Are We About to See a Second Golden Age for the #Menswear Blog?
A Continuous Lean makes its long-awaited return as sites like The Contender and The Grange pick up steam
Say the word “blog” to any clotheshorse who came of age between the twilight of the Bush II years and the waning days of the Obama administration, and you may see a single, nostalgia-induced tear roll down their cheek. Like the double-monk straps and stacked bracelets we once wore with pride, many of the websites that informed the #menswear generation have been collecting dust for years, jettisoned in favor of an endless Instagram scroll.
Then, at the end of this past March, Michael Williams began posting at A Continuous Lean again. In a post titled “Made and Not Made in America,” Williams — who had spent years championing small, domestic makers through ACL — made the connection between America’s withered manufacturing base and its inability to produce masks.
“It wasn’t boredom, I can tell you that,” Williams tells InsideHook, when asked what prompted him to return to the blog. “We have a four-week-old baby and a toddler, so our house is madness, but I felt compelled for the first time in a long time. At first, I was outraged over the PPE crisis and then it just felt like the collective feeling in menswear was shifting quickly in a direction that felt interesting to me.”
That first ACL post in 11 months was followed by a string of others, including a rumination on “Menswear 2.0” and a look into brands and shops Williams hopes will survive the pandemic’s economic fallout.
“I guess I am most inspired in the challenging moments,” he says. “I think that’s because I’ve always tried to write about things I feel are meaningful. Small companies. Well-made stuff that lasts a long time. Family businesses that have everything on the line. That’s the stuff I care about most — not trying to be a part of the newest product launch.”
At the same time that ACL was shaking off its dust, I noticed a string of Instagram posts announcing new menswear blogs that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on my 2009 MacBook Pro. Chase Winfrey of J. Mueser launched The Grange, described in its Instagram bio as “An old-fashioned #menswear blog,” with an article extolling Cowboy Cut denim and a “Quarantine Lookbook.” Kiyoshi Martinez of custom-clothier Hall Madden began Five in Blue, penning essays on the virtues of the L.L. Bean canvas tote bag and the fate of the tie post-pandemic. And Dexter Garner, manager of the NYC Drake’s store, took to Tumblr to introduce Space Time Workshop with a profile of Tennessee haberdasher Wm. King Clothiers and a very #menswear curation of images.
In a world already turned upside down, was it so far-fetched to imagine a second coming of menswear blogs sparked by the shelter-in-place measures of a global pandemic?
“I’ve had the idea for The Grange for a couple of years, but circumstances never allowed me to actually move forward with the idea until now. I had been increasingly looking for a space where I could play around a little bit, without the rigidity of social media, and while that feeling was coming to a head, we all went into quarantine,” says Winfrey, who cites the earlier generation of blogs as inspiration.
“Those blogs were really important to me. Being 14 or 15 in rural Ohio, I don’t know how else I would have been exposed to a lot of that stuff. I think those blogs are largely what set me on the career path I’m on now.”
And Winfrey, who says that the site has received views from every state in the U.S. and abroad, hopes it can play a similar role for a new crop of menswear heads. “Additionally, there’s a new group of guys coming up that never had those resources, so it’s exciting that what I’m doing, and what’s happening in the menswear scene right now, could have an effect on them.”
Garner also sees the #menswear era as an important influence. “It was the first time on a mass scale that people realized how powerful the internet could be to connect with each other over shared interest,” he says.
In his estimation, that need to connect has a renewed sense of urgency. “I think we’re in a unique time where people don’t just want content, they need it. Everyone still has the desire to view, read and listen to inspiring things, the same way creatives have the desire to create and connect with people. At the moment, the medium has just changed. Just because stores, restaurants, museums and shows are unavailable in person doesn’t mean people stop having a craving.”
Of course, menswear-focused blogging hadn’t vanished entirely; some original-era outlets like Put This On, Die,Workwear! and Ivy-Style have continued to update regularly, and 2019 saw the launch of The Contender from ACL contributor and Men & Style author David Coggins, as well as the Instagram-based Another White Oxford. But it’s worth looking into the asteroid that caused the original extinction, and whether it might prevent blogs from ever again reaching a critical mass.
In William’s estimation, it was a combination of shifting interests and technology. “Part of the movement that swept up a lot of ‘heritage’ brands was trend-driven. I think a lot of people moved on to the next trend — which is how fashion has always worked. I also think people’s attention moved to Instagram and the shift to mobile and social media dictating a lot of internet traffic changed things dramatically. Quiet, subtle brands don’t stand out in an Instagram post and so things got louder, crazier and eventually ridiculous looking.”
Designer F.E. Castleberry, who came to prominence with the blog Unabashedly Prep and continues writing at The F.E.C. Diaries [where the author is a contributor], fingers one source in particular.
“In short, Instagram. All of the image-driven blogs migrated over to Instagram as it began to capture the cultural zeitgeist in the mid-aughts. Micro-blogging supplemented blogging and then eventually eclipsed it as our content attention spans shrunk.”
Derek Guy of Die,Workwear! and Put This On believes that many blogs were done in by a lack of reward. “Most people start a blog because they want to share their passion for something. It starts out of love. Eventually, you find that it takes a lot of work to maintain a site, and life has a way of catching up with you. Unless you’re able to monetize your work somehow, most people eventually move on.”
Christian Chensvold of Ivy-Style (where the author is a contributor) also sees a link between personal projects and burnout. “Nearly all were done by amateur hobbyists … often with a narrow focus, they quickly exhausted their subject matter. Eventually they succumbed to writer’s block or had simply said all they have to say.”
On the question of whether menswear blogs could return to prominence, Castleberry responds “History would indicate probably not,” citing changes in technology.
“Blogs, much less menswear blogs, are likely not going to reprise their roles in housing the exchange and expression of cultural ideas,” he continues. “Prior to 2010, most content was consumed on a desktop or laptop computer. In 2013, the smartphone reached critical mass. The Internet moved to our palm. Twitter assumed the written thought. Instagram assumed the still image. Most websites weren’t formatted for mobile and wouldn’t be for some years. Longform content is not an enjoyable experience on a 6″ screen. Today, the new long formblog is the podcast … a medium right at home on the iPhone.”
Guy, too, believes that the audience have moved on from the medium. “I hope there’s a resurgence in longform blogs, but I’m not optimistic,” he says. “I also think for menswear blogging, you need both a resurgence in longform blogging and an interest in menswear. There isn’t a new crop of people coming into men’s style like there was 10 to 15 years ago.”
But Williams, who also plans to launch a golf-related site called ACL Golf this summer, thinks we may see a new appreciation for independent blogs and longer-form content amid the current moment. “I think people are ready for it. We all realized a lot of what we do and what we see from the world is unnecessary. Just shopping, swiping, and traveling out of boredom or indifference … we all have started to realize what is important and what we don’t miss.”
“It’s not going to be like it was, but I think people will try it, and once they do, they will realize that it’s a lot more fulfilling than just posting a photo,” he continues.
Winfrey, for his part, doesn’t see his endeavor ending with the lockdowns.
“I have a lot of big plans that require me to be on the ground in a fully functioning New York City, from factory tours to more shop profiles — so yes, this quarantine blogging is just the beginning for The Grange.”
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