Condé Nast commissioned a Spotter's Guide to social stereotypes for British GQ magazine. Text by Jonathan Heaf
THE VIRTUE SIGNALLER
A guide to catching sight of the Virtue Signaller, a faux moral crusader-cum-professional complainer, in the wild
The term "virtue signalling" began appearing, for me, around the same time as alt-right pin-up Milo Yiannopoulos began trolling the entire human race while dressed as a cross between Bruno and Javier Bardem's character Silva in Skyfall. You know, sort of cartoonishly queer with a Machiavellian edge. The term, used to describe an opinion expressed to indicate moral correctness, is often used by self-promoting right-wing bigots (here's looking at you, Milo) who want to mock and belittle the efforts of the so-called liberal elite - you know, people like you and me who have never eaten in a Harvester nor ridden public transport. If you're white, middle class, own a house and have never watched Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, apparently your political opinion is nothing but a bad case of north London narcissism.
Saying that, there are those men who go on marches solely to drink outside before lunch and meet hot, empathetic women - beautiful, altruistic women full of peace 'n' love 'n' in need of a long, close hug.
You can spot these virtue signallers (or sex pests, as the police refer to them) a mile away in a crowd, mainly because they've usually gone for a protest sign aimed at achieving maximum "lols" on their social feeds rather than actually saying anything constructive. These men deserve everything commentators such as Yiannopoulos spit at them, if only for their open lechery and atrocious dress sense - baggy T-shirts, in millennial pink, natch, with patronising right-on slogans scrawled across them (remember "This is what a feminist looks like"?), shoes more suitable for the white sands of Necker than a petrol-bomb-scarred Parliament Square, army surplus trousers that would scare carp out of a quiet estuary and a face wet from crying the crocodile tears of someone who knows Brexit means an unbearable uptick in the price of Waitrose-own hummus.
The only way of dealing with these men, who appear in a fug of vape smoke (chai-seed flavour) and quoting Malcolm Gladwell (incorrectly), is, I'm afraid, to run. Run as fast as you can, don't stop to Snapchat and hope and pray you don't bump into him at the next Hozier gig you attend with your deaf, morphine-pumped mum.
What does a Virtue Signaller do?
He wants to change the world, sure, but first he wants to change the channel from the comfort of his own La-Z-Boy. So long as Stranger Things is on Netflix, the world can go burn.
What does a Virtue Signaller eat?
You are what you eat, so you, my friend, are a rare squirrel that must live on seeds and dry fruit. After all, what's more virtuous than forking out a fortune on unflavoured, soon to remain uneaten, beans.
What does a Virtue Signaller wear?
If there's anything worse than those charity wristbands it's ten of them on the same limb. We love the causes behind them, but surely wounded servicemen have seen enough horror not to have to witness your arm trussed up like a kaleidoscopic S&M sex toy.
What does a Virtue Signaller want?
Well, the virtue signaller wants to be cleansed of all previous sins. By attending a march/demo/topping-off ceremony at a socially responsible coffee house in Dalston he knows you know that he knows he's one of the good guys. Like Bear Grylls. Or Aslan.
THE HYGGE JUNKIE
Brits beware: adopting the Danish fad will make you look like a slob.
As the late great art critic and all round intellect John Berger once uttered, "Perspective makes the single eye the centre of the visible world." He also wanted us to believe that perspective is "not a science but a hope". In the case of the Danish art of being comfy – of "hygge" – however, perspective may well be described less like hope and more, well, shame. OK, Berger, so far as I know, never commented on the ubiquitous Scandi lifestyle blight that British hipsters now seem to be calling their own, but I shall precociously attempt to take up the analytical reigns where his honeyed oratory left off.
Hygge – pronounced "hue-gah" – for Danish folk at least, means curling up in seven-ply cashmere socks in front of a crackling open fire while their trusty Broholmer (it's a dog) called "Ase" (stop sniggering, it means "God-like"), curls around their warm tootsies. Meanwhile, their incredibly photogenic partner – with campaign-ready, long flowing hair and come-to-sauna-eyes – makes them a steaming cup of "glogg", a Scandinavian drink that looks like mulled wine but in fact tastes like a packet of melted Tangfastics. So far, so cosy-time, right? Well, yes, but the Danish can do this hyggie thing rather well because, they're Danish. It's in their DNA. Like murdering people and leaving them in the middle of bridges. Or open rye-bread sandwiches and really cold cheese slices. This aesthetic simply can't be done by your average Dalston-living, Kinfolk-reading hipster. Trust us, we've tried.
