If you’ve lasted this long into the Elon Musk era of Twitter, you’ve noticed things starting to get weird. First it was in the main Twitter feed, which began showing users posts from people they didn’t follow but whom the algorithm thought, based on signals like other people’s likes, they might enjoy. (There was some agreeing to disagree over this.) This was an awful lot like what TikTok does to recommend short-form videos to its viewers. Sure enough, Twitter soon renamed its main feed “For You,” just like TikTok’s algorithmically sorted view. Also like TikTok, certain accounts seemed to become ubiquitous overnight—a whole new universe of Main Characters.
Who are they? It might be Lakota Man. Or the Lingerie Addict, an “aspiring fashion historian.” Or that Catturd guy (if you don’t know, spare yourself). Or some bigoted meme account, or something more pornographic, or even someone you’d already blocked. (Not to mention, the Chief Twit himself.) Weirdly—delightfully—among the most omnipresent of these new Main Characters is a fashion writer named Derek Guy, who sports a handle named after his long-running menswear blog—Die, Workwear!—and an avatar with an illustrated headshot of Elliot Richardson, the dapper attorney general under Richard Nixon whose resignation kicked off the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.”
No one, least of all Guy himself, really knows why “the menswear guy” has appeared all over the feeds of so many journalists. But he’s there, he’s everywhere, and people have varying reactions to him, as tends to happen on Twitter. At any rate, he’s earned a lot more engagement and followers since November—the first full month Elon Musk owned Twitter—as well as a mini-profile in GQ; he’s sitting pretty at 111,000 followers as of this writing. I called up Guy to ask him about how it feels to gain so much new attention out of nowhere, how he approaches fashion tweeting and writing, and the unique perspectives he has on menswear culture and its appeal. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Nitish Pahwa: When did you first get the sense that you were not only getting a lot more reach or engagement on Twitter, but also being talked about in this subtweety way—like, “We’re seeing this menswear guy all over Twitter”?
Derek Guy: There were two moments. One was that in the last couple of weeks, I would get a lot of engagement from people who I thought were interested in clothes, because I only tweeted about clothes. Then I would look at their account, and they didn’t follow me. So I would think, That’s weird, maybe someone retweeted me and this person is now engaging. But I was getting comments from people who clearly had no interest in clothes or almost hated what I was posting. I was thinking, Why would you even reply to me? That’s weird. At the time, I didn’t know what the Twitter algorithm and For You stuff was. It literally happened yesterday that someone tagged me—which is weird because a lot of times I’m getting so much stuff on my feed that I often don’t see mentions—and someone had said, “Why is Twitter trying to make me follow the menswear guy?” That made me feel weird, people were seemingly really annoyed. And I’m not trying to annoy anybody. That made me start to feel self-conscious about how I behave on the platform.
From your end, what has it been like navigating Twitter these past few months, as a user? Has it felt a lot different for you?
I saw a bunch of people, mainly liberal or left-leaning or progressive posters, say that they’re getting a lot of anti-vax right-wing accounts on their feed. I think Elon Musk had tweeted that if you hate-tweet somebody or you hate-retweet them, if you dunk on them, then the algorithm is going to notice that as engagement and you’re going to get more tweets that essentially infuriate you. I do some political tweets, and they tend to be kind of progressive causes, but a lot of my engagement on the site is about animals, essentially. I do follow some political accounts, but I don’t engage with them that much. So I’ve been enjoying “For You” because I get more tweets of hedgehog and cat and dog content. I hate to say it because I think Musk’s personality is toxic for the site. But in terms of how the actual algorithm works, for me it’s been somewhat positive.
How do you think through political engagement? The official GOP account tweeted this photo of Ronald Reagan—classic—and you riffed on the shirt he was wearing in it, which I thought was pretty funny. Do you tend to do more humorous stuff on the more politics end, instead of going more in-depth?
Going into November of last year, I had about 50,000 people following me, and a lot of my account then was insider humor. I would joke about a specific brand and make some political jokes. I’ve been a little more sensitive to how I behave on Twitter now that my audience size has grown and I have been on the receiving end of backlash. That specific tweet about Reagan, it was more about a brand, and I tend to poke fun at brands I like. I don’t want it to seem bad-natured. I’ve been a little bit more careful of making those kind of jokes as my audience has grown because there’s a lot of people who don’t know those brands and I don’t think the joke lands the same. I’m still figuring that out. Like, I don’t want my account to be constantly dunking on Republicans or something.
I had mentioned to Gabriella Paiella over at GQ that I used to make jokes about Untuckit and Allbirds, but I don’t think I’ll do that going forward because I wouldn’t want somebody who’s following me to leave the house and think, Oh, are people making fun of my shoes? That would be lame, and I wouldn’t want them to feel bad.
You’ve been writing about menswear and fashion for a while now. What do you make of how the menswear space, especially online, has developed over the past decade or so?
