Men in fashion festival focus

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It may be the beautiful models, the music or the party vibe. It may even be because of the clothes. But men will comprise an "unexpectedly large" percentage of the visitors to the L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival, which begins this week.

"They'll be accompanying female colleagues or their girlfriends and they'll be there in their lunch hours and after work," says festival chief Graeme Lewsey. "It's 'fashiontainment'. Men have woken up to clothes."

And they will be attending the runway shows with a consumer's eye, according to respected menswear designer Arthur Galan.

"Men are now fashion savvy. They tag along and have a look and see what's happening, what the trends are," Galan says.

The 17-year-old festival has included more menswear this year - in shows on three of the seven days - in the hope that it will encourage men to reappraise their wardrobes and open their wallets.

Men are now fashion savvy. They tag along and have a look and see what the trends are

A survey from past festivals found that 70 per cent of people attending one of the festival's runway shows felt compelled to buy something afterwards.

Unlike the trade-focused Fashion Week Australia held in Sydney, this festival is designed for the consumer. Ticketed shows by leading Australian designers, fashion forums and workshops, are backed by a program of film, music, food and drink. You can buy what you see.

"For male audiences it's fashion to enjoy. It's less intimidating. It's an experience for everyone – democratic," says Lewsey. "It's about engaging the whole country in the excitement of fashion."

It is expected visitor numbers will top last year's record of 380,000 and that 60 per cent of them will come from interstate.

But Karl Bartl, the designer behind super-cool menswear label Jack London, says the warm weather forecast for Melbourne for the week may dampen men's enthusiasm.

"Men are not interested in shopping when it's hot," he says.

"Men are a different shopper to women. They don't shop till they need an item. They won't look for a coat till they feel cold. They're longer into the season before they buy."

Bartl says the March heatwave, which coincided with the new-season clothes being put into stores, has had a huge impact on foot traffic.

"We're 70 per cent under what we were this time last year. The weather's hit everyone for six."

Yet, particularly for Bartl's edgy brand, there will always be the trendsetter who wants new clothes regardless of the elements.

In the 15 years since he established his label AG, Galan has witnessed – and benefited from – men's increasing interest in fashion.

"Men are putting a lot more effort into their appearance, how they look, their grooming," Galan says. "They think about and plan what they wear, which is really exciting for me because I can go that extra note when designing a menswear collection."

A red velvet jacket has been one of Galan's strongest selling pieces at Myer.

"When men look at it they realise it's not that 'out there'; it's not that unwearable with the right shirt and the right pant," he says. "That wouldn't have happened four or five years ago."

Lewsey says men have a lot more confidence to express themselves through fashion. "They're having fun with it. The concept of the Ocker guy isn't the main focus any more."

What you can expect to see

  •  Be prepared for emerald (strong) green and oxblood (brownish) red. Lots of colour, often within the same garment
  •  Iconic items like bomber jackets (military) and Chelsea boots (Beatles and Johnny Depp anyone?)
  •  Layers of clothes in the same colour
  •  A mixture of fabrics within the same outfit
  •  Leather