THE SPRING RACING CARNIVAL is as much about fashion as it is about horse racing, wagering and committed day drinking. And while the event has hit headwinds in recent years due to concerns about animal cruelty, some things about these few weeks in spring do endure.
For one, while many ladies who rock up to the races or grace the Bird Cage at Flemington will use the event as a sartorial showcase, many men in attendance will rely on trusty staples. One of these was recently identified as ‘the uniform’ of many young Australian males: beige chinos, white shirts and navy blazers.
This particular combination has become a reliable go-to for many men at weddings, parties… anything really, replacing the once mighty suit and tie as the standard ensemble.
It’s a look you’ll see throughout the Spring Racing Carnival and beyond on the summer wedding circuit and once your attention has been drawn to it, you’re likely to notice it everywhere—kind of like how once you’re told that Betsy Brandt’s character Marie in Breaking Bad always wears purple, you start spotting the colour on her drapes, bedspreads, kettles and light fittings.
The beige chinos, white shirt and navy blazer uniform is popular for a reason—each garment is a certified classic (some say safe, others say boring) in its own right and, in combination, presents a formidable package… at least it did for the first guy who put it all together circa five-seven years ago. Back then, you could have called it a creative ensemble. Now that it’s been adopted by all and sundry, it’s a uniform.
Of course, the suit or the tuxedo are also uniforms; part of a dress code that’s still rigidly upheld at certain events. But it’s when the dress code is less formal and there is room for individuality and creativity, such as at the races or at weddings, that many guys find themselves freaking out, and therefore seeking out the security of a makeshift uniform. Hence the appeal of outfits like the navy blazer, beige chinos, white-shirt combo.
So, what’s behind the relentless march of Aussie male clothing clones? The tribal component involved in dressing up can’t be understated here. Clothes help codify identity and dressing the same as others in your tribe signifies belonging. The ‘uniform’ distinguishes the young Aussie male. Other tribes have their own uniforms. You may not be a committed sneakerhead, punk, goth or anything so defined but on some level, you belong to a fashion tribe and that will influence what you wear.
Nicole Adolphe, head of style at The Iconic, believes men find social and sartorial validation in wearing the same thing as others.
“Men aren’t as concerned [as women] about the possibility that every guy in their circle might be sporting the same ensemble,” she said. “On the contrary, they appreciate safety in numbers, as it reinforces the notion that they too have chosen the right look for the occasion.”
Where do tribes get their uniforms? Well, there’s this gargantuan, dynamic hive-mind known as the fashion industry that interprets, synthesises, reinvents and ultimately commodifies the clothes we end up wearing. Frequently, it takes its cues from popular culture but also broader, even macro societal trends–the pandemic, for example, led to an explosion in leisurewear.
The current iteration of the uniform is a less dressy version of the blue or navy suit, which was many guys’ go-to for the last decade or so. It’s difficult to prove but the blue suit may have gone mainstream after the initial season of Mad Men, when it was the favoured attire of the ambitious ad exec, Pete Campbell. From there the fashion industry co-opted the look and it trickled all the way down; see Meryl Streep’s seminal dissertation on cerulean blue sweaters in The Devil Wears Prada. The blue suit likely spread through magazine spreads and into celebrity circles before being catalogued on social media, then hung on shopfront dummies in franchise retailers, finally ending up on sketchy dudes at your mate Davo’s wedding some five to 10 years later.
There are also more personal motivations for wanting to dress like your peers or others in your tribe. For many men dressing up involves a performative component that can be daunting. Once you find an outfit that works for you, it’s easy, and probably economically smart, to fall back on the security of your go-to outfit. I’ve gone through a summer of weddings wearing the same suit, my reasoning being that as each wedding involved different circles of friends, nobody would notice… except my wife who nagged me to get a new suit at the end of that superb summer—tan suit, oh how I miss you.
What about those who don’t appear to follow the flock and dress in a distinctive style all of their own? These are rare beasts indeed, and many, if they’re being honest, are the stylistic equivalents of Quentin Tarantino: pastiche merchants, who take inspiration from wherever they see it, mashing it all together to form a style that’s distinctive, but upon close inspection, derivative. At least these fellows are having fun with fashion, which is perhaps what dressing up should be all about.
Unfortunately, the truth is many of us approach the act of dressing for an event rather mindlessly, aided and abetted by prevailing trends, pop culture and the machinations of the fashion industry, which conspire to produce ‘uniforms’ we feel comfortable in. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but perhaps before the many functions you’re likely to attend this festive season and into the summer ahead, as you reflexively reach for the uniform hanging in your wardrobe, you ask yourself why you’re wearing it.