Can fashion brands destigmatise the Sad Boy?

30 : 11 : 2018 Fashion : Youth : New Masculinity

Retail brands are allowing women to literally wear their emotions on their sleeve. So why aren’t they doing the same for men?

All The Feels by Monki All The Feels by Monki

Using fashion to boldly declare emotions is a marker of progress, but it overlooks those who find it difficult to talk about their feelings – men.

Holly Friend, foresight writer, The Future Laboratory

Are you having a good day or a bad one? It’s a question that Monki asks in its latest campaign, All The Feels. The fashion brand wants women to share their mood through their clothing, and offers a range of pessimistic and optimistic slogan patches such as 'bad day' and 'good day', which can be added or removed with Velcro, allowing the wearer to update her feelings throughout the day.

When I saw Monki’s campaign, I thought of the School of Life's Emotional Baggage tote bag, which never seems to go out of fashion. Material declarations of emotion are scattered across Tumblr and, more recently, among fashion collections. They take various forms: Ashley Williams’s Anxiety and Misery hair slides, a Vetements t-shirt that admits Insecurity, a Forever 21 crop top that hopelessly muses Maybe Never. There are even websites dedicated to an aesthetic dubbed Sad Girl, often punctuated with brooding Lana Del Rey lyrics.

Using fashion to boldly declare emotions that we once barely dared to whisper is undeniably a marker of progress, especially at a time when nearly a third of US adolescents will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. But there’s one element that ties these messages together – they are expressed by women. According to scholar Laura Portwood-Stacer, this could be linked to the plights of feminism. ‘Sadness can make others uncomfortable, and women get the message that they should always make others comfortable, even at the expense of their own comfort,' she tells Racked.

With retailers marketing these items as cynicism for feminists, they are unfortunately overlooking the demographic who find it the most difficult to talk about their feelings – men.

In a world in which female pessimism is not only destigmatised, but arguably fashionable, why aren’t brands applying the Sad Boy formula, too?

All the Feels by Monki, Sweden All the Feels by Monki, Sweden

According to Dr Jonathan Gerkin, a psychiatrist at University of North Carolina, societal norms have not conditioned men to be reflective of their own emotions, resulting in an increased sense of loneliness. Men have historically struggled to open up, masking their weaknesses with acts of bravado, so why have they been excluded from this narrative? In a world in which female pessimism is not only destigmatised, but arguably fashionable, why aren’t fashion brands applying the Sad Boy formula, too?

The Sad Boy has, like the Sad Girl, existed for years on the internet. It has even become synonymous with a subgenre of rap. But it hasn’t won the same degree of mainstream adoption as its female counterpart, and still carries a certain stigma, as musician James Blake recently argued on Twitter. And while brands are experimenting with ways to express modern male emotions, advertising campaigns tend to be the preferred option, and vary from a sobbing Chris Hughes to manifestos of modern masculinity. Yet no commercial brand has used the medium of fashion to address this topic.

Could a simple printed slogan t-shirt have the ability to champion male vulnerability? Perhaps the normalisation of a melancholy Sad Boy aesthetic could make more progress than a celebrity-fronted ad. Monki’s emotional clothing collection is a playful example of how women can wear their emotions on their sleeve, but if men aren’t given the same option, it could continue to engender the same difficulty about speaking up.

Discover how brands are reframing male identity in the post-#metoo world in our ongoing series New Masculinity.