The rise of men's accessories

A plain square of cloth flags a quiet revolution in men's fashion in Australia.

It's not about the clothes any more – it's about the pocket square slipped into the jacket, the coloured socks or tie, the bag slung over the shoulder to cart the laptop.

Accessories are taking centre stage. The average man on the street has twigged to what women have known for years and what the fashion industry is loath to tout: accessories are a versatile, affordable luxury.

"Our accessory business has grown three-fold in the last five years," says Anton Rodguis, floor manager of the Henry Bucks flagship store in Collins Street, Melbourne.

"Accessories are a great way to change the look for outfitting men, without the huge expense of high price-ticket clothing.  The younger customer is very savvy about buying smart new accessories to complement their outfits.

"Women sometimes buy them (for men). But generally it is the younger customer who is aware of these great looks."

Cheap and easy

And accessories can not only be 'affordable' but downright bargain priced. A $20 pocket square, in soft chambray or simple white cotton, is being worn in the jacket pocket of the "cool, casual guy", says Sydney designer Leah Halmagyi. His jacket, of course, is linen or denim.

"It's happening slowly, but men are accessorising like Europeans," says Halmagyi, who has broadened her OneKind linen range to meet demand for the pocket square. "Daytime casual wear now has a style edge. Even, sometimes, on the Northern Beaches."

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Men of all ages are taking more pride in their wardrobe, confirms Carl Cilia, director of V&J Menswear in Melbourne's CBD. "He is allowing himself to think more outside the box in terms of what he adds to his outfit," Cilia says.

"Most men will buy based on what they need. But now men are taking much more of an interest in adding to their look. The pocket square is a good example. It is slowly making a comeback as the item to have."

Not 'too fashiony'

But Australian men, unlike their European counterparts, do not want to look, as GQ magazine's Grant Pearce says, "too fashiony".

"Guys are feeling they can do what they want," says the sharply styled Pearce, GQ Asia Pacific's editorial director.  "It's how you wear it, how you make it work for you. It's not about 'fashion'.

"Armani, Valentino, Dries Van Noten ... the amount of accessories on the runway at the London shows... (showed that) it wasn't about fashion. It was the accessories."

Part of the appeal of accessories is that they can be practical. Take bags. Seems every man has done just that. Melbourne International Fashion Festival CEO Graeme Lewsey says men's bags are a $4 billion global industry.

Says Pearce: "Guys need something to put something in. They need a bag. Where else do you put your stuff?

"Gone are the days when a bag wasn't acceptable. And, guys, please take note: putting stuff in your pocket does not look cool."

Nor does it fit, when your average man carries a laptop and/or tablet and a phone.

Bag it up

Amanda Briskin-Rettig responded to this need with a men's bag collection launched as part of her luxury accessories label A-esque. She established it in 2012, five years after selling the accesories company Mimco.

"On a daily basis customers were saying men's bags were not quite right – the laptop didn't quite fit," Briskin-Rettig says.

"I've also created something much more about style than the usual men's bag. It's using an accessory to punctuate your own style. Not all men want a big-name sports-branded bag for their gym stuff."

The collection features understated totes, car bags, backpacks and cross-body bags in soft Italian leather. All made at Briskin-Rettig's atelier in Melbourne, the bags retail from $200 to $1200.

Men's shoulder or messenger bags are among the most popular items sold at Henry Bucks; they're "very popular in leather or a heavy canvas and leather combination", Rodguis says. "We cannot keep up with the demand for Bellroy [slim leather wallets], plus the Secrid wallet which includes the RFID for security."

Technology is inevitably informing our fashion choices. V&J Menswear co-proprietor Rick Miolo says streamlined wallets and leather or metal mobile covers are essentials. "In some of our suits we have little compartments for USB sticks in the pocket lining of the jackets and trousers," he says.

Hip to be square

But the simple $20 pocket square and its creative spin-offs remain the cornerstone for the rise in accessorising.

Halmagyi has produced squares in four types of material and 13 different colours. A white cotton square with black double-stitched edging is proving the most popular. She says Melbourne is her strongest market.

"It's been a slow growth, but with so many Europeans living in Australia, men are starting to accessorise as a matter of course," she says.

"Being married to Ed [Halmagyi, the TV chef and author], a Hungarian, his father and late grandfather always turn out in a suit. With so many Europeans living in Australia these days, the little style touches are having a noticeable influence."

Miolo says colourful and patterned socks and shoelaces are a trendy addition to the gentleman's accessories basket.

"With spring coming, more men are comfortable adding colour into their belts to complement a colour in the loafer they may be wearing with a chino, jean or even a suit.

"Changing shoelaces and a popping red or patterned sock represents the personality of a gentleman or distinguishes him from the average safe dresser."

Fun, practical, individual, reuseable and affordable. Who needs a costly leather jacket or a whole new suit? The rise in men's accessories makes sense.

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