The New York Times claims that hipsters are wearing monocles in Manhattan, Berlin and Dublin – but that doesn't make it true
I recently read an article saying the latest trend in hipster fashion is the monocle. Can this possibly be true? And if so, where can I get one?Andrew, by email
Put down your Yellow Pages, my dear Andrew, and cease your search at once. For a start, even if on the remarkably unlikely off-chance it were true, why would you then want to look like everyone else? Surely the whole point of wearing a monocle is to look unique. This is why I never understand these sorts of trend pieces, as they seem to be saying: "Here is this interesting new thing that some people are doing to look different. Why don't we all do it now and look EXACTLY THE SAME?"
For that, you see, is what this article is: a trend piece. Trend pieces form the bulk of fashion journalism – there are, after all, only so many designers to interview and shows to review – and they are to fashion writing what preview pieces are to sports journalism. Just as sports sections are bulked up with articles predicting what a game will be like before the game has happened based on past performances, so fashion sections are filled with the journalistic equivalent of crossed fingers in which fashion writers predict what the biggest trends of the season will be before the season begins, based on what they saw in the shows. In both of these cases, the sports and fashion journalists can proffer some truly wise insights that help readers better prepare for the future. Also in both of these cases, the sports and fashion journalists can rest assured that no readers will ever remember the predictions beyond tomorrow, therefore it doesn't matter a jot if they're completely wrong because they have pulled their articles out of – as we in the fashion journalism business like to put it – their derrière. And this derrière is a particularly popular source for the articles published in the very section where you espied this article about monocles: the New York Times style section.
So as I said, all fashion journalists knock trend pieces out and all fashion publications publish them. So why single out the New York Times style section, you haven't actually asked yet I shall answer nonetheless? I shall tell you, Andrew: because the New York Times style section is easily the most off the wall fashion section in the world. There are plenty of fashion publications that are pathetically obsessed with money (the US version of Harper's Bazaar), or society (Tatler, W magazine), or with non-existent issues of coolness (AnOther, Dazed & Confused). But it is rare to find a fashion section in a quality newspaper that is straight out bizarre.
The New York Times is a great paper, one of the best in the world, and – unusually for an American paper – as interested in foreign coverage as it is in US coverage, let alone just New York coverage. So, in other words, it has its editorial eye on a pretty wide demographic. Its style section, however, is apparently aimed at about 10 white people on the island of Manhattan, all of whom live on Park Avenue. If even I – who grew up in a Manhattan neighbourhood that would look familiar to fans of Woody Allen movies, and who loves and writes about fashion – find the New York Times style section utterly bewildering, then it's safe to say most other readers do, too. I'm not even talking about the beyond parody Vows section, which appears in the style section every Sunday and which I've discussed at length previously. I'm referring instead to the section's veneration of pretentious and privileged twentysomethings, its fascination with non-existent trends from Brooklyn, its promotion of incredibly overpriced exotic foods that your nanny must start cooking for your toddler immediately and – to take an example from this weekend's section – its insistence that your five-year-old daughter should be wearing "a bra-lette". ("It's the new undershirt," apparently.) When readers leave outraged comments beneath fashion articles on the Guardian website, it takes enormous self-restraint not to reply with: "I'm sorry, but have you ever looked at the New York Times style section? Do so, then return here, kissing the Guardian's hem in gratitude."
The article advocating the return of the monocle is so typical of a New York Times style section that it is hard not to think it was written either by an algorithm or as an Onion parody.
The monocle, the article insists, is being spotted in "the trendy enclaves of Berlin cafes and Manhattan restaurants", as well as "parts of south Dublin" (no, it isn't). It is favoured by a "hipster subspecies" called "the new gents" (Lord, rain hail and brimstone on us now – your work has been in vain) and one British seller has seen his sales "double over the past five years" (from one to two). One reason for its popularity, the article muses, is that many men "can't bear to sully their noses with those banners of middle age, reading glasses", yet find that "no amount of squinting with the naked eye enables them to decide if an iPhone emoticon is a nurse or the grinning devil" (truly, ageing is a cruel process). Oh, and some rapper you've never heard of wears a monocle, so.
Monocles aren't happening. But ridiculous trend pieces definitely are happening. In fact, I'd call them one of the most successful trends of all time. So hats off, New York Times style section, for really nailing this trend. Now take care of yourself, I think your monocle is drooping.
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