes at the thought of cramming my feet into their nippy pointy toes, and a pair of stilettoes I’ve had since my high school prom, and worn exactly once. Right there, in the gear I don’t wear, is the cost of a gorgeous pair of real quality – maybe even designer – shoes. It’s this logical investing where the male shopper triumphs. Men’s shoes have never been cheap to buy, but they are built to really last – quality materials, real craftsmanship, sturdy styles, and classic looks that transcend seasons. Men don’t buy more – they buy better.

So it’s partly our fault for not making smart buying choices, and the vast array of cheap garments on the high street is also to blame for enabling and encouraging poor shopping habits. But what else fuels bad buying habits? All hail, the tabloid media.

Praise be with The Daily Mail, Cosmopolitan, and the many other publications whose commitment to fashion reportage has brought us the articles “The ULTIMATE social taboo? Being tagged in the same outfit twice on Facebook” and “Celebs are often spotted sporting the same fashion trends – MEGA AWKS”. As with most tabloid gossip, ‘celebs’ in this context means ‘women’. This year the Mail published over 200 articles about female celebrities wearing the same dress twice. In the same year it published exactly one article about a male celeb wearing the same suit twice.

Tabloid bitchiness encourages women to take a throwaway approach to fashion. Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every single day. Did this make him the laughing stock of the tabloids? No, it made him the world’s most recognisable CEO. There are no picture galleries of ‘Who Wore it Best – Obama or Clooney?’. This is partly because it’s harder to spot two exactly matching black dinner jackets than it is two frocks, but the lack of such coverage is mostly because nobody actually cares.

But isn’t it bad news for designers, if we stop buying vast amounts of clothes we don’t wear, and start ‘recycling’ (i.e. wearing) the clothes we do? Won't they struggle to make a living if people buy less clothing? Absolutely not. I’m not suggesting we all don a black habit and swear off material indulgences. Instead, a little time spent considering a purchase, a little shopping around, the strength to resist the so-very-cheap ‘deals’ in high-street sales, and the willingness to part with a little more cash to get a lot more life out of your shoes, is what makes a good buying choice. This kind of buying won’t lead you to support fast fashion, but to invest in quality goods, independent designers, local manufacturers, and craftsmanship.

So let’s gather some common sense. Know your tastes. Be honest about what you’ll wear, and what will likely end up sulking in the back of your wardrobe. And check the quality – what’s better value, five flimsy Primark gems, or one stylish garment, made of quality material that wont rip when you take the stairs two at a time, or dissolve before your eyes in a hot wash?

If you buy a garment you really need and want, and it’s well-made and versatile – then you don’t need to buy another one. It's time that our buying habits were borrowed from the boys.