Statement dressers: “I did try to do the whole ‘blend in and don’t make waves’ thing, but that has never been me”
As a teenage music fan in rural Wicklow in the mid-1980s, I was deeply enamoured with the whole goth-light look sported by Robert Smith of The Cure, Jim and William Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen. Back then, your tribe was everything, and what you wore advertised your musical tastes in a way that today’s teenagers would probably find hard to fathom. Proper 1980s’ goths were scary — with their 18-hole Dr Martens, white faces and shiny PVC — while Cureheads were somewhat cuddly by comparison.
he look I was after mostly consisted of ripped grey jeans, oversized boot runners, a white shirt and a dinner jacket. At the very least, this was topped off by backcombed hair and, if you were really committed, ruby-red lipstick. For women, the look was pretty much the same, perhaps with the addition of some purple paisley.
There was just one problem: if I actually went out dressed like Robert Smith, I would have been asking for a kicking. Smith himself has spoken about being chased through the streets of his home town, Crawley in England, by rival punks, so what hope would I have had in Arklow?
Like a lot of Irish people, my first trip to London in the late 1980s was eye-opening. Here was a true melting pot, with people from all backgrounds mixing together, and all youth cultures and modes of fashion on display. A trip to Camden Market was obligatory and, for the first time, I felt at home. It even seemed sunnier.
In my Ireland of the 1980s, men could wear a GAA shirt or other sports top with blue jeans and listen to Bryan Adams like everyone else, or be a metalhead and wear denim and leather — rural Ireland has always had a serious grá for hard rock. But dare to step outside the box and you were in trouble.
Conservatism and fitting in were the name of the game, and in a repressed country, caring too much about clothes or wearing make-up was tantamount to declaring deviancy. At best, you could expect to be the butt of jokes. A family acquaintance once stopped his car to ask me, as I walked down a hill, if someone close to me had died — because I was wearing black.
Thankfully, the uber-conservative past appears to be behind us, and in the 2020s, people are much freer to wear what they want — and, for men in particular, it’s a new era of sartorial freedom and experimentation. The history of men’s fashion glitters with bright colours, rich fabrics and dramatically tailored clothing, and a look at what men are wearing today shows that more and more of them are interested in using their clothes as a vehicle for self-expression.
So, while men’s fashion has become a lot less tribal than it was in the 1980s, we have retained the idea that what you wear can say a lot about you. And for those who love fashion, style and making a statement, there’s never been a better time to show that off.
Jerry Fish, 59, musician and performer
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With a style and look all his own, Jerry Fish has been flying the flag for self-expression for many years. Now as a father of teenagers, he’s watching a new generation find ways to express themselves through the way they look.
“I love to see my kids express themselves through clothes,” he says. “One of them came down the stairs the other day with a Mohican haircut and I loved it, although you do have to worry about how it’ll go down at school. But that kind of urge to carve out your own identity starts in your teenage years, and I think it’s sad if people lose that later on.”
Fish is well known in Ireland as the lead singer in the now-defunct rock band An Emotional Fish, but he has also trodden the boards with a variety of acts, such as The Mudbug Club, and performed on his own Electric Sideshow stage at Electric Picnic.
“As a performer, and in rock and roll in particular, the look is as important as the music. You only have to look at David Bowie or Iggy Pop to see that in action, and I’ve always found that inspiring. They were all about celebrating the individual and I think that pretty much sums up style. It’s about celebrating individuality and bringing some sparkle to life.
“Back in the 1980s, when kids like me were finding our look, we had no money and so we would make up our own style by shopping in second-hand stores. We weren’t buying stuff off the racks, we were making it up as we went along, trying on girls’ clothes and pushing things. It was really tribal, and you had new romantics, punks, skinheads and goths.”
Today, Fish’s look has more than a touch of the circus ringmaster to it, perhaps with a bit of cyber punk mixed in, but he says he’s primarily inspired by his current musical heroes. “Right now, I’m very inspired by a lot of Cuban singers who perform into their 90s, particularly as I’m getting on a bit. I’m also inspired by history and time travel, and circus in particular. I also really like that some of the gender barriers are breaking down in terms of what it’s acceptable to wear. It’s livened up the streets.”
Fish lives in the countryside and so most of his time is spent wearing wellies, but he says that even aside from his stage shows, clothing is a big part of his self-expression. “I like to make an effort every day but I suppose, like everyone else, the pandemic threw a spanner into that. Pyjamas became a bit more prominent than perhaps they should have.”
Timi Ogunyemi, 35, Instagram star and whiskey marketer
For photographer and influencer Timi Ogunyemi, fashion and personal style are all about self-expression. He works during the day with whiskey company William Grant & Sons, but on his own time, fashion and photography are his key loves. His Instagram bio declares he is the ‘Fresh Prince of Baile’.
When it comes to clothing choices, the more colourful and ‘out there’ the outfit, the better, and Ogunyemi says there are good reasons why. “Growing up, I was always encouraged to ‘be like everyone else’ and ‘not stand out’,” he says. “I did try to do the whole ‘blend in and don’t make waves’ thing, but that has never been me. I love to wake up and throw on something neon, or a suit with a comic-book print, or a co-ordinated piece covered in flowers.
If most of language is non-verbal, then what I wear and how I wear it says a lot more than my words ever could, even before I ever say anything.”
Ogunyemi first became aware of style as a vehicle for self-expression as a teenager, but like most people, it wasn’t until he started earning his own money that he could really indulge. “I was probably 14 or 15 years old, and I am not ashamed to say I look back at that version of me sometimes and say, ‘What were you thinking?’ I remember there being a gap where I knew how I wanted to project myself to the world but was unable to do so.
