Why Clothes Still Matter

I started out this story with the intention of slapping you in the face and yelling at you to get out of the damn sweatpants. It’s time, I was gonna tell ya. I was going to quote ole Karl Lagerfeld when he said, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life, so you bought some sweatpants.” And there might be truth to that. Certainly, many of us felt the loss of control over our lives this past year. And certainly many of us bought sweatpants. A lot of sweatpants.

 In 2020, “Athleisure” saw sales of 105.1 billion dollars. In the women’s market, they tried to give it further impressive-sounding names that didn’t reek of ate-a-pint-of-ice-cream-on -the-couch, such as “power leggings”. They told us—it isn’t a trend, it’s a lifestyle. Yes, a lifestyle of going to bed in the same clothes you wore all day. At one point we even stopped pretending we weren’t wearing pajama pants under that suit jacket on Zoom. We just owned it, because we knew they probably were too. 

Well enough is enough. Is what I was going to say. I was going to tell you all of these things. But the truth is that dressing up doesn’t have to mean putting on a suit and tie. Style is one of the most fluid concepts we have ever had as a culture. Heraclitus (the Greek philosopher you couldn’t have said with a straight face at 13) said, “Change is the only constant.” One could also say that the only constant in fashion is change. Also reinterpretation. But mostly change. It’s what drives the industry forward. Literally, the entire industry survives off of the constant evolution of your closet. It may move slower in menswear than it does with womens, but certainly the last few years have accelerated that evolution tenfold.

Getting dressed as a symbol of self-expression is an idea as old as time. According to historians, even Neanderthals might have painted their bodies for decorative purposes. In a 2016 BBC article, research showed that during the Stone Age, colored flax fibers were found that could have been used to make linen clothes in a range of colors—suggesting that, already, clothes were not just useful but symbolic. 

Style has always been a part of us. Of culture. Of self expression. In this new year, what is it that we want our clothes to say about us? How do we wish to look back and view ourselves during this time? 

The problem with our sartorial choices last year wasn’t loungewear, but that the choices we made were, for the most part, borne out of a sense of defeat. Indeed, most of us were guilty of throwing in the towel when it came to getting dressed. 

But no, sweatpants were never the problem. Style, unlike taste, isn’t dictated by wearing shiny brogues vs a pair of tube socks in slides. Style means putting on something that makes you feel better, look better, and stand taller—whatever that may look like. When you see Justin Bieber’s vintage Tommy jeans on stage, Harry Styles in sparkly argyle doing his best Fred Astaire with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, or Jack Dylan Grazer’s irreverent mix of leopard, puff shirts, and peroxide hair in We Are Who We Are, if it made you as excited to get dressed as Jon Hamm’s Mad Men suits, pocket squares, and polished hair did in 2007, so be it.

It’s about effort. Optimism. Creativity. And dignity. And yes there can be dignity even in sweats—if it adds a strut in your step on your way out the door. It’s about symbolism. And if it’s good enough for Neanderthals, it should be good enough for you. 

Dress for the life you want. If you build it they will come. Be the change you wish to see. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. We could throw countless more of these at you, and they would all be true. But the point is: get up and get dressed. The time is now.

At LEO, we will focus the week’s features, our first of 2021, on helping you get your shit together —from the closet essentials you need to the best grooming tips and products, and fitness.

To start, some of our favorite influences in the world of menswear—designers, stylists, costume designers—make their case for why clothes still matter.

GIULIA PIERSANTI, Costume Designer – Call Me By Your Name, We Are Who We Are, Suspiria, A Bigger Splash

Smart fashion, during the pandemic and in general, should balance an awareness and reflection of its time, with a dose of escapism. I have a hard time feeling we should be getting all glammed-up during this time of going nowhere and social distancing, yet I find that individual expression through fashion and clothes—amongst many other forms of expression—might just be a first step towards redefining ourselves into an optimistic recovery. 

Photo Courtesy of HBO Max. All costumes by Giulia Piersanti.
Photo Courtesy of HBO Max. All costumes by Giulia Piersanti.
Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. All costumes by Giulia Piersanti.


2020 has deeply changed our habits and us. Priorities have changed, and this is definitely a question to ponder. We believe taking care of yourself is essential. It is a form of respect towards ourselves and the people we are close to. We are Italian—being neat and clean, well-dressed, making a good impression is part of our DNA. We learned this as children from our mothers. Taking the time to choose a beautiful look and getting ready is part of our routine and sets the tone for every day. Doing it with pleasure, from our point of view, is important. Having to spend a lot of time at home does not mean being shabby or not being able to live special moments. Feel good and, why not, attractive. Today more than ever, we need beautiful emotions.

Photo by Ilaria Urbinati. Backstage at Dolce & Gabbana Fall-Winter 2020 show.

SAMANTHA MCMILLEN, Fashion Stylist – Ryan Gosling, Chris Hemsworth, John David Washington, Charlie Heaton

Dressing has always been the ultimate way of expressing our creativity. Dressing is our way of telling a story about who we are and where we’ve been. Getting ready and putting yourself together is part of a routine that instills confidence and reminds us that we have a life and purpose. Even my son, at 6-years-old, innately started immediately getting into his “day clothes” when the lockdown started. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was looking for a way to keep his routine. He would never allow himself to go onto his school zooms in his pajamas or from bed as some kids were doing. It took me a bit longer to get the same routine and find at-home looks that were professional but still conducive to jumping into mom/teacher mode. Putting yourself together boosts your confidence and mental health. Injecting a bit of color works wonders to boost your mood. It also reads nicely on screen. I’m no stranger to sweatsuits, but I found options that have some design integrity and cuts that are flattering and don’t look sloppy or un-done. We all have to make it work into our lifestyle at home, while preparing for our world to slowly get back to a place where we can get back out there and interact with each other and express our creativity together.

