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It's a trap!
on May 26, 2016
I had never been interested in this sort of thing, but received a two-year subscription as a gift.
I initially thought the magazine was pretty shallow, but soon realized that fashion can be an asset. It's a form of social currency - like it or not, we are judged partly by how we look and whether we take any pride in our appearance. For complex social animals like ourselves, style is a token of self-expression....which is why your grooming & dressing choices can help you in a variety of ways (e.g., professionally).
Before GQ, I'd wear suits a size too big, super baggy jackets, and didn't know how to mix patterns/textures/colors (like layering a cardigan beneath a sportcoat, or juxtaposing a 'streetwear' item like a denim shirt under a suit). Not that I've become a dandy or anything, but I look marginally less dopey and my jacket sleeves don't reach my knuckles anymore.
The problem? Well, if you're self-aware, GQ will outlive its usefulness. I grew tired of it and realized that it was shallow after all...just in an sneaky, insidious way.
1. GQ is in the business of selling you clothing - even at the expense of common sense or good taste.
GQ has a symbiotic relationship with the marketing and sales departments of the clothing brands, boutiques, and department stores (who are also their advertisers)....so they coax you into a never-ending cycle of spend, spend, spend.
For example, turtlenecks were a derided no-no at first. Suddenly - hey, turtlenecks are back, go buy one! (because they've become a bit slimmer). Same with overcoats....they harp on about how they should hit above the knee for a trim look, now it's, "The killer LONG overcoat is back! It's all about the elegant silhouette!". Says who? Why? Will I no longer be able to sit at the cool kids' table if I don't get one? Because my shorter overcoat still looks fine to me.
There are countless examples....GQ mocks politician Rick Santorum for wearing sweater vests, then two years later tries to sell you an $800 argyle sweater vest from Saint Laurent because it's 'slim and cool now'. So they put it on a hunky actor, matched with a biker jacket to offset its dorkiness. Nice try - it still looks horrendous to me. Unsurprisingly, the item is being sold by their 'retail partner', Mr. Porter. GQ uses fancy adjectives that sound convincing, but anyone with critical judgment will realize that it's the same iffy item they hated before, just in a luxe material and an insane price tag (unless you're an oligarch, in which case, good on ya).
Dig further and you'll find a paragraph from GQ's Creative Director Jim Moore explaining why you should buy a specific $875 pair of jeans. Really. That kind of gross excess is emblematic of the most mindless and wasteful aspects of our culture, especially when you consider the opportunity cost....look, you can buy a premium pair of selvedge jeans of the finest Japanese denim and still have about $600 left in your pocket to learn something or donate to charity or do pretty much ANYTHING ELSE.
GQ wants you to be a hamster in a wheel forever, and it's easy to develop a constant desire for 'new things'. The magazine's unstated purpose is to tap into your deepest consumerist cravings, which are hard to resist if you don't step away and realize what game you're in. The core message is "buy":
'Top 10 Must Haves'
'Your Fall Survival Guide'
'Best Leather Jackets to Own Right Now'
Over time, GQ's stories cycle back and start to repeat themselves. Wear this, now do the opposite and disregard the "rules", now go back to what you were doing originally. They need to keep selling magazines and clothes, but there are only so many permutations. It doesn't matter if they contradict themselves because they use persuasive language, arguing that it's 'counter-intuitive and confident', or 'edgy and rule-breaking'.
The same is true of other magazines...I mean, how many times can Men's Health divulge the 'secret' to great abs in 30 days? If you don't have abs after 2 or 3 issues, do you really think you're going to hit paydirt in next month's mag? Barring some major scientific breakthrough, abs are still abs...work them out, avoid sugars and bad fats - and presto!