After careful contemplation, hygge translated should simply mean "slob". Or better still "smug". Spending all day on a crumb-sprinkled sofa with a jumbo packet of sour cream Pringles while hoovering up Westworld is not, I am sorry to break it to you, hygge. It's lazy. Neither is going out looking like a hungover club kid, all tapered jogging bottoms twinned with an oversized, grubby snood. Again, that's just bone idle. The worst culprits are those that want to project their own sense of self-worth: the men you see with a taper-fade haircut reading a book about the starchitect Bjarke Ingels. Yuk. If hygge strictly translates as " the art of being intimate", then we'd rather dine alone, thank you very much.
THE STYLE VLOGGER
A guide to identifying the Style Vlogger in the wild
History is only what we record. Whatever the era, whether amid conflict or peace, one hopes there will always be someone with a camera or pen, making a true record of events. Bearing witness. So, as the voiceless victims of the Syrian war had journalist Marie Colvin, and the brave servicemen cut down on Omaha beach on 6 June 1944 had photographer Robert Capa, so too the peacocks of Savile Row and the style tribes of Peckham, the athleisure aesthetes of Toronto and the dandies of Kuala Lumpur in 2017 have this: the style vlogger. What a time to be alive.
The style blogger, if you didn't know, is someone who makes accessible, freewheeling, often ludicrously engaging short videos either on their smartphones or on a handheld camera. The subject of those videos? "How to shine your shoes like Tom Hiddleston"; "How to wear a Vetements oversized hoodie to a client pitch"; "How to gatecrash a Dior couture show using only a dongle and a black bin liner". A good style vlogger will smash through fashion's mythology using a combination of way too smiley, straight-to-camera commentary and a wardrobe that's garish, high-street and fast.
Although style vloggers were frowned upon by the fashion elite few years ago, they are now well and truly ensconced on the "frow". It's little under. With their youth combined with warm, fuzzy naivety, the style vlogger is the perfect antidote to the cool cliques of yesteryear's style mafia.
To the quivery "snowflake" who can't event a retweet from Brooklyn Beckham let alone an internship on the style desk of the New York Times, style vlogging is their gateway into a world previously shut off. Brands, too, are waking up to these snapchatting, fashion documentarians: with one deft quip to the camera phone, a couple of social posts and a "Perpetual" Insta-filter, the style vloggers can reach millions of potential future influencers. So, what to do if you see one? Suppress any desire to mock and smile – you're making history baby, yeah!
A guide to identifying the Fitstagrammer in the wild
No one should be this happy, especially not about Tenderstem broccoli and coconut oil. Not even Masterchef's Gregg Wallace, wielding a spoon the size of a ladle while standing in front of a deconstructed triple chocolate cheesecake with quenelles of salted caramel matcha ice cream, is this happy.
The disposition of the Fitstagrammer - or certainly the one he live-feeds on social media to his hundreds of thousands of dedicated digital disciples - is one of unchecked buoyancy. He is a human medicine ball with a lunatic's smile, a Prozac pill with glutes the size of watermelons. He's like one of those grinning, gormless punchbags once found at fairgrounds: the harder life hits them the faster they come bouncing back up.
Of course, all this happiness comes at a price. First and foremost the Fitstagrammer has to spend his entire life working out. This, I am afraid, turns him into a sartorial bore; someone with all the aesthetic appeal of a manikin in the shop window of JD Sports. The Fitstagrammer's closet is akin to the weather in LA: there are no seasons, no variables, no differentiation between work, play and a duvet day. He's essentially taking PE lessons for life, his wardrobe the equivalent of a padded cell, with no sharp edges and nothing that might cause harm if he happened to fall off a stationary rowing machine. Danger for this puffed up pouter isn't so much a biker jacket and one Negroni too many - like the rest of us - it's choosing double carbs for his midweek tea.
Much like a male stripper, the Fitstagrammer go-to outfit must achieve two crucial things: one, wick away sweat so all that running appears effortless and, two, be so tight that his body resembles vacuum-packed chicken breasts. Tops as tight as tourniquets, short shorts and, if it's cold, leggings so bright that the outline of his manhood can be seen from space, like a giant, radioactive frankfurter.
