How do standard guys fare as stylists?
Words: Max Lazarus & Cayleigh Bright | Photographs: Nick Gordon
Max: When I started working at Superbalist, back in the heady days of early 2015, I didn’t know a wrap dress from wrapping paper, a pencil skirt from my pencilcase, a halterneck from a halting sentence, a pussy bow from a ribbon around a kitten’s neck. Over time, having spent hours upon hours writing product descriptions my ability to describe everything sartorial has improved massively, along with my understanding of what context certain pieces work best in (what have I become). The point is, most guys don’t know or care about women’s fashion, and the idea that women dress for other women is, on the whole, probably true.
Cayleigh: I’ve read magazines and I’ve worked for them, and something that just wouldn’t seem to go away was the panel of men chosen to give their thoughts on women’s outfits. Why were they there? Knowing that women dress for other women, why were these bands of B-list celebrities and boyfriends pulled together and asked to hold forth on various clothing options? Presumably because society doesn’t allow heterosexual males enough opportunities to express their opinions. It wasn’t fun for them, and it sure wasn’t helpful to us. Why did they always choose the white capri pants? Do men love white capri pants?
Max: Pitbull – opening ceremony 2010 – #NotAllMen. This got us thinking, wouldn’t it be great to really tap into the mind of the average guy and make them style one of our shoots. And not in the way Cosmo does every few months – we want to totally bypass the professional stylists and the fashion buyers and the experts, and just get the untainted, beautifully innocent opinions of the male mind, not influenced by trend or knowledge of the word 'culottes'.
In our office most of the men could oversee a She’s All That-style makeover in a matter of minutes, so finding the right guys wasn’t as easy as you’d think. Meet Will, Simon and Ashiq, three of the absolute best guys East London, Wellington and Cape Town have ever produced.
Cayleigh: Next, we signed up five Superbalist staffers to show off the clothes chosen for them. From the items that the Average Guy Jury had selected, each could choose the look that most appealed to them. What would go wrong?
It’s not that they aren’t cool, or stylish, or don’t keep up with trends – it’s rather that their minds are on very different things: keeping the website and app running smoothly so the business doesn’t crash to the ground (Will). Or managing the quality of thousands of photographs that make their way onto the website (Ashiq). Or crunching numbers, doing statistical analysis for decision-making, and being single and a real catch (Simon). These are our heroes. We gave them five scenarios to style, and spent an hour with them as they selected various outfits. We all learned a lot this day.
Sibu Mabusela, Junior Copywriter
Cayleigh: Understandably, the clothing that the guys chose seemed very much like the stereotypical, stock photo version of what someone would wear to a specific occasion. They were just what you’d expect, much like you’d expect the average person’s drawing of a piece of cheese to be one of the orange, hole-filled wedges beloved of cartoon mice, even if the actual cheese being represented was a good old slab of gouda.
In this way, Sibu found herself in the most workwear-looking workwear I’ve ever laid eyes on: white shirt, black blazer, black trousers. At Ashiq’s insistence, the hypothetical interviewee was allowed some statement-making heels: she needed to make an impression after all.
And you know what? She looked fantastic. Was it down to the clothes or Sibu’s own poise and distinctive look? Well, that’s anyone’s guess, but I suspect so – I think that I may have looked like a Getty image titled “Tired Working Woman In Suit” had I worn the same outfit.
Individually, I loved the pieces, but if I was wearing them to a real live interview, I’d ensure that I updated the look. After working at a menswear magazine for a good few years, I’m a firm believer in black-on-black suiting, so I’d probably switch up the shirt colour. Depending on how conservative the work environment, choosing a black or grey poloneck might be just the tweak that the look needs.
Max: There was some back and forth with this scenario – the guys really needed us to clarify what kind of work environment we were hypothesising. To Will this was particularly important, because at Superbalist everyone can dress a little bit out there, “it’s a lot more fashion”. Simon agreed, saying that although he doesn’t approve of it, more old-school employers, especially those in big finance, might frown down on unconventional or sexy dressing, saying “third-wave feminism has not hit the financial institutions yet.” High heels were also a must, because of some direct relationship between height and wages. He’s one of our analysts.
Cayleigh: Skirts? Those, by the way, didn't stand a chance.
Shelley West, Email Marketing Executive
Cayleigh: I was pretty impressed with how bold everyone went here – not a little black dress in sight. We’d briefed the guys that this was a pretty formal soirée: think late afternoon ceremony, canapés at sunset and an evening reception. Among the options were an orange, floor-length gown with a thigh-high split, and this sleek, shimmering style, which could have been made for Shelley.
