Why there are no modern day style icons

Today's crop of red carpet dressers aren't a patch on the Hollywood stars of yesteryear, writes our Deputy Editor

Let me stick my head above the parapet for a few moments, and ask you a leading question: who do you consider a ‘style icon’? And, perhaps more importantly, why?

One of the things that puzzles me about men’s lifestyle media is the way that magazines, influencers and bloggers alike are so obsessed with current red carpet style. And with the idea that the brilliance of Hollywood’s glitterati extends to their wardrobes, and their taste in clothes. Every other week, there’s an online edit somewhere or other (not on here, thankfully) proclaiming that this month’s best dressed men are ‘X’ in a spivvy white suit, ‘Y’ in all-black (rarely a look that works), and ‘Z’ dressed like a hyperactive traffic light.

Scroll through one of these edits and you’re confronted with ill-fitting suits in funny colours, trousers bagging at the ankles, suspiciously shiny shoes and pre-tied bow ties. It’s a disappointing spectacle for anyone with an interest in menswear, and while we’re all for men smartening up, to look to the red carpet for inspiration is often a depressing experience.

Jared Leto suit

Jared Leto at the Oscars in 2014. Credit: Flickr

That’s not to say that well-dressed figures never make an appearance – far from it. But these men have inevitably learned to keep things simple, and understand their menswear basics before they start to experiment. Highlights this year have included Donald Glover’s confident imperial purple dinner jacket at the Emmys, Armie Hammer’s polished burgundy velvet number at the Oscars and James Norton’s spot-on cream fresco dinner jacket at the GQ Men of The Year awards.

It’s also worth remembering that behind many of these better dressed men are stylists who curate, fit and polish the wardrobes of their respective clients to ensure they don’t make the mistakes that so many others do. This is a smart move, but it’s also a transferral of skills – the stylist informs the style of the talent – it’s not a situation that necessarily comes from a genuine passion for clothes on the actor’s part.

Perhaps that’s why more often than not The Jackal looks to the Hollywood heavyweights of yesteryear for wardrobe guidance, instead. Whether Muhammad Ali, Michael Caine, Mick Jagger or Paul Newman, there’s something truly timeless about the image these men presented to the world. And, although the internet’s awash with photographs of figures like these, they are as popular today as they ever have been – with good reason.

Michael Caine style icons

Michael Caine in his trademark slim-cut suit. Shot by Brian Duffy in 1964

There’s an authenticity to the style of many of movie-land’s golden oldies. They reflect a time when men better understood their wardrobes, kept things simple and put things together without fuss. They also knew their own tastes. Michael Caine, for example, worked with bespoke tailor Dougie Hayward to design his suits for The Italian Job and Get Carter, but Caine determined his preferred cloth and cut for each piece in turn, and chose his shirts, ties and shoes himself. He engaged with the subject closely, took a serious interest in his appearance, and it shows through in his films.

Though it’s a clumsy term, if there are ‘style icons’ out there today, we’d posit that they’re to be found within the menswear industry itself; a collection of men that we’ve foregrounded before who live and breathe clothes for a living, develop their personal style as individuals and engage with clothes in a similar way to the celebrities of yesteryear. Whether designers, stylists, tailors or street style fixtures, if you’re after a dose of genuinely interesting style today, we’d point you in their direction over red carpet edits and celebrity-fuelled premieres.

Scott Fraser-Simpson, Jackal magazine

Menswear designer, collector and DJ, Scott Fraser-Simpson, one of The Jackal's current-day style cognoscenti. Shot by Garcon Jon

The next time you’re looking for inspiration take a leaf from the ABC of Sir Hardy Amies: ‘a man should look as if he has bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care and then forgotten about them.’ Today’s crop of red carpet dressers fail this test, by and large. If you’d like to explore what Sir Hardy means, look to today’s menswear aficionados, instead.

Incidentally, a mix of golden oldies and current street style must-knows make regular appearances on our Instagram feed. You can take a look here if you’d like to.