Advance Australia wear

There are many great aspects to living in Australia: spectacular beaches, fantastic food and a soaring economy, not to mention a generally attractive, if somewhat sun-damaged, populace.

Whereas we used to be a cultural cesspool, our film industry is thriving and when it comes to sport, we certainly know our way around a pitch. But if there’s one area where we’re falling behind when compared to other developed nations it is personal style.

While people can get away with almost anything on the streets of London and New York and no one bats an eye, Australian men get cut down in seconds if they’re even the tiniest bit fashion forward.  Women aren’t immune, with half of the nation battling the Kim Kardashianisation of fashion, but they have a touch more breathing room.

For the record, I don’t mean blindly following the trends, a topic which I’ve touched on before.  Rather, it’s about being able to walk unfettered down the street in velvet flares and a pirate shirt, complete with top hat and cane if the mood so strikes you.

Taking an extended trip around the world recently, from Tokyo, Paris and Madrid, to Berlin, London and New York, the one thing I noticed was that regardless of body type, social class or sexual orientation, guys were willing to take a chance with what they wore.

If you are to casually stroll down Champs-Élysées or pause at the Shibuya Street Crossing at any time of the day or night you’ll find a steady stream of men who are achingly proud of their sartorial selections or just clearly don’t give a rat’s arse what others think of them.

And it’s not necessarily about access to fashion, either. For our comparatively small population we aren’t lacking when it comes to cutting-edge and practical design, while the streets of Spain are awash in a carnival of tacky colour.

But at least they’re giving it a crack. It has more to do with the fact that Australian men have been bred not to rock the boat. They say women dress for other women, and that may be true in a lot of cases. But it’s also accurate that a lot of Aussie guys don’t dress a certain way for fear of being labelled a follower, freak or, god forbid, a “poofter”.

I remember walking past the school gate on my very first high school Mufti Day and quickly realising that the stakes had changed drastically since primary school.

My Mambo top and plaid happy pants (it was the early ’90s) were acceptable, but the new pair of fluoro-green soled, purple suede shoes I thought were going to win me breathless accolades was ill advised. The only thing breathless that day was me – running away from raucous laughter and a few of the older kids who wanted to beat the shit out of me.

Rocking myself to sleep that night, I thought of ways to undo the mistake that I’d made. But it soon dawned on me that anything that occurs in the first few months of year seven will be worn like a permanent scar for the next six years. So, when the next plain clothed opportunity came up I tried a different approach. I didn’t wear something I thought would make me look cool, I put on what I genuinely liked; and you can bet your sweet bippy it included those purple suede beauties.

Working under the premise that if you can’t beat them, grow a pair and don’t try to join them, I aligned myself with the nerds, goths and hippies, forming a rag-tag faction that gave us the selective strength to smirk at the sea of baggy Keppers and mustard Timberlands that filled the halls.

It’d be nice to say that things changed after high school and our wardrobe choices have as much of an impact as they deserve – which is to say none at all, unless it’s to compliment something that you look awesome in. But unfortunately that’s not the case.

Men across the nation still cop shit if they happen to wear a pink tie to work, let alone sport anything other than what can be found in the Country Road catalogue on weekends.

Sure, unbridled expressive freedom can have its questionable moments – Coogi knitwear and the men’s Ken Done clothing range, for example – but who are we to say a person shouldn’t dress tizzy if it makes them happy?

If we want to be a truly international city, we need to grow up and be a bit more forgiving on the fashion front. I say, let the tall poppies reach the sky and, while you’re at it, let your own freak flag fly!

Obsessed with the dizzying highs and intoxicating lows of pop culture, Luke Malone looks at what happens when fashion gets caught in the cross hairs.