Photos Courtesy of Getty Images. All looks styled by Samantha McMillen.

NEIL BARRETT, Fashion Designer

After a year of mostly staying in and dressing down, the time is definitely here to give ourselves a psychological boost and get into a positive thinking mode. How? Well just by looking at your wardrobe and being inspired to dress up again, to make the effort for just you or with whomever you live with. Just the act of putting together looks each day that make you feel great and bring a smile to your face. When I design, I have always done so with the focused intention of leaving my clients FEELING GOOD, to appreciate the fit, the cut that flatters your body, the comfort factor of the fabric—all incorporated into originally-designed garments. That practicality and great cut should be as perfect in these days at home as it is when we are free to travel. So dive back into your wardrobe and try on your old favorites—or buy new! Once you look at yourself in the mirror and get that rush of self-satisfaction of how good you look in the clothes—that boost to your morale is worth its weight in gold.

Photos courtesy of Neil Barrett. Fall Winter 2020 Collection.

JANIE BRYANT, Costume Designer – Mad Men, Deadwood and Designer – Bryant Draper at Inherent Clothier

I say—men, dress up! It’s so important, and in the words of my father, “take pride in your appearance.” Exercise those dressing-up muscles. Dressing up and getting dressed has a direct correlation with good mental health too. When you look better, you feel better.

Images courtesy of AMC. All costumes by Janie Bryant.
Images courtesy of HBO. All costumes by Janie Bryant.

JUSTIN O’SHEA, Fashion Designer and Men’s Style Boss

If you don’t feel the need to style up, then you are eliminating a simple happiness that, when in tough times, is something we should all be taking advantage of. There is no denying that when you make the effort to look good it makes you smile. clothes are fun—how can that be a bad thing? I always feel that dressing up and looking sharp helps me focus on work. It’s kind of like my game face. Also, wearing a suit watching TV all day isn’t that comfortable, so it’s a good way to get my ass off the couch!

Photos Courtesy of Getty Images. Justin O’Shea’s street style.


Getting dressed is like watching movies you like, or listening to music you like. It creates a mood to create in, to exist in. Gets you into character. It’s fun to live through what you wear. We’ve been at home wearing sweatpants so long, it’s gonna to be a very bright day when everyone gets dressed again.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images. Albert Hammond Jr. on stage.

JEANNE YANG, Men’s Stylist – Keanu Reeves, Christian Bale, Jamie Dornan, Jason Momoa, Robert Downey Jr.

They way you dress influences the way you feel so much. Dressing up can be done so comfortably now, as designers like Brunello to Boss have created drawstring dressy trousers, unconstructed blazers, and lycra-blend dress shirts—so you can look elegant and feel great. The way you carry yourself in a jacket makes a huge difference in the way you stand or sit even during a video call. Making an effort shows others you care, and people tend to pay attention more to what you have to say. Dress up, get out of the sweats.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images. All looks styled by Jeanne Yang.


Even in lockdown, Hedvig [Maigre] and I kept clean; I shaved daily, and we kept dressing in ways that turn each other on. So much of attraction is about expectation and effort, and we managed to continue to show each other we’re worth the effort in 2020.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images. Ian Rogers speaking at Business of Fashion’ Voices.

KARLA WELCH, Fashion Designer – X Karla, Fashion Stylist – Justin Bieber

I believe in the power of being well dressed. That doesn’t mean expensive or fancy. It’s the feeling you get when you love your fit—that confidence is everything.

Photos Courtesy of Getty Images. Justin Bieber styled by Karla Welch.


Getting dressed still has values. More than ever. This won’t change. But today it’s all different. It’s as if we have passed what feels like 10 years in six months. Our lives changed. We dress inside as well as outside seamlessly. The old concept of homologation disappeared. Feeling like yourself is key. A sort of new normal is with us, where public and private collide. The current climate has opened up opportunities to incorporate more luxury leisurewear into everyone’s wardrobe. This means a more relaxed style attitude towards lasting pieces that are as comfortable as they are luxurious and transient in each moment of the day.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images. Ermenegildo Zegna Fall Winter 2020 show.

THOM WHIDDETT, Fashion Designer and Co-Founder of THOM SWEENEY

I’m a big believer that, when times are tough, fix up and look sharp. It’s even more important nowadays to dress up and approach your life with a positive attitude. We’ve enforced ‘dress up Fridays’ in our company and everyone, including our clients, love it. 

So even if i’m working from home I find nothing productive really happens until I’ve scrubbed up and dressed up, ready for the day! 

If 2020 was the year of the tracksuit then 2021 is the year for the real suit.

Photos courtesy of Thom Sweeney. Fall Winter 2020 Collection.

EVAN YURMAN, Chief Creative Officer – DAVID YURMAN

Clothes, jewelry, and accessories—all are ways to express ourselves. Now more than ever is a time for us to celebrate our individuality, our interests, and our creative vision for ourselves. Creative expression is the lifeline which keeps so many of us alive, engaged and connected with others. It is the foundation of our culture and society, and needs to be fostered.

Photos courtesy of David Yurman.