Still, it's all very well mocking these hairless himbos, who must live on organic rolled oats and vanity, but the joke is on the rest of us. The real reason for the Fitstagrammer's cross-eyed cheerfulness? Cold hard cash. Sackfuls of it. Bestselling books, oversubscribed workout plans, television shows, celebrity appearances, ad deals with new health apps - never before has one person made so much money out of being able to do a press-up while dressed as a human traffic light. Envious much? Guil-ty!
What does a Fitstagrammer look like?
To make a career of your lunchtime workout, you'll need hair like Samson. Your audience isn't men who want to bulk up, it's women who want to watch you whisk up an omelette with your top off.
What does a Fitstagrammer wear?
There's a time and a place for side-boob. As most women know it's never on a Stairmaster at the local gym. The Fitstagrammer's saggy, drop-collar T-shirts disagree.
The success of a Fitstagrammer
Come 2018, James Bond will be brandishing a floret of broccoli rather than a Walther PPK. For Fitstagrammers the bigger the audience, the more blatant the brand tie-ins.
Why have one job when you could have two? Or three? Or four? These are the ways of the multihyphenate careerist
Remember your answer to that most pressing of questions: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Although, as a naive and badly dressed school leaver, you may have offered up various notions of apologetic grandeur ("A hedge-fund manager?") or glamorous philanthropy ("An NGO working for Sean Penn in Haiti?"), the correct and honest answer for many years should have been "I don't have a clue. PR?"
Oh, how one longs for such times of rudderless ambition. When I was growing up, it was perfectly acceptable to dither. Try advertising - sure. Get your foot in the door of the music industry - no problem. Get work experience at the local paper - OK. The working world was competitive, but if you could support yourself for a few years, you could figure it all out.
Still, when one came across that thing one loved above all else - in my case magazines - you stuck at it, clocking up the required 10,000 hours until you hit "getting away with it". Now, since the emergence of millennials, influencers and digital natives, it's no longer good enough for anyone - young or old - just to have one job. Or even two. Welcome to the golden era of the slashie - a person who is a something-slash-something-else and, occasionally, slash-something-else again.
Of course, patient zero for the slashie is the model-slash-actor, a handsome man who has aspirations of being a thesp. Someone, for example, such as Jamie Dornan pre-The Fall. Or David Gandy in his pants in that perfume ad. Or Fabio Lanzoni. In fact, it was the tousle-haired Lanzoni who was the first to acknowledge his slashie status with a cameo in Zoolander, in which he is seen picking up his very own Slashie Award. "You consider me the best actor-slash-model... And not the other way around."
The film industry has long been a fan of the slashie. The writer-slash-director, for example. But now the slashie trend has jumped from being a legitimate signpost to indicate your varied roles within one or a sister industry to merely bolster a range of nothing jobs you're not really very sure about. Or good at. On my last trip to LA, I was introduced to a freelance noise architect/nutritional strategist/sand artist. As far as I can work out, none of these things are real jobs - or they certainly shouldn't be.
Of course, experts indicate that the rise of the slashie is due to the fact that so many young people now must have a range of jobs in order to eat. But perhaps it's also an excuse not to do any real work at all. The slashie is able to conjure an Insta-career, or careers, turning one's half-baked ideas or dalliances into a sellable business strategy.
After all, have you ever met a neurosurgeon/architect? Unlikely. Because those that are either brain surgeons or master builders know the value of a life dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in their chosen field. Rather than, well, a side hustle.
The warning signs
Is he a pro surfer or a CEO? Does he work in fashion retail or is he a freelance marketing strategist for Tesla? Mixing smart separates with skatewear, his uniform is a bad mashup of styles and moods.
The slashie is unsure of his place in the world. Hence the constant sound of his nervous energy.
Faddy wellness literature
Remember how hot French girls used to carry around a copy of Oedipus by Voltaire? Well, the slashie carries around I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson or The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. Insufferable.
Old-fashioned business accoutrements
Who uses a business card anymore, other than oil executives? Well, the slashie, that's who. He is in a constant state of "pitching his next startup" to whoever he's sitting next to.
