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The Look

Why The Utility Trend Is Here To Stay

Pockets, zips, tech fabrics and – gasp – practicality. Here’s how men’s workwear is getting serious in 2019

Utility is the big buzzword in menswear this spring, with everyone from cult Japanese streetwear brands to the powerhouses of Italian luxury getting in on the act. Fabrics are becoming lighter and more resilient, pockets are growing in both number and size, and smart technical details are coming to the fore. The message? It’s no longer sufficient for your clothes to merely look good. They have to do something, too.

The idea that clothes should serve a purpose beyond simply looking good is not a new one; it predates fashion itself. Ever since our distant ancestors first discovered the insulating properties of woolly mammoth hide, we’ve looked to clothes as a way of responding to the challenges of our environment. They are, at their essence, functional items; whatever aesthetic value they hold is a secondary to the obligation not to lead to you freezing to death or outraging public morals.

That’s not to suggest that we shouldn’t enjoy the way our clothes make us look, nor treat them as a vehicle for outward self-expression. According to the utilitarian playbook, though, the form of our clothes must be rationalised by an underlying function. “Men like to be able to justify a style choice,” says Mr Stephen Mann, the stylist for this shoot and one of the creative forces behind the London-based streetwear collective AFFIX. “The functional nature of this look is one they can feel confident explaining to their mates.”

Function is everything. Just as prehistoric man swaddled himself in furs to ward off the cold, so today’s “utilitarian man” dons his own suit of armour to shield himself from the perils of the outside world. What this means, in practise, is adopting an outlook on style informed by the specific requirements of modern city living. Its style heroes are not celebrities or influencers, says Mr Mann, but people on the street “adapting and repurposing items developed for other purposes to suit their needs”. One such man Mr Tyler Blue Golden, the skateboarder and model, who here takes the very best contemporary utilitarian menswear for a field test in its natural habitat: the streets of New York City.

The godfather of the utility movement, though, is Mr Errolson Hugh, whose cult label, Acronym, presents a vision of contemporary streetwear that’s aesthetically positioned somewhere between ninja robes and tactical Swat gear. Stone Island’s Shadow Project – with which Mr Hugh is also involved – has played a crucial role in bringing this look to a wider audience, as have the urban diffusion lines of outdoor brands, such as Arc’teryx’s stealthily cool Veilance range.

Indeed, the urban utilitarian look can be seen as a subtle evolution of the outdoor trend, which repackaged the weatherproof fabrics and technical construction of specialist outdoor gear into clothing suitable for a city-dwelling clientele. The key difference? While the outdoor trend channelled the spirit of nature, this is a look rooted in cold concrete and steel. Its palette of black, olive green and asphalt grey is designed to blend in, rather than stand out. You wouldn’t want to get lost on a mountain dressed like this.

It’s a look better suited to urban adventurers who spend their days looking for new, cooler ways to traverse the city.