Max: Credit where due, this was very much Ashiq’s doing. On the whole, the guys avoided colours and patterns like the plague, and then Ashy came out suggesting sequins and heels. The man’s a trailblazer. It’s worth mentioning that Simon is colourblind. He thought that the orange dress was red.
Can I just say that I would absolutely panic if I had to do this. If I received a message saying “stuck on the flight, not making it in time, please arrange me an outfit for tomorrow night’s wedding” I would have an anxiety attack. We asked Ashiq if he handled this so well because of his girlfriend, and he didn’t skip a beat in responding, “Sisters, mother, then girlfriend”. He actually doesn’t qualify for this blog piece, he knows too much.
Cayleigh: In Shelley's own words, "There's a time and a place for sequins. And if it's not a wedding, then where?"
Sabrina Scott, Junior Art Director
Max: I think this was the easiest outfit for the guys to put together. There’s a uniform at festivals that guys can recognise - much more so than for a wedding or a night out. There’s a lot more subtle variety in those. Women’s festival aesthetic is affected by trend in the same way that Kauai's image is – sweeping generalisation, but in the end it’s very much the same. One year there’ll be a problematic head-dress, the next a problematic bindi, but on the whole it’s always denim shorts, flowing tops and kimonos, no? Even Simon, as the more conservative voice in the trio, jumped into this with full confidence, though he also did say that he has a problem with “cheeky bum shorts that make too much bum hang out” - “like a W” he described it, in a way that only makes sense if you seriously overthink it.
Cayleigh: There’s a school of thought that says that “festival dressing” as we know it is dead – that tees and denim shorts are a thing of the past, and that people are now wearing whatever looks they love to outdoor events that usually involved very specific tie dye and neon. I look forward to this day, but for the time being I can understand that you can’t go far wrong with denim. The guys did select a few patterned options for Sabrina – think florals and paisley – but she liked the simpler, soft blouse.
Alia Shamsodien, Assistant Buyer
Max: It’s gotta be said – the boys wanted a jumpsuit. That was a surprise. I’d have imagined it as a pretty adventurous look.
Cayleigh: I think that the guys were pretty intrigued by jumpsuits as a concept – it did seem that Simon at least had never really considered their existence until we introduced them as an option. At first he felt that they were best-suited to a festival environment, but once we’d talked about their incompatibility with portable toilets, they were re-allocated.
This dress is a pretty spot-on choice: every woman in the office is buying or Wishlisting them as the warm weather approaches.
Max: They also all voted unanimously on sneakers. There went for some Vans and some Converse. Probably a relatability thing. I think I should have been more specific with telling the story behind the “Holiday casual” look. There were so many questions: “Is it winter or summer?”, “Is she going to the beach?”, “Maybe she’s going on a picnic?”, “Will she be needing a change of clothes?” Already this is more thought put into an outfit than ever before – even I’m feeling stressed out, and this whole thing is entirely hypothetical.
Big night out
Albe Brink, Visual Merchandiser
Cayleigh: "What about leather?" Simon asked, making an inauspicious start to the discussion. Although he eventually got his way in the form of the jacket, he was referring to the dress.
Max: There were several concerns here. Will wanted to know whether this was a casual night out or whether it was more fancy. Ashiq wanted to know whether there’d be dancing, because that would obviously help determine how high the heels should be. Simon was suggesting that she only wear black because that disguises all spilled alcohol stains and then went off on a rant about how handbags are sexist and women should only wear big pockets like men.
Cayleigh: My work uniform is basically mom jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers, so it can be surprising to discover that I love night-out dressing. Why? Because it’s easy. You just grab a dress, pull it over your head, and strap on some heels, with bonus points for good hair and nails. I know what you’re thinking: party dresses are not easy-to-wear garments, figure-hugging as they are. I would like you to know that you are wrong, and a simple tight dress is your (very flattering) friend.
Max: I felt like this whole thing turned into an argument over whether it’s more sexist to assume that a girl is dressing up with the hope of hooking up, or if it’s worse to withhold that thought because of policing sexuality.
Cayleigh: And if you think that felt tiring, imagine having that entire conflict every single time you want to go out for drinks with your friends?
The best part of this piece, for me, was the fact that even if the guys didn't always "get it", they were prepared to engage with the clothes. This is heartening in that it goes against the men-are-from-Mars thinking that's used to excuse all kinds of you'll-never-understand-her-so-why-try advice to guys. Attempts to engage critically will go a long way in most situations, and style isn't a mystical exception. The simplest moral of the story? Choosing a look for yourself or someone else is just another time to avoid underestimating your abilities: don't throw your hands in the air and say "I don't know, I'm just a guy!" or any variation on that theme – you got this.