An internet forum devoted to a men’s issue and comprised of almost entirely men sounds like it could be, at the very least, less than 100 percent inviting, and at worst, a nightmare. Fortunately, however, the moderators of the r/malefashionadvice subreddit are keenly aware of this. And against all odds, they’ve built a place for men on the internet that is, shockingly, kinda sweet.
“It’s a surprisingly functional and actually really nice community,” says Walker Livingston, a 23-year-old soon-to-be law student living in Washington, D.C., and moderating under the username setfiretoflames. He’s one of more than a dozen mods on the Male Fashion Advice (MFA) subreddit, which at 868,000 readers is the 86th most-subscribed community on Reddit.
A typical exchange on MFA will often look something like this: a poster, usually an early-20s American guy who may or may not be still in school, asks a question like, “I’ve just started a new job and need a new wardrobe, where do I start?” or “What brand of Oxford would you recommend for someone with broad shoulders that’s under $100?” or “Do these jeans fit?”
In short, it’s a place for dudes who are suddenly at the place in their lives where they’re looking to spend more than $30 on a shirt, as another moderator, Adam (username: GraphicNovelty), puts it. He’s a 30-year-old digital media analyst and DSA member living in Washington Heights, and a decade-long veteran of the menswear internet.
“It’s definitely the most accessible,” he says of MFA, compared to forums like Hypebeast, Styleforum, Superfuture, or 4chan’s /fa/ board. “It’s the least risky, and the most open to newcomers. There are a lot of smaller ones that specifically skew toward certain designers that end up just being really, really sexist, homophobic or something else. That’s not at all what we’re interested in, and we try to actively root that out.”
When I meet him in downtown Manhattan, Adam’s wearing a Patrik Ervell fisherman sweater, Outlier trousers, and clear glasses, a vibe he half-jokingly calls “normal guy–core.” (“I’m 30 now, so I’m not impressing anybody.”) Walker, on the other hand, describes himself as an “absolute goth,” preferring black pieces from Uniqlo, Undercover, and the occasional Margiela. But they’re alike in one important way: They’ve both landed on their aesthetic of choice, and have therefore graduated beyond the platform’s average advice seeker.
After all, a lack of style expertise is what makes MFA tick: if everyone already knew how to dress, there’d be no one to, y’know, advise. It’s also what gives the community its trademark niceness — a subreddit that’s all about people asking for help inherently rewards vulnerability. “A lot of the time it’s like, just giving people affirmation that their choices weren’t bad,” says Adam. “Or if their choices were bad, letting them down in a nice way.” Adds Walker: “It’s not a collective dunking culture. It’s very earnest.”
That is, provided the users are operating in good faith. “Unfortunately, it is an online community that is mainly guys, and since we’re in that self-help bubble of the internet, there’s always some random toxic masculinity,” Walker says. “You’ll see people from the seduction communities, these weird pickup artist guys. Those people do not receive a warm welcome, because a) ugh, and b) it’s not really a good thing to have in the community. They’re there to prey on insecurity.”
There was also the time when an influx of lookbooks featuring scantily clad women found their way into the thread, which led to an argument about what is and isn’t an “off-topic or otherwise inappropriate” post. And then there’s the problem of men who just want a space to complain about the seeming absurdity of high fashion by posting a photo of, say, a Thom Browne runway. “In those cases, it’s a lot of explaining, ‘Hey, these shows are generally indicative of some idea the designer is trying to present in a certain way. But you’re probably not going to see these outfits ever on the street,’” Walker says.
For the most part, though, MFA is made up of guys simply trying to become more presentable versions of themselves. But the internet is still the internet, and Reddit is still Reddit. “There’s no point in you going to a website like this if you’re not a huge dork, you know what I mean?” Adam says (lovingly, of course). “There’s probably an inkling of insecurity in everyone who comes here. They to make things understandable so that they can feel confident doing it: It’s performing competency. And then you get some of the people who are way too far into it. Like, ‘I made a grid!’ And it’s like, ‘Dude, you don’t need a schema. It’s not science here.’ You see this anywhere on Reddit.”
A formulaic tendency in a group of users will, naturally, create formulas. “There’s this whole kind of semi-joke thing of the MFA uniform over the past couple of years,” says Walker. “It’s like if someone just wants to look nice. It’s inoffensive clothing that works well on most people’s body types.”
Or, as it’s known on the subreddit: the Basic Bastard. In the early 2010s, said Bastard was wearing a blue Oxford cloth button-down shirt, khaki chinos, and Clark’s desert boots. A few years later he changed into a gray crewneck sweater, raw denim, and minimalist white sneakers (the holy grail: Common Projects).
These days, it’s a little less clear what the Basic Bastard has in his closet. Maybe that’s because menswear has gone from a slightly niche interest to a far more accessible one, thanks to an influx of brands making fashionable menswear affordable. It’s been eight (!) years since writer Mary H.K. Choi declared that “All Dudes Learned How to Dress and It Sucks.”
Instead, much of the current conversation centers around the definition of what constitutes trying too hard. “Most of the long-time users are good at articulating it,” Adam explains. “If something’s not try-hard, it’s in line with your lifestyle, you look good in it, and it fits with your surroundings.”
Other times, the moderators double as therapists. “There’s a surprising amount of ‘I just got out of a relationship and I want to look good’ questions,” Walker says. “I look at them like, I understand what you’re going for, but I also feel like this is probably something where you should work on yourself along with also working on your clothes. You really don’t want to be at this cliff and say, ‘I’m going to jump right off it and clothes are going to be my parachute down it.’ You walk them back a little bit.”
Indeed, even the fashion advice-givers of Reddit admit that clothing can’t solve all our problems. “People will be like, ‘What’s the best T-shirt?’ The best T-shirt is the one that fits you the best,” says Adam. “All the T-shirts are fucking T-shirts.”
“Or,” he adds, “learn how to not care as much.”
And even though the moderators don’t get paid for their roles as stylists-slash-life coaches, there’s an incentive to spend hours on the forum. “I really like a lot of the guys and I’ve made actual real-life friendships from it,” says Walker. “And also, down to the core, I just really like shopping.”