Truth is, once you know how to put yourself together, fostering an endless craving hurts more than it helps. You don't need GQ brainwashing you with their narratives: that you need to be "the sharpest guy in the office", that a $4,000 leather jacket from Dolce & Gabbana is an "investment" (haha!), that they know what women want in a man (which bypasses individuality and human connection, as if you'll be unlovable without x products or y clothes), and so on. They may not intentionally set out to prey on your insecurities, but the implication is often: if you don't get this, you'll "_____________" (choose: have pasty skin, not be in the know, be a terrible lover, not get a promotion). It's the same Jedi mind trick employed by those late night infomercials....you scoff at them initially, but after 20 minutes of bombardment at 3:00 am, your tired brain goes, "Hmm...maybe I DO need a ShamWow rag - and if I call now, it's only $19.99!"
Can we ever really escape our cultural indoctrination? To a degree, but we mostly use - and spread - the filters that facilitate our imprisonment in the ways we judge others and ourselves. Magazines like Cosmo promote low self-esteem and we roll our eyes at them....but GQ is just a different version of the same thing.
For instance, I have a cashmere navy peacoat, as well as a sleek black topcoat...and one day caught myself thinking that I was 'missing' an overcoat in a more original color like the ones in GQ, say, a chocolate brown or light grey. I snapped out of it, realizing that I barely use the overcoats I already have! They leave my closet maybe four times a year. There was nothing wrong with them...but definitely something wrong with MY thought process! Why spend $700, plus tax, plus shipping, plus tailoring, for a trophy that would spend most of the year inside my closet? All told, we're in the ballpark of $850 - a plane ticket to Europe, for crying out loud. Nine times out of ten, you're better off investing in experiences, relationships, knowledge....not things. But it can be hard to resist when (insert handsome movie star) looks fabulously airbrushed wearing it in the pages of GQ. I asked myself hard questions like, "What inadequacies or deeper thirsts do I have inside that I believe a third overcoat is going to make me any happier than I am right now? How can I address that in a more lasting and meaningful way?".
GQ features peacocks who preen for street style photos at global menswear events like Pitti Uomo....and celebrate so-called fashion gurus like Nick Wooster and Lapo Elkann. Wooster looks clean-cut, but also like an idiot savant with his camo pants rolled up to the knee, pairing a blazer & tie with shorts, or wearing so many accessories that he's clearly trying too hard. It may be passable inside the magazine, but on the street, it seems extravagant and a little odd. And frankly, applying that level of narcissistic obsession to one's attire every morning sounds exhausting! GQ also praises Lapo Elkann, who sometimes wears a hot pink fedora or bright orange suit...he presumably does so because he's the jet-setting heir to an Italian fortune (also known for his douchey escapades), but you and I would look like twits - and he does too.
GQ's advice tends to be tasteful, but in their desperate search for new ideas, they also cook up hare-brained endorsements, like wearing your shirt 'cholo style', meaning, with only the top button fastened....you know, the way Chicano gangsters do. Orlando Bloom was snapped doing it, so they want you to do it too...the Emperor has no clothes, folks! (besides, everyone knows the real secret to pulling off cholo swagger is to end every other sentence with 'vato' or 'ese').
To sum up - GQ operates on the law of diminishing returns: helpful at first, but soon, dispensable. Make that harmful.
2. The opportunity cost of reading GQ is greater than it seems.
The mag includes human interest stories and quasi-journalistic articles....trouble is, when you're in the GQ orbit, you necessarily aren't reading things of more substance that will nurture your brain and heart.
The non-clothing content in GQ usually follows the pattern of pop culture - watch this Hollywood blockbuster, here's the sexy lady of the month, come behind the scenes of this TV show, etc. In the process, it's easy to neglect eye-opening non-fiction, amazing new authors, special events in your area, volunteering opportunities in your community, learning a new language or instrument, etc. To be fair, a couple of time's a year, they'll feature an article on world affairs or social movements or a human interest story that could pass for journalism; unfortunately, it's wrapped in a package that comes with so much else.
