If Hollywood produced “Rebel Without a Cause” in 2011 instead of 1955, James Dean’s character would have a wardrobe of ties, bow ties and tailored jackets. The girls would still swoon, the guys would still hate and the teachers would still flinch.
“The necktie is now as rebellious a symbol as jeans and a T-shirt were in the ’50s,” says Tony Maddox, managing partner of Stitched at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. “It’s the next generation’s way of standing out.”
That explains why sales of bow ties at Stitched have shot up 70 percent with its under 30 clientele. When distressed jeans and burned out T-shirts make up the everyman’s daily uniform, the rebel has to get creative. What better way to get a reaction than to do the unexpected?
For a high school jock, that means trading in hoodies for neckties. Justyn Anderson, 18, adopted the dressed up look to cancel out stereotypes that inevitably come with a sports jersey.
His basketball skills earned him an athletic scholarship to Chadron State College in the fall, but he also suited up for every football game. When most of your after-school time is spent with a ball in your hands, peers make judgments.
“Kids don’t want to talk to (jocks) ’cause they think they’ll get picked on,” he says. “But, I care about people. I’m a nice young man.”
Anderson graduated with a 3.8 grade-point average and attends The Champion Center church every Sunday. He’s not a dumb jock, and shoving kids in lockers isn’t exactly a pastime. A pair of baggy basketball shorts and a ribbed tank top might work for his teammates on and off the court, but Anderson does his own thing.
His ties, cardigans and button-down shirts represent his character much more accurately than any other trend his peers have embraced. It takes guts to show up to school in something only a few of your fellow students are wearing. But, Anderson isn’t one to shy away from going against the grain. In fact, he lists Justin Bieber among his style inspirations and favorite musical artists, among Trey Songz, Usher and Drake.
“A lot of people are afraid to admit that,” he says. “But, I can listen to some Bieber.”
According to retail expert Tom Julian of the Tom Julian Group, Anderson’s attitude falls right in line with other young men who’ve warmed up to neckwear. “It’s all very ‘I don’t care what you think about me, I look cool,’ ” he says. “Young people see it as a great casual thing, not a formal thing.”
In recent years H&M has amped up its neckwear options, offering young men the cheap, affordable alternative to, say, the upscale Thom Browne look. And, the style influences come from sources as diverse as Chuck Bass, the boozing, bar fighting bad boy on TV’s “Gossip Girl”; Lebron James, who does post-game press conferences in pastel cardigans and patterned bow ties; Justin Timberlake, whose go-to red carpet look is a skinny tie and fitted vest; and hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz, who gave a video tutorial on how to tie a bow tie on neckwear website Cotton Treats a few months ago.
Local fashion stylist Christie Moeller perceives the trend, not as a form of rebellion, but simply as men getting progressive with their attitudes about style. “Guys are just getting hipper and cooler,” she says. “They’re realizing it’s OK to like your clothes.”
But, Bronson Johnson has always liked clothes. So much so, he plans to move to New York in the fall to pursue a career in fashion. He calls his look of fitted blazers, narrow pants and exposed suspenders “old Englishman” and says it’s a way of rebelling against the industry in which he currently works.
The 26-year-old with high fashion hopes spends his days crunching numbers as an accountant. He’s well aware of the stigmas attached to the field and feels flattered when strangers express shock over his day job. Johnson had to do something to set himself apart from an office full of khaki pants and boring blouses, so he took the dressy casual dress code and made it his own.
Sometimes he throws a scarf into the mix. Other times, like nights out at Blue Martini, he sports motorcycle gloves with an otherwise dapper ensemble. Again, it’s the unexpected.
During the workweek, though, Johnson makes sure he looks like the man he is. Not an accountant, but an aspiring fashion designer working as an accountant. He realizes the single most creative thing he’ll do every workday is get dressed. So he makes it count.
“I gotta use my creative juices,” he says. “I hate looking like other people.”
Follow Xazmin Garza on Twitter at @startswithanx.