“I was 15 in 2002 and, as a bit of a nerd, I loved Kanye West with his pink polos and the likes of Pharrell Williams, who were both being Black in unexpected ways. As someone who wasn’t always cool, I vibed a lot with that. Today, I don’t have any traditional role models and I’m probably more inspired by moments — I’m thinking of brands like Daily Paper, art designers like Pieter Janssen of Parra, and designers like Demna [Gvasalia] for Balenciaga, who are redefining a lot of the core concepts around men and fashion.”
Ogunyemi describes his personal style as something that is continually evolving. “I’ve no fear or worry when it comes to switching things up, because I’m always learning what sits right on me and what doesn’t, what feels good and vice versa. That being said, there are a few things that maybe create the guardrails around my own style, and those are bold colours, patterns, and then, finally, exclusivity — I love having that one thing that is rare enough that not many people have seen it before.”
He says he will shop anywhere and doesn’t discriminate between high-end and high street, but he does have some favourite haunts. “In London, Dover Street Market is my absolute favourite place for inspiration, novelty and a cheeky purchase. It’s got everything I need laid out like a four-floor exhibition. In Dublin, I will always somehow end up in 9 Crow Street in Temple Bar, Lucy’s Lounge and Tola Vintage.
“I’ll also pop into Brown Thomas on Grafton Street and Onekickireland on Abbey Street to have a look at sneakers. Online, I spend way too much time looking at Balenciaga, Daily Paper, Yeezy Gap and Ivy Park.”
Anthony Mooney, 43, creative consultant
Anthony Mooney has worked for years as a creative consultant in the nightclub and restaurant scene in Dublin, but he’s also notable for being someone with a real eye for style. On Twitter, he’s regularly to be found decrying the evils of fast fashion and encouraging people to spend more, less often, on clothing that will last and won’t end its days in landfill.
“This may sound rehearsed but it’s really not — the truth is, I only buy clothes I love,” he says. “I don’t look for a particular label or designer; it’s all about the individual item. I think about what I’m going to buy and I rarely buy anything on the spur of the moment.”
For Mooney, a big part of the appeal of premium and designer garments is that they tend to be better made and, as a result, last longer.
“I hate mindless consumption. You can sound a bit out of touch if you talk about spending €500 on an item of clothing such as a jumper, but I’d rather save up and spend on something I really love rather than buy 10 items of clothing for €50 each that won’t last.
“The truth is, I don’t buy a lot of clothes, but I buy exactly what I want, and I look after what I buy really well, so it lasts. My tastes run to a mix of contemporary and classic style, but I rarely wear just one or the other. I have an eye for clothes that are a bit cool, but I’m not really interested in standing out and screaming, ‘Here I am’. I’m not into ostentatiousness.”
Buying only or mostly high-end fashion is obviously expensive, but there are ways and means to get around that, according to Mooney. The biggest tip he has is not to be in a hurry and, whenever possible, don’t pay the recommended retail price.
“I have absolutely no problem waiting for things I want to drop in price. Sometimes, I see something that’s wildly expensive and I wouldn’t pay that much on principle, but I don’t care if it takes three years to drop in price before it comes within my reach —that doesn’t bother me even slightly. If something is well designed, it’ll stay current for years.”
Mooney has a soft spot for designers such as Prada and Balenciaga but also follows specific designers in their careers as they move from label to label. “Authenticity is important to me. I want the real version of something, not the cheaper knock-off that appears a few months later. For instance, I really like Prada, and if something is a rip-off of a Prada design, then I want the original.
“The reason is because I like everything about that label: their ethos, their advertising, what they do artistically, their shows, their photography. I like every part of it and, for me, that story is as important as the garment.”
Arthur Gourounlian, 42, choreographer
Armenian-born Arthur Gourounlian is best known in Ireland as a judge on ‘Dancing With The Stars’, but he has also enjoyed a long career as a creative director and choreographer, working with acts like Beyoncé, Kylie Minogue, Pink and Girls Aloud. In addition, he’s worked with fashion brands such as Christian Louboutin, Diesel, Jean Paul Gaultier and more. Even if you didn’t know that about him, meeting him in the flesh would tell you that this is a guy who cares about style.
“Style is hugely important to me. I’m a loud person, so I wear loud colours,” he says. “I love mixing and matching colours and I’m not scared of it. In Ireland, people tend to play things very safe. They wear a lot of grey and black, maybe offset with a bit of white, but they’re nervous of colour.
“But I’m colourful and I try to avoid wearing dark colours if I can. I work in an industry where the unofficial uniform is black jeans and black T-shirts, particularly if you’re working backstage at a show, and so, to me, that reminds me of working. In my free time, I like to do the opposite.”
Gourounlian is happy to acknowledge that he is an exhibitionist, and he believes the way he dresses forewarns people about what his personality is like. He’s not overly concerned with trends and fashion as, to him, they are secondary concerns to what makes him feel good.
“I want to have a conversation with people about why I’m wearing these colours and dressing this way and I don’t want to be bland. I think about everything I wear, from the socks up. In fact, I think socks are super important. Even if you have to dress conservatively for a job, you can express yourself through your socks.”
When it comes to shopping for clothes, Gourounlian says his husband, the TV presenter Brian Dowling, actually finds a lot of his clothes for him. “I’m not a big shopper, I don’t really enjoy it, but I know what I like. I’m very spontaneous and if I see something, I’ll buy it. I’m lucky, because Brian knows me so well. He can instantly see if I’ll like something or not, and he likes shopping.
“Clothes are important to me because they’re really the version of you that the world sees. They can make you feel confident or good if you know you are well dressed. Sometimes, you can even fix a bad mood by putting on clothes that make you feel good.”
Photography by Alex Sheridan. Shoot co-ordinator Orla Dempsey
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