Fashion forums and the 2010s
WayBack Machine (sadly, only archived up to 5th September 2015).
The first thing I want to stress is how great a group of guys this community was/is. The core members are still in touch, and many members have gone on to have careers within the industry itself. Within the men’s fashion community online there are some prominent groups of influencers (such as Magnus Ronning, Sangiev, et al.). This community formed before any of that reached real prominence. It was an exciting time, until the plug was pulled.
FashionBeans is a mainly UK-focused menswear website, which had a lot of prominence when I first became interested in men’s fashion in the early 2010s. When I read it regularly, it was mainly touted as a comprehensive style guide. Basically a blog-style version of Reddit’s MaleFashionAdvice. Much of this advice was pretty shallow, but the site always did a good enough job of pulling together products, runway photos and streetstyle snaps. The site covers a range of topics: streetstyle outfits, grooming, hairstyles, style guides, shopping lists. It was a site I visited every day, and I can credit much of my early knowledge and learning to it (alongside reading the fashion section of The Guardian and the occasional visit to Styleforum). Meanwhile, the forum grew out of this website and, in the eyes of its core members, reached a level of sophistication far beyond that offered by the main site. It was far more than a fan forum, and had a distinct identity from that proffered by the parent site. The only clue that the forum was present was a link from the main site, and the very occasional mention of the community in an article. The key thing to understand, as well, is that FashionBeans (at least at that time) was built around the idea of being an online style guide for men. For someone trying to learn about fashion this was brilliant. I probably came to the site, first, through looking for an updated hairstyle (in-fact, long before I gave a damn about clothes, it was hair that I wanted to get right.) The forum promised a more interactive, organic version of this idea, and so it proved.
Key members from places like Malta, Belgium, Australia, Hong Kong, India, Canada and Norway added their own perspectives and ensured the forum had an atmosphere better described as being intimate and welcoming, rather than insular and isolated. Core forum members had a shared learning experience, over many years, that quality was better than quantity. There was much wisdom to be found on the forum, and I find myself reflexively using the knowledge I built from being part of the community on a day to day basis. You could learn about fabrics, aesthetics, and all without the trappings of marketing. Of course all the advice and discussion encouraged purchasing, but that’s the nature of a community of enthusiasts and collectors like a fashion forum.
As of this article I am 30 years old, which means I have been browsing and using forums for almost twenty years. The draw of the FashionBeans forum for me, around the age of 22, was that it was an old school, lo-fi web forum. Such was the transitory state of technology at that time, I could not even get Instagram running on my BlackBerry! Moreover, you could check every day or every week and be able to catch up on every updated thread, the more sedate pace being part of its charm and accessibility. In terms of men’s fashion forums it was small fry compared to the likes of Kanye To The (KTT), Styleforum and SuperFuture. But such was its indie charm; because despite being attached to a commercially minded magazine style blog, the forum was made up of (for want of a better term) “normal” men. Because almost all members were from the UK, the community also had its own coherence that shifted, over time, with men’s fashion in the UK. The earlier years were focused around a preppy conception of menswear ranging from full suits to incorporating tweed blazers and chinos, while on feet it was all about loafers, chunky boots or brogues — or, wait for it, brogue boots. This suited me to a tee at the time, because as a student wanting to pursue an academic career, the ‘Professorial’ look was always appropriate. I posted as McCoy, complete with an avatar from Star Trek: The Original Series, granting me the nickname ‘Bones’. I don’t know why, but it seemed to fit well, signalling my interest in mid-century aesthetics.
Men’s fashion has certainly come a long way in a decade — from the pocket squares and slim tie influences of Mad Men to the teenagers who covet streetwear, such as a pair of Nike Vapormax made in collaboration with techwear masters Acronym. With platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Reddit being full of inspiration, advice and trends, the state of fashion today could not be more different than the dismissive attitude that surrounded the interest I grew up with in the UK of the 90s-2000s. Slovenliness and not caring is no longer de rigeur. Even streetwear looks have become more polished, although despite the influence of the likes of ultra-cool and sophisticated men like Pep Guardiola brands like Stone Island still have their old associations with football hooligans and ‘casuals’.
Before returning to the memory lane of recalling successive trends, I want to establish something about what makes fashion forums specifically a unique and productive kind of community (and I would consider Reddit an evolution or extension of this tradition). It is not that forum cultures, such as FashionBeans, can be immune to the influence of marketing (who is immune, in a capitalist and consumerist society?). However, they are an invaluable collection of personal accounts; you could “lurk” a forum like FashionBeans like an ethnographer and focus on the experiences recounted by users of items and styles, to see the performativity outfit posts which pulled together ideas, aesthetics and trends. Put simply, it is easier to trust the recommendation of a person than an advert, especially if that person has a style that appeals to you, because the core members would actively contribute to the Outfit of the Day/What Are You Wearing Today thread (see the gallery at the top of the article for a small selection). There were trolls, the mildly annoying poison of any forum, who would add nothing, dismissing anything above the level of the fastest of fashion as a waste of money, and not post any evidence of their personal style. Trolls were more often than not ignored because they missed the co-operative spirit of sharing advice and examples. FashionBeans, at its best, was a community focused around the collective clarifying of very nebulous social ideas about fashion. In the process, it was a community that created its own discourse or sub-culture: The FashionBeans Uniform, or the Fb Uniform (more below, section marked).
