The ineluctable presence of mid-dark tan when the cold weather comes will find no welcome, at least, in my closet. Yes, fall weather is upon us, and with it the great unifier of men’s fashion across campus: the tan overcoat. I am, of course, talking about the great, the steady, the horrendously ubiquitous presence of the single-breasted tan overcoat around the shoulders of everybody from Wickenden to North Campus.
It’s a sight unseen in my own wardrobe; what once was style stubbornness has evolved into sheer avoidance. My first ever big clothing purchase was a leather jacket, funded by a high school summer job. Out of all the options laid before me, I chose a brown jacket, not only because I liked it, but because I figured that most people would buy a black one. I love that jacket to death and I haven’t seen a single one like it.
The pervasiveness of the tan overcoat is what drives me away from it, especially since I consider the colder seasons a sacred time of creative dressing. Yet a uniformity is developing at Brown: think the labyrinthine mental prison of slim cut J.Crew chinos. The jacket is only one of many such trends to hit the Ivy League: The raccoon coat of the late twenties, the camel hair polo coats that replaced them, and now the single breasted tan overcoat…paired with everything you could imagine, drifting toward Gogol with each passing year.
But compared to the relative stability offered by tan coats we see here on campus, the wider world of menswear is in a state of flux. The fashion trends have swung around to wider fits in everything from pants to OCBDs. Following suit, we witness the millionth cycle of the return, and eventual death, of Ivy, trad, and preppy style (the differences between these are minimal and mainly rest on if they know what Three-Roll-Two means) and from this, the heralded “death” of streetwear without really any backing to show for it. Social norms will always carry judgment, and from these cycles we will never be liberated.
Within these times of flux, doors can be opened for more freedom of expression and inclusivity within the menswear community. Yet for all the opportunities we have to make a more inclusive space, I continue to see a trend of exclusivity towards marginalized groups and very little effort from the menswear community to stop it.
The aforementioned Ivy style, a recurring and vital theme in the American stylistic symphony, is inherently connected to systemic oppression and classism with an aesthetic based in wealth, capital, and whiteness. The aesthetic is undeniably paired with a history of exclusivity towards people of color and other marginalized groups.
In the broader world of men’s fashion, we find even deeper and more unrelenting assumptions about how clothes should be worn and how they should fit, making much of men’s style inaccessible to many members of the transmasculine community. Outside of a few limited runs like Banana Republic’s BR Athletics and Polo Ralph Lauren’s occasional adventure into expanded sizing in the men’s line, we have seen few attempts to be more inclusive and serve a whole community of people who are systematically being denied the chance to express themselves. This is not only a trans issue; many cisgender members of the menswear community would be served by more inclusive sizing and cuts (I, a short guy myself, would love pant inseams that don’t give me a break deeper than the Grand Canyon). Inclusivity is beneficial to everyone, and the menswear community is in dire need of change.
The crowd mentality, the one affecting the coat population on campus today, needs to be one of inclusivity and support, under whatever circumstances or for whatever reason. Until we as a community can come together and make the designers, brands, and trendsetters more inclusive, the mens fashion community will still be stuck in its tribalistic ways—more concerned with solving fashion than appreciating style. And as for our good old friend, the single-breasted tan overcoat, perhaps look for something in navy this winter, if only just to spice things up a little.