The Neo Dandy
They've taken up the Beau Brummell baton - plus the cane and statement hat, too. Yet, the next generation of dandies are just like you, only nattier
Calling someone a dandy might, for some men, be a slight. You know, like calling a colleague a spiv. Or a rake. Or a cad. It implies a sort of debonair raffishness, a tawdry vulgarity wrapped up with a neat little pussy bow and perfect hemline. Indeed, many men nowadays don't want to have their reputation precede them. Instead they prefer to walk like career zombies among the plebeian hordes, dressed up like human sardines in their raincloud-grey suits, all original thought castrated by a sort of cultural homogeneity and too much whole milk from Starbucks. The most peacocking these men do - men you see at work, on theTube, perusing the wine bar in business lounges - is while visiting a National Trust heritage site to look at actual peacocks.
There is, however, a generation of young men - the next-gen dandies, if you will - who want to continue what Beau Brummell began in the 19th century and take up the aesthetic baton that is an obsession with their outward appearance. They may not want to live by a different set of moral codes from those men who hardly look in the mirror each morning, but they certainly want to live by a different dress code. It's about dressing up; it's about showing off; and it's about tailoring. Being a young dandy is about taking care with your orbiting sartorial accoutrements - a flamboyant suit lining maybe, a well-placed piece of vintage jewellery perhaps, or, of course, a traffic-stopping hat. I'm not saying that to care more about one's trousers than one's CV is necessarily a good thing, but a man with wit, charm and a decent tailor can go far in life, or at least have more fun along the way.
Young dandies, sometimes called "neo dandies", gather together at locations such as the Moth club in London's Hackney, or at book fairs and even the Tate Modern shop. They touch and feel the fabrics of each other's vintage finds; they gape and coo over rare suiting and menswear labels that are no longer available on Savile Row. Although there's a certain old-fashioned peculiarity about these men, the fact that they wouldn't be seen dead in a piece of athleisurewear is entirely commendable. After all, why be comfortable when you can be natty?
Remember: it's comforting to hang with a squad, especially if you're wearing clothes that could likely get you punched, but to be a dandy is to be assured of one's place in the world. Even if the world isn't sure of your place.
Know your camp moc from your brogue? Know your Trailmaster from your Chesterfield? If you can't speak menswear, don't go dancing with the dandies. Fess up to your ignorance or push off.
Don't be scared to have a "thing". A dandy, especially a young one, needs to get noticed: a wicker cane, an ornate antique tie slide, an organza and silk cape with diamanté monogram… Essentially, the dandier the better.
The Stealth Wealth Exec
Money talks, but in 2018 serious money whispers. Here, we tip our baseball cap to the new low-key masters of the universe
Remember “normcore”? Jeez. How laughably -preposterous that whole thing was, right? The idea was that trendy people could dress up like prison janitors to show how trendy they really were. Space-black hoodies, tracksuit bottoms, Common Projects trainers, a scowl – essentially, no ostentatious “fashion” signifiers. It was a push against the commercialisation and democratisation of “cool” and all the wealthy show-offs who could actually afford to wear chichi, expensive labels and logos. Suddenly it was cool to be working within the inner circles of fashion, but no longer cool to shout about it through your shirt labels. Then came the revamp and maximisation of Gucci, of course, and everything changed. Again.
The stealth wealth exec is the top-tier business world’s answer to normcore; those incredibly successful tech billionaires, CEOs, CCOs, VPs and other WTFs who want a way of dressing that does not reflect the endless zeros that run at the end of their paychecks. Whereas once the hyper businessman – the Mayfair-based hedge fund manager, for example – could swan from his 7am coffee in Cecconi’s to a long Dover sole lunch at Scott’s in astrakhan coats and cashmere-blend tailoring, in 2018 all that luxury feels a bit like rubbing salt in the wound of humanity. A little bit like wearing a tuxedo to a party to celebrate the end of the world.
The SWE wants to glide silently through business lounges/restaurants/the door of his blacked-out Prius, without so much as a flicker from watchful rubberneckers. This means style that keeps his wealth totally cloaked: ubiquitous white wireless AirPods plugged into the ears, a rain cloud-grey Moncler Rodin jacket, a low riding baseball cap (plus Chance The Rapper‘s “3” embroidered on the front for street cred), Tom Sachs x NikeCraft Mars Yard trainers, a Rimowa silver -carry-on and -perfectly peaking facial hair, only possible with the help of a 24/7 groomer.
Snapchat king Evan Speigel is the boss of this flex and only betrayed by a supermodel on the stairs of his PJ at Santa Monica Airport. Greed is still good for these next-gen wealth titans, but, like their dividends, best kept offshore and off the radar.
