I wrote a feature story on the rise of nerd fashion for men. For the story I interviewed Harvey Moscot of Moscot Eyewear, Tyler Thoreson of the Gilt Group and Vincent Wu from Incu in Sydney. Check it out below!
Revenge of the Nerd
The abiding popularity of button-ups, chinos and heavy-framed glasses for men proves it’s hip to be square, writes Jade Warne.
Millhouse. Steve Urkel. The Nutty Professor. The names have changed, but the quintessential geek look – shirt buttoned to the neck, pants hiked to the waist and thick-framed glasses pushed back on bridge of the nose – has remained remarkably consistent. Ill-fitting, unattractive and inevitably out of touch with trends of the time, nerd style has evolved into cultural shorthand: a symbol of technical dexterity and social ineptitude as clear as a wedding band or a gold cross.
But visit Surry Hills, Newtown or even Bondi on a Saturday night and it’s hard to miss the hint of meets . From the Moscot Lemtosh frames, to A.P.C check shirts, American Apparel chinos and Sperry boat shoes (worn sockless, of course), it’s clear that a boyish, preppy version of the geek has emerged as one of the biggest sartorial inspirations for guys on the street. But in 2011, the look comes accessorised with bristling facial hair and a side of sarcasm.
“It’s a classic case of when irony becomes fashion,” says comedian and self-confessed fan of V-neck sweaters, Tim Ross. “It reminds me of when I was at uni in the early ‘90s and we started buying tight-fitting ‘70s tees with retro logos because they were cheap and we thought they were funny. Soon it stopped being funny and just became fashionable. I guess this time, what started out as an ironic take or dressing like a dork has just ended up as a very smart look.”
Smart being the operative word. It’s no co-incidence that the rise of the nerd in fashion circles coincides with a global obsession with Facebook, blogging, iPhones and iPads – innovations ushered in by archetypal techies Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.
“The geeks have triumphed over the jocks in the business world and that’s definitely a backdrop,” agrees Tyler Thoreson, head of men’s editorial and creative at Gilt Groupe. “It’s about the kids in prep school who hated gym class and who grew up to be artists and poets. Beyond current influences, today’s nerd also pulls from a long and storied history ranging from J.D. Salinger to the cult Japanese book to Dead Poets Society to Wes Anderson to Hogwarts.”
Australian designer Ori Henrisson also notes that stereotypical geek has recently re-appeared in popular television and magazines. “[Stylist] Brad Goreski is definitely someone who has made bow ties and thick-framed glasses popular,” Henrisson adds. “While the way Kevin McHale’s character on wheels himself around wearing thick glasses, cardigans and button-up shirts has also drawn attention to the geek chic look.”
And Australian brands have studied up on the trend. New collections from Marcs and Saba offer a subtle nod to the school dux, while the latest looks from Vanishing Elephant and Herringbone underscore an ongoing commitment to clean-cut tailoring.
“We’ve tried from the get-go to redefine classic pieces,” says Vanishing Elephant co-founder, Huw Bennett, “and if you dissect the geek look you’d find a lot of tried-and-tested garments that have stood the test of time such as cotton chinos, tidy V-neck knits and leather [lace-up] derby shoes.”
Further afield, Thoreson highlights Ralph Lauren and Band of Outsiders’ Scott Sternberg as two creatives who offer a masterclass in preppy staples re-imagined for the modern man.
“The key components are shrunken oxford-cloth shirts, cropped blazers and chinos, slim repp [school-boy] stripe ties, and of course the kind of glasses a bookworm would have worn in 1959,” he adds. “Eyewear brands like Oliver Peoples, Ray-Ban and Moscot also play a big part in the look as their classic shapes have been adopted by a younger generation.”
From the perspective of a label like Moscot, whose spectacles have been sold from the brand’s New York headquarters since 1915, the return of the nerd has seen business boom.
“It’s amazing to us that styles we’ve been selling every day for the past 50 years have now become a must-have fashion accessory worn by politicians and celebrities,” says company president, Harvey Moscot. “We’re not trying to be trendy, we’re just doing what we’ve always done. We often have people who come into our shop who don’t need prescription lenses, but really want to wear Moscot specs anyway. So you can see how our frames have become so much more than a medical device.”
Vincent Wu, buyer for the menswear branch of Sydney boutique Incu, says heritage brands are an essential part of the modern geek look.
“It’s about getting the details right with a Fred Perry polo shirt or Lyle & Scott vest,” he says, highlighting music producer Mark Ronson and publisher Jefferson Hack as two pioneers of the hipster-nerd look. “The next step is to trade your jeans for cuffed chinos, wear your shirts tucked and buttoned, opt for a neat, short-back-and-sides haircut and take care of your leather brogues or desert boots”.
Aim for a slim silhouette, suggests Henrisson, but “always favour garments you feel comfortable in, to avoid looking as though you’ve been dressed by your mother”. When it comes to colours, it’s safe to start with a base of black, white, navy and grey, then incorporate school-uniform shades like chartreuse or burgundy. Indispensable extras include patterned socks, a leather satchel or backpack (try The Cambridge Satchel Company).
“As for what to wear off-duty,” says Thoreson, “I have one word for you: cardigans.”