Slowly but surely, evolving away from the preppy beginnings of the forum, the interest from many members in “streetwear” – skinny jeans, sneakers / trainers (especially the Nike Flyknit Racer model in the Oreo colourway), denim and leather jackets – made their influence known. This was partly driven by early members no longer posting, but many stayed. The community approached fashion less from the standpoint of pushing towards some kind of men’s fashion ideology like ‘streetwear’. We weren’t going on there and saying, ‘I want to wear streetwear’, or ‘I want to reflect my culture through streetwear’. The forum wasn’t that kind of fashion community, it didn’t have that kind of discourse. The discourse was about emphasising key items that would – instead – build an aesthetic like streetwear from the ground up. But there was an effort to combine the smart focus of before with the more subversive. It is not surprising then, that Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent influence was pronounced, as was the influence of aesthetics like Scandi minimalism. Looking back it is not surprising that I have gravitated towards minimalist fashion (as exemplified by this blog).
The popularity of luxury items like well made Chelsea boots and leather Common Projects trainers, in particular, signalled a shift towards members spending more and focusing on clean design as a desirable quality. Suddenly an outfit that would have been worn with Nike or Converse would, more than likely, be styled with sleek leather boots like Saint Laurent Wyatts, or a cheaper, forum recommended alternative like the Marks & Spencer premium Chelseas. In many ways the forum developed to a point where it had its own distinctive aesthetic that was honed from fashion houses like Saint Laurent Paris, ACNE Studios and Our Legacy. Shearling jackets, (particularly camel) overcoats and bomber jackets were key outerwear pieces; as for myself, my key luxury winter outerwear, a Gloverall duffle coat (purchased in 2015 and still a workhorse in my wardrobe), was an outlier, but I was very much able to follow the community’s simple, effective idea of wearing a well made jacket with everyday items like slim or skinny jeans. The WayBack Machine yields, for example, a 10+ page thread about camel outerwear: black and camel was a key area of experimentation for many. I joined in, too, with my Topman camel overcoat. Brands like AllSaints and Reiss proliferated, offering smart items that clearly upgraded members’ collections.
Members’ livelihoods ranged from students and academics, office workers, Doctors, architects, entrepreneurs, filmmakers… Crucially, all of the forum contributed to hone what was termed The Fb Uniform.
The Fb Uniform
First of all let’s talk about the key brands and their key items:
- ACNE Studios: Shearling jackets; jeans; chunky knitwear; Wool beanies.
- AllSaints: Entry-level leather jackets; grungey boots; viscose summer shirts; flannels and denim shirts; t-shirts; overcoats; denim jackets; skinny jeans.
- Common Projects: Mostly the Achilles Low, but occasionally other models would surface.
- Reiss: Overcoats, blazers, suits, shirts etc.
- Saint Laurent: High-end leather jackets (including varsity styles and bikers); Boots.
- Our Legacy: shirts; outerwear.
- Maison Martin Margiela: Replica GATs (German Army Trainers).
- WANT Les Essentiels De La Vie: Bags.
- Nudie Jeans: Skinny and slim jeans. (Zara was a cheaper alternative)
- Uniqlo, ASOS, Zara, Topman et al.: mostly T-shirts, dei, jeans.
Potential ‘Fb uniform’ outfits posted in the What Are You Wearing Today thread would, then, have plenty of permutations. To compare the uniform with prominent alternatives, I would say that it was a more premium and developed version of Reddit’s MaleFashionAdvice’s pretty excellent “Basic Bastard” guide for building a uniform that is flexible, interchangeable, and largely based around ‘timeless’ items.
In terms of how items would fit, this was the peak era of skinny men’s clothing – the easiest, most commonly given advice to newcomers would be to try a slimmer, skinnier cut of jeans. Above the waist, items were generally not skin tight while maintaining a sleek silhouette; we weren’t going for the ‘muscle fit’, hyper-masculine look. In autumn and winter chunkier knitwear and large warm coats, like shearlings, would come into play. The forum was always most active in the colder months, reflecting that most wardrobes were based around surviving inclement British weather in style.
The darker side of the Fb uniform
Key members, particularly as the forum came closer to the end of its life, started pushing towards the more avant-garde end of men’s fashion. Rick Owens, in particular, was a starting point. Tattoos and jewellery were also prominent, often being worn with more conventional items in the ‘uniform’ described above.
What’s intriguing is that this often came across as a particular interpretation of the community’s thinking, rather than a huge departure from it.
Whatever the case, there was plenty of ‘Banderas’ moments to go around.
After the forum had reached this peak, it was taken offline.
Now: creative projects, companies, well dressed guys.
The termination of the forum was not the end of the road; key members still keep in touch regularly on WhatsApp and Instagram. These alternative means of sharing ideas did not come about after the forum’s death, but they have ensured the forum’s culture was not destroyed. The Wayback machine, meanwhile, only holds records from 2014 to 2015; my efforts towards the end of the forum’s life to document the WAYWT thread on Flickr also provide a record. No doubt many images from the forum have survived on Pinterest, contributing to the endless inspiration available.
I largely now post on MaleFashionAdvice and MaleFashion (u/minimaldrobe on reddit), while browsing other fashion subreddits like Techwear Clothing. I also, of course, run minimaldrobe.com, a project I want to return to on a much more frequent basis.
The forum had an incredible effect on all of us, bringing us together, and it was the birthplace of artisanal brands, ensuring the community has a legacy today.
A brief overview of members’ accomplishments:
@darealmo92, MFA contributor and wiiiiiiide trousers boy
Maxwell Nichols, artist and SLP rock star chic @maxwellnichols
JohnnyVegazzz / “Vega”, Saint Laurent enthusiast
Pinnns, amateur photographer and flag bearer of the Fb Uniform
Dorian Grape, architect and interior design agency @mbdesignstudios