Too old to be a millennial, too young to be gen X? The digital half-breeds, the xennial, might just be the greatest (micro) generation
Put down the smartphone. Pause whichever television programme you're mainlining on catch-up (you'll swear to us it's an Adam Curtis doc, but we all know it's still the orgy of bosoms'n'dragons that is Game Of Thrones). Lean back into the Mies van der Rohe. Close your screen-burnt eyes and imagine yourself walking back into the bedroom you had as a teenager...
What can you see, hear, erm, smell? If the answers - ignore the fug of Lynx "Dark Temptation" and week-old PE kit - include a variety of New Kids On The Block/ Thrasher mag/ Cypress Hill posters, an original Apple iMac (the ones that resembled a giant fruit lozenge), a Sega Megadrive with Sonic The Hedgehog on a continual loop, a wired-in landline phone or a mixtape you dubbed onto a TDK SA90 cassette for the girl you fancied at school, then chances are you're a bona fide xennial and part of a micro-generation that had an analogue upbringing but have evolved to be fluent(-ish) in all things digital.
Xennials are those late thirtysomethings that were born too early to be wafty, moany, experience-obsessed millennials, yet born too late to be grouped together with the rave-hardened gen Xs. Although you might think such a label was coined by a marketing exec working for some pseudo-disruptive social media agency, it was, in fact, first created by writer Sarah Stankorb who was looking for a term with which to describe those who fell (scuffed-Converse first) into this narrow age window.
Xennials have the best of both worlds: they can claim to be collecting vinyl without sounding like pretentious, cold-pressed coffee-sipping hipsters. They can engage half-heartedly with social media without being labelled - that most derisive of media terms - an "influencer". And they can have dinner with another human being without having to take a photograph of every item of food delivered to the table. In short, xennials give to the digital revolution what Sir Vince Cable, briefly, gave the Liberal Democrats: they are the voices of reason.
The Earliest Adopter
The earliest adopter is the ultimate lighthouse consumer, first in line for the latest style or tech trendlet. Here's how to identify them
Have you ever walked past an Apple store on the day before a splashy new product launch? No? Well, put it this way, have you ever seen any grainy Super 8 footage from the original Woodstock festival? Images that show thousands of writhing bodies all queuing up like space pilgrims awaiting beatification from some acid-dipped hippie? Yes? Well, an Apple product launch is pretty much like that, just rather than grubby rock'n'roll devotees dropping sugar cubes, these men (and women) are sworn to the cult of the new. Their religion, their music, is to be first in line.
Welcome to the "stuff"-obsessed world of the earliest adopter, men who don't so much keep abreast of the trends - new iPhones, for example - as attempt to keep several steps ahead of them. Think of these shoppers as the Captain Kirks of consumerism, going where no man (well, no man with a functioning Visa card at least) has gone before. So competitive are these try-hards about being ahead of the curve - through shopping - they dedicate their lives to it.
Essentially, the earliest adopter wants to own the next big thing before anyone else. And that applies to T-shirts, Gucci suits, limited-edition soft drinks, one-off chocolate bars made with matcha green tea, computer games, VR advances, drones you can fly in your sleep, wireless earbuds, personalised emoji, athleisurewear, underwear, malware... Pretty much anything that can be exchanged for cold hard cash or cryptocurrency.
Case in point: see how everyone is gulping down Vita Coco as if it's the elixir of life? Well, your local earliest adopter was drinking that particular vitamin-flushed radioactive bin juice before you so much as knew coconuts contained water. Want to know what he's drinking now? Watermelon water. Or, rather, WTRMLN WATR, to anyone worth their "influencer" status. Still, even that stuff is old news in comparison to what he's going to be drinking tomorrow. Ever heard of Bai, endorsed by Justin Timberlake (king of the earliest adopters) and made from the pulp of coffee fruit? Thought not. But you will. Next year.
Of course, it's all about showing off. There's no point getting your hands on those Supreme x Wedgwood x Cadbury x Vetements chocolate teapots unless you're going to make some noise about it. You can tell if someone is an earliest adopter because their social feed is full of their pontifications on how great some newfangled product is. Every day brings with it a new gizmo to fall in love with and every day comes the realisation for the rest of us that there's an awful lot of "stuff" in the world you simply don't need. Remember: you can't early-adopt taste.