Welcome to the Cockney California: Is The Only Way Is Essex dictating how British men are dressing?

The club could be in Alderley Edge, Southport or Wetherby. Anywhere, in fact, that there’s money and people who like to display it. Footballers, models, wannabee-footballers, part-time models, part-time, wannabee model footballers who want to be models. If there’s a recession going on you’d be hard-pushed to find it here.

But tonight we’re in that part of England where Essex merges into London, at a club called Sugar Hut. The soundtrack is R’n’B and funky house, and the crowd’s a blur of tanned skin and perfect bodies where every girl’s called “babe” and every bloke’s a geezer. Recognise them? You should do – your girlfriend’s been watching this lot (and let’s face it, so have you) for the last few months on ITV2. Welcome to The Only Way is Essex – a TV programme that not only demonstrates our attitude to celebrity, but more interestingly, defines perfectly the mainstream male look in 2011. Simply, if they’re wearing it, there’s a good chance that you are, too.

The Only Way is Essex is like a Cockney version of California and its male stars are preening peacocks whose dedication to looking as perfect as possible perfectly illustrates the Beckham-isation of Britain’s men over the last ten years. The show’s two main male stars, Mark Wright, a club promoter and Kirk Northcott, manager of Sugar Hut sport a look that mixes high end designer labels with tans, perfect hair and the sort of the bodies that demand daily workouts to keep them looking sculpted. Looking into the middle distance in publicity shots seems to be big, too.

Londoners have always been flash, always loved a bit of tom (-foolery = jewellery), and when families moved out of the East End into the Essex countryside after World War II they took that attitude with them. Is it any surprise that David Beckham, the man whose quest for physical perfection kick-started all this, comes from nearby Chingford? Mark and Kirk, and the countless men who dress like them, celebrate their bodies in a way that only gay men did up until recently. The clothes they wear, from their Vivienne Westwood shirts to their ready-ripped Diesel jeans are there only to accentuate what’s underneath. And the women – mostly models, beauty therapists and singers – lap it up.

This is the key about the Cockney Californian. Unlike other male looks, such as casual and mod (which are all about getting one up on other blokes), the whole ensemble is designed to make women fancy the wearer. Men like Mark Wright are fully aware of what girls think is sexy. They’ve seen the Armani ads with Beckham in his pants or the Italian rugby team, toned and glistening in a D&G campaign. They’re even happy to call gay co-stars like Harry Derbridge friends. It’s all very media-savvy and modern, yet traditional at the same time.

Mark’s clothes, from his bashed-up All Saints boots (tucked into jeans, naturally) to his chunky Zara cardigan, low-cut, v-neck T-shirt and “actually-I’m-deep” crucifix tell the ladies that he’s fit, healthy and even, if you get to know him, a bit spiritual. It is scientific in its execution. Mark may not be a footballer, but he dresses like one, and the more B-list parties he gets photographed at, the more his ever-increasing fame puts him on an equal social standing with the likes of Frank Lampard and John Terry. As he says, “When you think of Essex, and you think of of money, good looks and tanned people, and people who’ve got a good life, I can’t think of anyone who’s got a better life than me.”

In the past, East Londoners talked about going “up west” for a night out. The Only Way is Essex shows that these day the suburbs take pride over the of the city centre. While the Essex crew will happily pop into Mayfair to party at bars like Mahiki and Whisky Mist, they’re happiest at venues like Jack Tweed’s Deuces club in Chigwell or legendary footballers’ hangout, Faces in Gant’s Hill, a particularly unspectacular part of outer London. But it’s this suburban feel that makes the look so universal – that’s why bars in Cheshire, Merseyside and West Yorkshire are full of Mark clones all trying to impress. Buying their gear involves a quick trip to the local boutique for some key designer pieces (suit jackets/formal shirts are pretty much essential) before heading off to Liverpool 1, the Trafford Centre or Bluewater to stock up on tees, jeans and scuffed boots. Add a bit of jewellery (watch out if you fall in the canal with a jumbo crucifix on, lads) and they’re all set for the evening’s preening.

In the north west of England, they call this look “the funboy”. And that’s exactly what it’s all about: enjoying yourself as much as possible, no matter what the cost. It’s about being a dandy, but not standing out too much. It’s about making yourself look the best you can so you can pull the best-looking bird in the club. And most of all, it’s about putting on a show, because you never know when the TV producer who’s going to change your life will turn up. Now, where’s the spray tan?

This season’s other looks

Himalayan scally
Sturdy mountain-wear has always been a strong look among football fans, but the last few months has seen what’s become known as ‘Himalayan Scally’ take a strong… er, toehold. Think climbing boots by the likes of Diemme, Fracap and Adidas, then add thick coats from cold weather specialists Mountain Wear and Berghaus. Needless to say, none of these items ever come close to any actual mountains.

ASBO Ninja
Wander around the cities and towns of the north west and you’ll notice groups of snarling youths clad entirely in black. Not black in the goth way, though. Forget My Chemical Romance T-shirts – we’re talking black Adidas PT Training sport shoes, black tracksuit bottoms, black coat by The North Face and most importantly, an ear-covering black hat from Lowe Alpine (a “Lowey”). And of course, access to a range of offensive weapons (in black).

Heritage dad

Ten years ago, they were the country’s coolest clubbers, now these 30- and 40-somethings have been saddled with wife and kids. Their solution? Dress the kid in George at Asda, and spend the spare cash on £200 moccasins, Garbstore parkas and Swedish knitwear. Junior then gets strapped to dad’s chest and it’s off into Glasgow’s West End, Manchester’s Northern Quarter and London’s Islington for a Saturday afternoon shopping expedition.

The piece was originally in FHM


  1. Anonymous11:40 pm

    I like the sound of the Heritage Dad.

  2. LOL at heritage dad! Sounds like my cousin :) x

  3. That is my dad.. Fashion conscious individual with good taste. :-)

  4. haha heritage dad made me giggle.. I know a few of them x x


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