You can argue that there's nothing wrong with spending 10 minutes with GQ before bedtime. It's escapism! Sure, suit yourself. But feeding your brain with low grade junk food like GQ imperceptibly shapes your outlook over time -- you pick up a taste for pop culture fodder, then start seeking it out elsewhere. Nothing exists in a vacuum; everything is correlated or symptomatic of something else...even your taste for GQ. It's a personal choice: I'm aware that I'm going to die one day, maybe soon (gulp), and prefer to spend my leisure time reading material that stimulates me deeply instead of running in the hamster wheel.
The harsh truth is that your time in this world comes with an opportunity cost, so focus is key. There's so much out there on art, science, travel, literature, food, music, etc, that GQ started to feel glib, even wasteful. So the magazines piled up. I didn't have time to read them and didn't care.
For a hot minute, I kind of fell for it and spent a bundle on clothes. I soon realized that none of the items satisfied me beyond the fleeting instant gratification, the way you might devour a Big Mac, then feel vaguely nauseous later. It's funny - the most unhappy people I know are the ones who spend the most on clothing, and obsess about updating their wardrobe every season. Make of that what you will.
3. You don't need to pay because the website basically offers the same experience - for free.
If you MUST have your GQ fix, head over to the website. It has the same interviews, articles, and photo shoots as the printed mag...minus the pungent perfume ads! (ugh) Why pay when you can get the content without piling up magazines in your home?
I try not to be narrow-minded and do understand that fashion has an important place in the world. It can be powerful signal of individuality, social trends, and cultural heritage. At best, it connects us to our roots, aspirations, and identity in healthy ways. I get that there are reasons why things are designed a certain way. A garment can carry so much history in it, like nods to other cultures and eras (e.g., features introduced by early twentieth century miners, WWI soldiers, etc). Fashion is also valuable for the sake of art & entertainment...think of what your favorite films would be without the talented costume design teams involved! And I get that someone has to be at the forefront of informing the public what's in vogue, offering insight, etc.
The problem is that the world of modern fashion - along with industries like PR and advertising - is maybe 50% substance and 50% complete bullsh.t. There's so much junk involved that it drowns out much of the substance. And, like most industries, it is driven by economic interests beholden only to themselves, which corrupts the messaging. It's all been commoditized for constant, dumbed-down consumption. I won't even go into the global supply chain ethics and widespread worker abuses in the industry, or the way companies manufacture garments around planned obsolescence - artificially shortening the lifespan of their products to keep you buying - or my review will drag on forever.
I'm sure the gents at GQ have good intentions, but their work has undesirable byproducts. Just like McDonald's, Philip Morris, and Dow Chemical aren't intentionally trying to kill you, GQ may not be trying to mess up your thought process, but they will. Because the desire for outward glamour devoid of substance easily spins out of control, leading to hidden human costs and warped perceptions. The game is rigged, and just like in Vegas, the house always wins in the end unless you refuse to play.
This is a world where everyone is screaming for your money. Every ad, every magazine, every website, every sales 'associate' wants to separate you from your wallet. Don't let them! Leave the sartorial navel-gazing to someone else and save up for your dream vacation. Join a book club. Volunteer for a cause close to your heart. Find a unique gift for that person you love like crazy. Buy a used cello on the cheap, watch lessons on YouTube, and savor its rich thrum. Learn to dance and go to a salsa club on a Friday night. Adopt a puppy from a high kill shelter and take your new best friend on scenic hikes. Cook a nice meal for your parents. Take flying lessons, sign up for a fencing club, or take friends to see your favorite band play live. The possibilities are endless, and you can do it all while wearing jeans from six seasons ago.
PS. More than buying new stuff, the secret to looking decent is: a) working out, and b) tailoring. Stay in shape and find a tailor with a good eye for fit. A lot of fellas either don't wear the right size or don't alter anything other than hems. But a $350 suit from Suit Supply will look just as sharp as a $1,500 Paul Smith suit if it is impeccably tailored.
The last secret to looking great is: c) the inner glow from not being mentally enslaved by puff magazines.