I would go back 20 years, when menswear blogs were just starting to pop up online and democratizing information that previously was not captured well through standard magazines. It wasn’t designer or advertorial kind of stuff. There were also a lot of street-style sites and guides for how to buy quality clothing. I think it was a good learning period. It started to wane in 2012, and by 2015 it was really dying off. And a lot of guys who were previously into this idea of buying quality clothes and thinking of building a streetwear wardrobe became ascendant, so they just traded Aldens for Nikes and Supreme. I’m not against it, but that was the trajectory.
A lot of guys dropped the stuff they’d learned in the early 2000s because one, it became a little bit more boring if you had been into it for such a long time. Two, I think a lot of people were previously into a certain kind of heritage look to signal something about how much they knew about clothing. Over time that knowledge or that style became kind of basic.
But talking on Twitter engages a lot of people, because not everybody was reading a menswear blog in the early 2000s. That’s something I’ve come to appreciate a little bit more—that there are new people getting into clothing or people who may have discovered it through Twitter. I think that has opened my eyes, that it’s OK to say what you may think is basic information because someone else may not know it. Just having that discussion opens it up, so that you may find people who find what you say interesting.
It seems like, for a while now, you’ve been thinking about differences in audiences and whom you’re writing for and speaking to, as platforms change over time.
I have, but I haven’t. It’s also been a bit of an embarrassment because I joined Twitter and it was earnest for a while, then the site became more toxic and angry. I started noticing that I would get more engagement off jokes than through mundane tweets about my day. I started become almost self-conscious because my writing itself is not very funny. It’s stuff I actually care a lot about and put a lot of effort into. So I thought, If somebody reads my writing and they find it interesting and educational and then they go to my Twitter page and it’s a bunch of idiotic jokes, I don’t know if I come off well. I started to feel more comfortable when I noticed that big accounts and Nobel Prize winners are shitposting on Twitter.
In that vein, you had this thread talking about the fast-fashion trend and the deliberations behind conscious consumer purchasing, the workers behind these industries, and how progressives seem to have lost sight of the garment workers making cheap clothes. I’m wondering how you go about engaging with such topics that are not explicitly political but may have become politicized, if you will.
The fast-fashion debate came up last year with Shein, and I just recently rehashed it on Twitter. I have gotten a lot of pushback and hate for that. I don’t want to be the guy who whines, but somebody said about me that that guy’s probably a closet Nazi. Which kind of bummed me out.
I get a lot of pushback on the fast-fashion stuff, but I don’t mind. … I do mind. I dislike it when someone engages with a fast-fashion thread and says, “Do you expect all of us to only buy $150 shirts?” Or, “You’re only tweeting for rich people?” I spend a lot of time writing about affordable clothes. But I don’t mind talking about why fast fashion is bad because I think it hurts garment workers. The thing is, most of those workers are not on Twitter. Many of them don’t even speak English. In the U.S. there’s a marginalized group of first-generation immigrants, often from Southeast Asia—where my family’s from—and from Latin America and the Caribbean, those are the people now working in fast-fashion factories and they’re not engaged in the discourse about whether this discussion is classist.
I think most people recognize fast fashion is bad, but there is a segment of Twitter that thinks that buying fast fashion is, not like progressive, but it’s OK. Like, you don’t have enough money and you want to buy fancy clothes, so you can just get it through these companies. I think more people should be aware of the hitting cost of fast fashion. It hurts garment workers. It’s also wasteful and has a negative impact on the environment.
Are there people saying things like, “How dare you condemn buyers who don’t pick the right choices when actual fixes should be coming from the government”?
There’s every single thing you can think of: Don’t blame the consumer, it’s the fault of capitalism, it should come through regulation, a hypothetical person doesn’t have money. There’s an account called Lingerie Addict who tweeted a list of counterpoints people made at her when talking about fast fashion, and I’ve seen all the same counterpoints. I don’t know what to say. People with minimal budgets have dressed well. That’s the story of 20th century fashion—the reversal of fashion from top-down elites to those on the bottom trickling upward. It went from the Duke of Windsor telling everyone how to dress to people taking inspiration from biker gangs, punks, hippies, skaters. It was how people create fashion with very little money, made it cool, and then designers ripped off those groups.
The most common refrain is that you’re an idiot if you think that someone’s going to spend $150 on a shirt. I pulled up the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they showed that the average household spends about $1,500 on apparel and services, which I assume includes stuff like dry cleaning. So I think if you are spending $1,500 a year on clothes and associated services, I think you can afford a more expensive shirt. It doesn’t have to be $150—there are reasonably well-made shirts for like $75. But I think a lot of people have cheapened clothing so much, they think it’s pumped out of a robot, so the idea of paying $75 for a shirt seems luxurious because they’re used to paying $20 for a shirt. All I’m saying is that that $20 shirt, it’s probably not made well, it also was made by squeezing the hell out of labor. It’s not only the labor of the person who made the shirt, it’s the labor of all garment workers. Because when these companies import $20 shirts into the U.S., that squeezes the wages of everybody else, because now they have to compete with $20 shirts. The idea that it’s classist or racist to criticize this is crazy because the people working in these U.S. factories are typically first-generation immigrants and people of color.
