One reason for the lack of public interest in men’s attire is of course the undeniable fact that men dislike to do or be anything characteristically feminine. Women will imitate men, but men will not imitate women. Hence men keep quiet about their clothes. The dandies, or the merely well-dressed among them, will put themselves to an immense amount of trouble and expense over clothes, and then make their appearance with a deliberately casual air as though nothing on earth had happened. Save in the strictest secrecy they will never discuss their raiment. They are content with a silent appreciation of their wonderful achievements.
But there is another reason for the lack of public interest in men’s attire. Not merely do we rightly despise the fop — the man who lives for clothes — but we have a prejudice against the man who shows any sustained interest in his dress. (Such prejudice may be a remnant of Puritanism — I believe it is.) And we rather admire the man who will not go to the tailor’s until he is dragged thither by his wife. With this prejudice and this admiration I have no sympathy, and I hope that both are dying out.
I would sooner see a fop in the street than a man whose suit ought obviously to have been sold or burnt last year but one. The fop has at least achieved something and is not an eyesore. The scarecrow is an eyesore and has simply left something undone, either from conceit or from sloth. The fop is not without his use in society. He keeps tailors alert. He sets the pace. He may often be an ass, but he is also an idealist, a searcher after perfection; we have none too many searchers after perfection, and an ass engaged in that quest is entitled to some of our esteem.
The man who for any reason — affectation, idleness, self-esteem — despises clothes and the fashions thereof, implies thereby that fashion is absurd and negligible, and that the sole purpose of clothes is to give a decent and comfortable protection against climatic conditions. This argument cannot possibly be maintained. Fashion is neither absurd nor negligible. It is one of the most powerful influences upon human conduct, an influence which nobody can escape. Artists, for instance, will flout fashion, but only some fashion; they are the slaves of their own fashion. And non-artists who flout fashion in clothes are always the slaves of fashion in some other article — such as tobacco, politics, newspapers.
Further, the sole purpose of clothes — whatever it once may have been — is no longer merely to give protection. An important purpose of clothes is to make a pleasing visual impression — partly on oneself but chiefly on other people. This is unquestionable. Why, therefore, should it not be candidly admitted?
(Arnold Bennett, “Clothes and Men.” In: Things That Have Interested Me. London: Chatto & Windus, 1926, pp. 118–121).