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Are menswear rules good for sustainability?

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

Reading a menswear rules-related article called 'Are menswear rules good for sustainability?'

Menswear rules. The almighty force that has the power to tear the menswear community apart, resulting in polarizing views which seemingly would never be reconciled.

Yet, whether you adore the rules dearly or despise them, I am certain that most of us would agree that without knowing and practicing them in the first place, we wouldn't have been able to develop our personal style which we are proud of. Hence, as the general rule of thumb in this area suggests we should know the rules so that we know what, and what not, to break.

But is there more to this 'truth'? That's where this article comes in. In today's write-up, I will be investigating how menswear rules actually benefit (or impede) the various fields of sustainability.

Of course, it goes without saying that measuring sustainability is no mean feat (see an earlier article 'How sustainable is bespoke tailoring?'), let alone if we were to evaluate more abstract notions like menswear rules. Truth be told, there isn't even a universal answer on what constitutes menswear rules. What this implies is that we could only formulate our definition and then evaluate the principles of action associated with the rules.

Hence, considering this is a topic that could easily be swung to the subjective side, I will, in return, assess the rules based on how well they perform according to some widely-accepted indicators of sustainability.

Anyway, more on that along the way.

Menswear rules emphasizes the importance of combining patterns of the right scale.

Definitions and methodologies

To start off, let's set the scope of the types of menswear rules, as well as the forms of sustainability, which we shall consider.

Menswear rules are plentiful. 1) Some serve a functional purpose, say, to wear fabrics of similar weight or to unbutton your jacket when you sit down. 2) Some exist because of cultural traditions, say, 'No brown in town'. And 3) some are simply concerned with the material or the visual appearance, namely the pattern, texture, and color-matching, the cut of the garment, and so forth.

Here, I will only focus on the latter two categories as they are often more contentious. One could, of course, argue that the pragmatism behind the former rule category is still subjective to one's interpretation. Needless to say, for most, these rules make logical sense to be adhered to.

As for the types of sustainability, apart from the usual environmental and social variants which I emphasize, I will also be looking at cultural sustainability in today's write-up.

Now, you may wonder what is cultural sustainability and why does it matter in our discussion?

In short, cultural sustainability accentuates the maintaining of cultural practices and beliefs. What differs the concept from social sustainability is that the former goes deeper than the quantitative measurement of human well-being say, whether individuals and communities are adequately paid or not and touches on topics such as identity and tradition.

Unfortunately, cultural sustainability, as a concept, is often missing from the wider conversations on sustainable development. Two reasons as to why this is the case.

1) Empirical difficulties. First of all, the ideals that are advocated as a part of cultural sustainability are mostly qualitative, meaning they are difficult to be implemented. Then, you have anthropologists and creatives who are rarely involved in the talks regarding sustainability, largely due to how the field was set up initially. Together, these two factors create additional barriers to the materialization of cultural sustainability.

2) Some of us who work and study in this field (myself included) were trained to view sustainability in a hierarchical way. As shown in the figure above, the biosphere serves as the basis for society and the economy to prosper. It is safe to assume that, if we follow this logic, most of us would place cultural sustainability on the 'non-essential' side of the spectrum, light years away from the fundamentals.

While this makes perfect sense in utilitarian terms, whether we should set the bar to this level is a different subject matter. To this, what I would say is that my stance is similar to what Robin Williams' romanticist character, John Keating, from the 1989 film 'Dead Poets Society', would argue.

"Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are all noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life... But poetry, beauty, romance, love - these are what we stay alive for."

John Keating


Hence, coming back to the question of why is cultural sustainability important, both for all walks of life, as well as this topic specifically.

Truth be told, there is no simple answer for the former. My personal take on this is that cultural sustainability allows us to connect with those who came before and those who will come after us. Sharing beliefs, practices, and values which although may not be universal and eternal, would still create a sense of relatableness amongst us.

Think of it in a #menswear way if cultural sustainability is unimportant, why on Earth would we Negroni-drinking menswear folk still bother to celebrate in our black-tie attire on New Year's Eve even after a century's time?

Flowing rather smoothly to the latter, cultural sustainability, then, provides us with an additional pair of lens to evaluate classic menswear and its associated practices that other variants of sustainability may fall short to do so.

Anyhow, without striding too far, we shall return to the main conversation for today.

(Image by Wix.)

Environmental sustainability

Let's begin with environmental sustainability.

At the first glance, both categories of menswear rules those that originate from certain traditions, alongside those that are concerned with style and fit seem to be rather antagonistic towards this branch of sustainability, especially if we take 'resource/ material use' as an indicator. (Also, it makes little sense to use the other indicators as they make even fe