Is buttoning up your shirt to the top over? What? You didn’t fall for that did you? That’s the sort journalistic claptrappery that makes drones do what magazines tell them. While shirts are still constructed with a button above the second to top button (and I’m currently aware of no global plan to discontinue this phenomenon) people will fasten them. But… (for the sake of non-subscribers to the amazing raft of Japanese magazines devoted solely to this subject – Top Button Action Party, Hi-Holin’ and No Tie!/Hi Guy!) there is a change in the #menswear firmament’s attitude to going buttoned up. I think it’s at least reasonable to suggest, that this most recent cycle of ‘the button up’, as a popular, counter-culture symbol is starting to feel a little weary.
Of course this isn’t the first time round for bros getting their choke on. Some people maintain that Ray Davies of the Kinks invented the look. Others cite all sorts of influences, not least the Mods. It was certainly strong in the 1980s. Check this brah from Arena magazine issue 1, circa 1985/6.
What a giant bell. If you can look past the fact that he’s wearing a mattress, you notice he’s got his top-b all b’d up. All guys in 80s magazines looked like this. Sequined leggings, a tuxedo jacket, a parrot on one shoulder. Leather jodhpurs and a lace vest, holding a boxing glove filled with eggs. An oriental headdress, an Armani cricket knit, ladies tights and Nazi evening brogues. But even amongst this experimental mix of high-fashion clobber and artistic pretension, there would always be a simple shirt and it’d be buttoned right up.
I got into the button up around 1986. And it was the time of Arena issue 1. It was the time of Ray Petri’s London Buffalo movement, glimmers of which found their way to the Midlands via The Face magazine. The contents of the Next Directory would look proper struggle to me from that point on. The ideal button up back then would be from Browns in London, perhaps by the long defunct Workers For Freedom. Or Yamamoto. Or my lifelong obsession, Comme des Garçons. Hyper expensive kit, craved by guys who still worked in a National Trust cafe at weekends.
Buttoned right up you looked smart. That’s kind of a given. But also, I always thought, mysterious. A little impenetrable. I always imagined it gave off a sense of inscrutable knowledge and troubled, creative cool. The fact that I picked at my spots, took a picture of Don Johnson into my barbers and asked him to copy it and regularly threw up vivid, snakebite-and-black sick, in front of girls I was trying to sexualise, did little to dispel my sense of sartorial superiority.
Anyhoo… I’m getting the feeling that the button up is sliding out of favour. Is this simply because more people are wearing it? Probably. Is it because, as some would have it, ‘the wrong’ people are wearing it? Dunno? Who are the wrong people? If the ‘wrong people’ are the styled up infants that warble, gurn and cry on UK talent TV? Then yes. That’s pretty bumage.
But you know, the whole all-in-black thing that’s dominating East London right now? You know, tight black leggingy things, long black shirty thing, some kind of black tabard and probably a cape or some-such. That thing? You’ve seen it. ‘Street Goth’, my brah calls it. Well that look has been all over the X-Factor. I’ve been told. By someone who’s seen it. And hypey bros be all sorts of busting that shit around Shoreditch High Street right now, as you read this now. It’s happening now.
Apparently fashion is what you wear and style is how you wear it. Someone I can’t be bothered to look up said that. So if it’s your style to button up, go do it. If not, then I guess you probably stopped reading ages ago. Button up fans, check this book, helpfully called Buttoned Up from the Fantastic Man team. It’s only a fiver and is a neat little companion to understanding the trend. But don’t bother looking for those Japanese magazines. Not real obvs.