Play Clothes for Billionaires in NYT’s “T” Fashion Magazine

NYT T Magazine Cover Logo
Cover of T, March 9, 2014
The Times covers men’s fashion
(and Benedict Cumberbatch).

Although I don’t make an unbreakable habit of reading T, the New York Times style magazine published—what is it? four times a year? five times? more?—I did look over the latest issue (Sunday, March 9, Benedict Cumberbatch on the cover) wondering how the newspaper of record would speculate on what to look for anytime soon on streets and country roads in men’s fashion.

When 140 pages later I finished my perusal (142 if you count the back cover: an advertisement for Bleu de Chanel), I was thinking that I’d just gone through one of my sillier undertakings of recent days.

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It wasn’t the ads that got me chuckling. They were what anyone would expect—glossy and populated with handsome men (Ralph Lauren uses his cleft-chinned filmmaker son Andrew for the opening foldout spread). Nor was it the articles, although I had a hard time keeping a straight face through a piece about the sociological and psychological implications of “a man’s bag.”

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I didn’t even take exception to the nine close-up photographs by Ingrid Berthon-Moine on page 140 of hairy chests. I did note that not one of them included a gold chain, and I did a double take on the following line from the brief text: “The images are cropped so tightly that they resemble female pubic hair.”  The similarity hadn’t struck me.

No, what got me in the funny bone were the fashion layouts, in large part because these, of course, were the Times’s supposedly expert opinions on what men will be wearing and maybe even should be wearing if they expect to keep up with the times (pun possibly intended). Incidentally, the T editor is Deborah Needleman, who has to approve all the folderol.

Two features in particular caught my eyes. The first was bannered “Endless Sunday” and is accompanied by this tagline: “A relaxed hippy vibe runs through men’s wear this spring with casual cuts and let-loose prints—a welcome break from the buttoned-up look of workaday clothes.”

Forget that casual clothes are always intended as a break from work clothes, whether this spring or any spring, summer, winter or fall. Forget also that the picture on the page of a fellow in “An Airy, Untucked Shirt” (Dries Van Noten, $445) gives the impression that the air blowing up the back of that untucked shirt lends the model a hump that Richard III would gravely loathe in himself.

NYT expensive play clothes
The Times recommends:
$4,477 worth of play clothes.
Photo by Matthew Kristall / via

What I’m focusing on here is the photograph two pages on. It shows a model sprawled on the sand and covering his face with his right hand. He’s wearing Lanvin sandals for $993, Margaret Howell socks for $100, a Missoni cardigan for $1,815, a shirt for $575 and a tank top for $490, Tommy Hilfiger jeans for $139 (wow, a steal) and, underneath, Proper Gang shorts for $365.

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Don’t bother doing the math. I’ve done it for you. T is suggesting that a fellow might wallow on the beach for $4,477. Okay, I know they’re not seriously making that suggestion. The stylist is simply putting together appealing togs that a guy could consider adding to his knockabout wardrobe.

Or is T actually making a $4,477 suggestion? Do the T deciders believe there are men out there uncertain enough about what to put on so’s to be cool in today’s cooler-than-you climate?  Do they assume there may be men who turn to T (and to GQ and to Esquire) for guidance?  Are they snickering to themselves that there are gullible fellows around primed to part with $100 for a pair of beige socks they can get all sand-covered?

Now on to the second article that got me in the slaphappy solar plexus. It’s titled “London SE8 3JF” and celebrates a postal code on the city’s south bank. The tagline here is: “Along the edge of the river Thames finely crafted work clothes worn with subtle insouciance are a reminder of the past and a glimpse of the future.” On the facing page a model has on, presumably to work in, a short-sleeved, solid-color—the photo is in black-and white—Dior Homme shirt priced at $2,900. Really? Who goes to work in a $2,900 shirt? Surely not someone toiling in what looks to be an industrial section of London. (I spend much time in the city but admit I don’t know this part of town.)

Maybe Warren Buffett, T. Boone Pickens, George Soros or Mark Zuckerberg would throw on this well-crafted—well, it better be—item with subtle insouciance for an untaxing day in the office, but the model sporting this one doesn’t look like any of those billionaires. He’s actually somewhat emaciated and sports a wan expression, like Oliver Twist about to ask for more.

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(Of the models T deploys, Needleman writes, “[T]here is a fashion moment happening even within the fashion industry itself. A look is being favored that is slender, frail and a bit feminine, and yet with a distinct streetwise toughness.” Whatever that means.)

Needless to say, there’s an explanation for the jaw-dropping price tags on the clothes. I’m completely ready to believe there’s a sharp divide between T’s editorial and advertising staffs. On the other hand, I can also imagine that the editorial staff has a good idea who the advertisers will be—mostly high-end designers and manufacturers—and that it’s not the worst thing to bear in mind.

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(I hasten to add in absolute fairness that I saw clothes included in the editorial layouts by designers who were not advertisers in this T edition and I saw no clothes promoted by advertisers who were.)

What I’m getting at here is the foolishness in attempting to pinpoint trends in what men will wear come the warm weather when the best bet is more of the same shorts, polo shirt and baseball cap combo. How visionary is an article headlined “The Reinvention of the Suit,” when aside from an adjustment or two—many of which, like cropped sleeves or trousers, aren’t new—the suit isn’t being reinvented?  It’s a suit with a narrow lapel this season when, as it happens, the double-breasted jacket on Dane DeHaan in the Prada ad has a peaked wide lapel.

What I’m also getting at is the conspicuous-consumption cost of clothes that T is flogging and which only a small percentage of Times readers are likely able to purchase. Say a lad who fancies himself a bit of a dandy only wants the $993 sandals, the $575 shirt and $490 tank top. He’s still shelling out $2058. Sure, wearing the clothes on many endless Sundays means they’re amortized.  Then again, T may imply in subsequent issues that those items are so last year.

By the way, while flipping through T on the subway, I was wearing a grey wool Michael Kors overcoat I bought for $100, a ribbed blue Ralph Lauren sweater that ran me $150 and pin-striped midnight blue Brooks Brothers trousers for an out-of-pocket $65. My shoes, socks and underwear probably amounted to another $115. Here it was, an endless Manhattan Sunday, and I was on the town for about $330—still more, I know, than many men can afford.

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Yes, I had bought my designer clothes on sale. Why not? About apparel, my shrewd mother liked to say, “You always spend good money for shoes. For everything else, you find bargains.” It’s advice I pass on to T readers and anyone else whom it might benefit.