Need, Fashion, and Matt Alexander

In the works for nearly a year, Matt Alexander’s new startup Need addresses a fascinating deficiency of not just fashion, but any degree of concern with respect to one’s physical appearance all too prevalent in today’s society, especially amongst young people. At nineteen a young person myself, I speak from first-hand experience: you would not believe the things I see my peers wearing, especially on a college campus. I am not wholly exempt in this respect — I have worn my fair share of tattered jeans and undershirts in public — but I also have enough sense to realize my shortcomings in this area. And acceptance is the first step towards recovery, right?

Myke Hurley, Matt’s co-host on the popular Bionic podcast, often teases his compadre by calling Need a “pigeon-scarf” startup. Unfortunately, and Matt touched on this point all too briefly in Harry Marks’ launch interview, many consider the idea of the male gender concerned with such a loaded term as “fashion” or the semi-obscure notion of style not only strange, but cause for — in some cases — ridicule. Although not directed towards me personally, I have witnessed this very stigmatization in my own life. Understanding where that reaction comes from is the key to mitigating and, eventually, removing it altogether though, and thus a very important step towards the goal Matt set out for Need.

At its core, I believe this widespread aversion to both fashion and style amongst members of the male gender came about as a result of a marked decline in inherent functionality fashion provided in service of a much more subjective aesthetic goal. All hyperbole aside, I believe this transition from utilitarian to far less practical menswear came about thanks in no small part to the covert feminization of the fashion industry as a whole, where over the years feminine undertones have reached across the gender divide and influenced menswear products to a significant degree. Take scarves, for example: while certainly not an accessory exclusively for females, I have a hard time believing a working man woke up one day and decided to wear a colorful affectation around his neck on a whim. In skinny jeans we find yet another prime example of a trend born by crossing the streams, so to speak; one more data point in an industry regression no longer focused on imbued usability and instead geared towards superficial presentation. As a whole males have unsurprisingly witnessed these effects as net negatives, and rather than attempt to remedy the problem abandoned this venture entirely. And so we entered this dark age, or sorts, where it has become socially acceptable to wear nearly anything in public so long as one’s personal effects remain reasonably concealed.

After such a bout of profoundity, lest Need’s — and by extension, Matt’s — newfound devotees jump on poor Myke for his characterization made in jest, let me stress a very important point1: Myke’s comment was, in fact, a long-standing joke between the two. And a quite humorous one at that. Getting back to the core issue though, with Need Matt has taken a step towards combating that base aversion to fashion and style amongst men by showcasing not only attractive products, but inarguably useful ones as well. Consider the Style No. 9111 Round Toe Boot from Red Wing Shoes, for example, or Fjällräven’s Rucksack No. 21: undeniably attractive, these two items also fulfill the duties requisite of their designation as boots and rucksacks. Quite splendidly, I might add. By no means swinging too far in the opposite direction, Need also offers products for the sole sake of satisfying those seeking to differentiate their footwear, such as hook + ALBERT’s Fire Bootlace.

More important than any number of implicit endorsements though is the impact Need’s offerings had on me, one who to a fault wears the most casual clothes possible. Although a factor, a lack of interest in fashion is not the whole reason I have disregarded it over the years; rather, more so a lack of interest in expending the requisite energy in order to effect a meaningful change has precluded me from this endeavor, a requirement Matt obviates with Need by selecting none but the best of the best for discerning and aspirational dressers. Therein lies the appeal of his startup, and why I have such high hopes for it; if Need appeals to me, after all, he must be doing something right.

In the coming weeks and months I will definitely keep my eye on both Matt and his startup; I might even buy something on occasion. And who knows: I may start dressing nicely as well.

The mere fact that I felt any compulsion to do so sickens me, that we would live in such a society where even the slightest misstep might incur the high-brow wrath of uppity armchair activists and that, as a result, creatives would go out of their way to mitigate this potentially damning happenstance in the same way I have just done. But, again, I digress.