If you can’t afford a $75 shirt, there’s thrifted clothing, and there’s secondhand clothing that’s not only better-made but sold sometimes at the same price as fast fashion, if not cheaper. A bunch of people then say, “How am I going to be able to get enough shirts for two weeks if they all cost $100?” Well, you obviously don’t buy two weeks’ worth of shirts all at once. When it comes time to buy a shirt, you buy one nice shirt instead of five shirts, and you take care of that shirt. Then over time you acquire another shirt and another shirt, and over time you find you have 10 shirts and that’s enough for two weeks: You wear a T-shirt on weekends, and you have your button-ups for the week. And those shirts will last few years, if the Bureau of Labor Statistics is correct.
If you’re used to buying a ton of clothes, that’s going to sound crazy. But I don’t think that’s crazy from a historical perspective. That’s how most Americans built their wardrobe over the 20th century, and they dressed well. And you can do it ethically now. Not only to help garment workers. You’re doing it because you’ll have a better connection with your wardrobe and you’ll enjoy your clothes and won’t want to throw them away.
For people who’ve found your account and are not into fashion, what would you say to them if they ask, “Why should I be interested in menswear?”
I had a conversation with a Washington Post editor a month or two ago about how we’re both interested in clothes but don’t like reading most fashion articles. I want to make it clear: I am not throwing any shade on any fashion writer. There are a bunch of people who I love, and I read their stuff. But I will be honest, I do not read that many articles on Raf Simons’ career or about a runway show. This editor and I were saying, if we’re interested in clothes but don’t read the majority of those articles, those articles have to be for people who aren’t into clothes.
It’s true that a lot of my Twitter threads are about how to dress for a larger figure or how to spot quality, about cashmere. But through my writing on my site, the clothing is not the main topic. For example, I wrote a post about the history of knitting in America and how it relates to the Quaker movement, how the Quakers were hand-knitting these things called Shaker sweaters, and what the sweaters meant to them. Then I talked about the sweaters’ relationship with other traditions of hand-knitting in other countries.
To me, that is a more interesting story—to talk about how fishermen in the North Sea dressed, or how there was this hiking movement in the 1970s and the hikers dressed a certain way. If there are humans involved in a story, you can tell a story about fashion because people wear clothes. You can always talk about a historical movement, you can talk about sociology, you can talk about politics, economics, you can use anything and people will be interested. They’ll find it exciting to read about some explorer who did some amazing thing, then at the end you talk about the jacket that explorer wore, and all of a sudden the reader’s like, “Wow, I didn’t think about the role that clothes played in all of these moments or aspects of society.” You could tell the story of Raf Simons much better if you talked about European youth dance movements and how that inspired this design—the focus should be on the group of people that inspired Raf, and you can tackle Raf at the end. In a lot of fashion movements, the focus is on the designer, and I think that alienates people.
I hope that if read those things, they’ll develop an interest in clothes, so next time they’re at the store they might think, “I liked reading about how rebel skaters in the ’90s carved out a youth movement.” I hope that feeling, that joy you get from putting on something and imagining yourself in that historical moment or with a group, that it sparks something and you enjoy clothes, that they’re no longer just a requirement.
Has your own audience been receptive to such stories that you’ve done? And are you hoping this new audience you’ve gained through Twitter will help turn more readers toward that type of fashion story?
My audience has been really receptive to how I approach clothing, and I’ve been thankful for the feedback I get. I started writing stuff like this because I felt that the menswear world had run out of things to say about how to wear, like, a tweed jacket. Once you learn all those basics, you’ve exhausted the topic.
It’s only been in the last few months when I’ve started to realize that other people might like this angle as well. I’ve gotten positive feedback from readers who I think aren’t the type of people to have followed menswear for a long time. I’ve started to realize that that angle can be powerful for people who are just discovering clothing because you make the story a little bit more relatable to them.
Last question: What was the inspiration for using an illustration of Elliot Richardson for your work, and what was it like all of a sudden hearing from his granddaughter?
I think he was one of the best-dressed men in American politics, ever. He wore suits in what I think was a very classic proportion, and when you look at those photos of him in the ’60s today, he still looks great. That’s not true of everybody in the ‘60s. A lot of times you look up those suits and they look dated. I think there’s something to be said, that you look at photos of Richardson and he’s a handsome dude, but not a model. He’s a politician. That’s aspirational for me because I’m never going to be a model, but here’s a guy of average proportions who dressed tremendously well and has a style that looks good in any decade.
I’d never talked to any of Richardson’s relatives until that moment on Twitter. She said she was going to send some photos of her grandfather outside of the suit, because when you look up photos of him, he’s always in a suit because he was a public figure. But I eagerly await those photos. I would love to see how Richardson dressed outside of the suit because that’s something I think a lot of guys struggle with: Once you leave the suit, how are you supposed to dress in terms of what looks good?